6 offseason priorities for Tennessee in 2021
Well, Tennessee has a lot of work to do …
After improving from 5 wins to 8 wins between 2018 and 2019, the Vols slumped to 3 wins in 2020. Granted, they played 3 fewer games, and the schedule was completely within the conference, but Tennessee took a few major steps backward.
With a little less than 9 months to go until the Vols kick off the 2021 season, we thought that it would be a good idea to give the Big Orange some suggestions, with 6 offseason priorities heading into the next campaign.
1. The quarterback riddle
Tennessee’s quarterback situation has been unsettled since the end of the 2016 season. Multiple quarterbacks have started games in each of the last 4 years, and an infinite amount of fan angst has followed.
The Vols have already lost one quarterback to the transfer portal, as J.T. Shrout announced that he’s heading to Colorado. It looks like they’ll go into Fall camp with sophomore Harrison Bailey, junior Brian Maurer and incoming freshman Kaidon Salter getting just about all of the reps in practice.
My suggestion? Shout it from the mountain tops that Harrison Bailey is your quarterback.
We’ve probably seen enough from Maurer to know he’s not going to be the starter, and Pruitt doesn’t like playing freshmen at that position. Bailey looked decent at times in the later stages of the 2020 season, and with a real spring practice under his belt (something he didn’t get in 2020), he should be ready to take some steps forward.
Leave no doubt. Let everyone know in and out of the football complex that this is Harrison Bailey’s team.
2. Open things up
Even during Tennessee’s 8-game winning streak that stretched between 2019 and the early part of 2020, the offense didn’t exactly look like what we saw from firepowers Alabama and Ohio State on New Year’s Day.
Certainly, the Vols have been limited in what they could do on offense with Jarrett Guanantano getting most of the snaps the past 3 years, but that won’t be an issue moving forward.
My suggestion? Use this as an opportunity to re-energize the offense. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has received a lot of criticism, and rightfully so. He has not been worth his exorbitant $1.6 million salary.
Well, with an offensive line that still has a lot of talent, a top flight running back in Eric Gray and a stable of young wide receivers with tremendous upside (plus Bailey at QB), the offense has a chance to be much improved.
The days of winning at a high level and while playing mostly 21-17 games are over. Tennessee has to be able to win some track meets.
That means the offense has to evolve.
3. Hit the transfer market
College football has undergone some significant changes the past few years. One of the biggest is the relative ease for players to move from one program to another.
Tennessee is learning that first hand, with a number of their players making intentions known that they plan to play college football at another school in 2021.
My suggestion? Tennessee needs to be as active as it can in the transfer market themselves. Whether looking as grad transfers, or longer term knowing they everyone that played last year can get an extra year of eligibility, there are opportunities for the Vols to turn over this roster.
4. Staff changes
Jeremy Pruitt has seen a lot of changes on his coaching staff. With Will Friend leaving to take the offensive line gig at South Carolina, none of the assistants on Pruitt’s first staff remain in the positions they held in 2018.
The coaching world is a small one. Coaches tend to hire coaches they’ve worked with, even if they aren’t necessarily the right people for the job.
My suggestion? Get some new blood on this coaching staff. Pruitt should go outside his comfort zone because what Tennessee currently has in place simply isn’t working.
5. Engage the fan base
If you don’t know about “VFL Films,” you should educate yourselves. Those folks put together some of the best hype videos in college athletics … and they do so on a weekly basis, even during the offseason.
But that’s not enough … not when you are trying to get more fans into Neyland Stadium in 2021.
Certainly during the pandemic opportunities to engage the fan base haven’t been there, but even before that it wasn’t like Tennessee’s coaching staff was showing up at the local Knights of Columbus every week.
My suggestion? Be everywhere. Be active in the community. Be visible.
I know that really isn’t really Pruitt’s scene. His coach’s show is the height of unintentional comedy as he looks like he’s being held against his will every Sunday morning. But he and his staff need to find ways to have more of a presence, be it with the return of the Big Orange Caravan, or more interviews with the media.
Something. Anything. Give your fans a reason to be excited about your program. Excited fans show up for games.
6. Recruiting emphasis
At last look, Tennessee’s Class of 2021 sits 15th in the nation and 6th in the SEC. The 22-member class is down 5 spots from 2020 nationally while gaining a spot in the SEC rankings.
That’s good, but not good enough if Tennessee is going to jump into contention in the division.
When I look at that class, what stands out to me the most is the lack of in-state talent, with only 3 recruits coming from a Tennessee high school. They only picked up 1 in the top 10: Nashville offensive tackle William Parker.
My suggestion? Do all you can to close the state’s borders when the Early Signing Period comes around next December.
The Class of 2014 got Tennessee to the brink of an SEC East title twice. Wide receiver Josh Malone was from Gallatin. Running back Jalen Hurd was from Hendersonville. Safety Todd Kelly Jr. was from Knoxville. Defensive end Derek Barnett was from Brentwood. In all, 9 of the top 11 players from the state chose to play at the flagship University.
Tennessee’s high school prospects for the Class of 2022 are shaping up to be a history-making group that will garner even more attention from the Clemsons of the college football world. Pruitt and his staff must find a way to keep those kids at home.