5 Tennessee players who need to emerge during spring practices
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will start spring practice March 21 and conclude April 22 with the annual Orange and White game.
Last year’s spring schedule was spread over almost six weeks with spring break falling in the middle. This year, the condensed schedule allows the strength and conditioning program to be at a continuous pace for 4 1/2 weeks as Team 121 gets accumulated with newly hired Rock Gullickson.
There is also work to do on the field. Here are 5 players who must emerge this spring.
Jarrett Guarantano, QB: It’s crucial for the redshirt freshman to have a good spring. Guarantano came into the program with a lot of hype, starting with the way that he announced his commitment to Tennessee.
Four true freshmen finished last season as starting quarterbacks in the SEC: Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason, Shea Patterson and Jake Bentley. The clock is ticking on Guarantano, who was rated higher than Hurts and Bentley.
The 6-4, 205-pound quarterback from Oradell, N.J., threw for 3,028 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 523 yards and 12 touchdowns in his prep career. During his senior season, Guarantano threw for 1,481 passing yards and 11 touchdowns completing 69 percent of his passes. This spring, Guarantano will need to embrace the moment of being in a three-man race for the starting quarterback position.
Carlin Fils-aime, RB: After appearing in seven games as a true freshman in 2016, the Naples, Fla., product will have a bigger role next fall. Fils-aime produced 58 rushing yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns behind Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and John Kelly. With Hurd and Kamara gone, Kelly and Fils-aime will make up the top two spots in the backfield this spring.
The opportunity is there for the former 4-star, who was the No. 12 running back in the 2016 class.
Jonathan Kongbo, DT: Kongbo arrived last year with a lot of hype. For the most part he has produced. The No. 1 overall JUCO prospect in 2016 appeared in all 13 games, but it took until November for Kongbo to be a factor on the defensive line.
Moving inside to defensive tackle might not have been the ideal situation for Kongbo, but it is the best fit for the team and he played better down the stretch as he became accustomed at the position. The 6-6, 270-pound lineman accounted for 11 total tackles (seven solo) and a 59-yard pick-six return against Missouri.
Personnel losses will force Tennessee’s defensive line to reinvent itself in 2017, and now it is time for Kongbo to take his talents to another level.
Baylen Buchanan, CB: Buchanan gained valuable experience during his first season. Playing in all 13 games and starting the South Carolina game, the son of former NFL All-Pro Ray Buchanan recorded 20 tackles (17 solo) and one pass breakup.
The 5-11, 190-pound cornerback first saw extended playing time in the second game against Ohio after Cameron Sutton exited the game due to injury and made five tackles (four solo) and one pass breakup. Now, Buchanan, will need to continue to get better under first-year defensive backs coach Charlton Warren as he replaces the graduated Sutton.
Brandon Johnson, WR: It is imperative that the wide receivers have a good spring with all of the quarterbacks competing for the starting job. Jauan Jennings is clearly the No. 1 receiver in the unit. He moves from the No. 2 wideout and must replace the NFL-departed Josh Malone as the top target in 2017.
But who will be the No. 2 receiver going forward?
The 6-2, 180 pound receiver and son of four-time Gold Glove winner and 1997 World Series champion Charles Johnson, saw action in nine games a season ago, reeling in seven catches for 93 yards. Johnson’s career-high came against FCS opponent Tennessee Tech with five catches for 64 yards.
The importance of Johnson having a decent game against Tennessee Tech shows that Tennessee wants to get the former 4-star involved in the offense.
Now, this spring, Johnson has the opportunity to move up on the depth chart and become a reliable target for whoever wins the QB battle.