How important is the number of returning starters for a team?

It depends.

For example, Alabama is among teams with the fewest returning starter in the SEC. But five-star signees saturate the roster and the Tide remains the SEC West favorite.

Tennessee was set to return 18 starters (before injury) but is only the sixth betting favorite to win the SEC Championship Game. And if you want proof that returning starters isn’t the be-all, end-all, Vanderbilt also was due back 18 starters, but the Commodores are easily the SEC’s biggest long shots and could well go winless in the conference for a second straight season.

So take it all with a grain of salt.

Here’s a glance at our projection for Tennessee’s post-fall camp two-deep:


QB1: Joshua Dobbs
QB2: Quinten Dormady

No quarterback battle here. Dormady is a true freshman from Texas who was a four-star recruit by all of the major services. He had nearly 6,000 passing yards in two varsity seasons with 59 touchdown passes at Boerne High. He picked UT over Alabama, among others. There’s decent chance Dormady will have to play as each of the last two years the Vols have been forced to use three quarterbacks (Justin Worley, Dobbs and Nathan Peterman, who transferred to Pitt) because of injuries and inefficiency.

RB1: Jalen Hurd
RB2: Alvin Kamara

There are times the Vols could use both at the same time in the backfield as Hurd is more physical and Kamara more shifty and quick. These two need to say healthy because there’s not much experience behind them.

WR1: Marquez North
WR2: Jason Croom

WR1: Von Pearson
WR2: Josh Malone

Slot WR1: Pig Howard
Slot WR2: Josh Smith

This is one of the deepest positions on the team and a should be a top-5 group in the SEC, assuming the players stay healthy. That proved difficult last season and throughout spring practice.

TE1: Ethan Wolf
TE2: Alex Ellis

Last year, Wolf became the first true freshman to start a season-opener at tight end in Tennessee history. He finished with 23 catches for 212 yards.

LT1: Kyler Kerbyson
LT2: Drew Richmond

LG1: Brett Kendrick
LG2: Jack Jones

C1: Mac Crowder
C2: Dylan Wiesman

RG1: Jashon Robertson
RG2: Jack Jones

RT1: Coleman Thomas
RT2: Dontavius Blair

The biggest injury in UT’s camp thus far has been the season-ender suffered by starting left guard Marcus Jackson. Backup Austin Sanders suffered the same injury. Kendrick is first in line to take over there. He played in all 13 games for Tennessee last season, all at tackle. In our spring depth chart, we had Kendrick listed as the first-team right tackle.

DEFENSE (4-2-5)

DE1: Derek Barnett
DE2: Kyle Phillips

DT1: Kahlil McKenzie
DT2: Danny O’Brien

DT1: Owen Williams
DT2: Shy Tuttle

DE1: Curt Maggitt
DE2: Corey Vereen

The 6-foot-3, 344-pound McKenzie has been a beast during camp and was UT’s top prospect in the class of 2015. “When he squares you up, you feel all 340 or 350 pounds of that guy,” Kendrick said, according to 247Sports. “If he gets a hold of you and gets his hands inside yours, you’re gonna feel him. You’re gonna be in trouble.” Redshirt sophomore Kendal Vickers also will be in the mix at tackle. The line should be one of the SEC’s best. Maggitt also will shift to linebacker at times.

LB1: Jalen Reeves-Maybin
LB2: Cortez McDowell

LB1: Kenny Bynum
LB2: Darrin Kirkland

Bynum hasn’t officially locked down the middle linebacker spot but appears to have the lead. Depending on the day, reports from camp peg Kirkland or Dillon Bates as his primary backup. Kirkland has impressed as a four-star true freshman from Indianapolis. Bates got into four games last year as a freshman but suffered a season-ending torn labrum and was given a redshirt.

CB1: Cameron Sutton
CB2: Malik Foreman

CB1: Emmanuel Moseley
CB2: Justin Martin

SS1: Brian Randolph
SS2: Evan Berry

FS1: LaDarrell McNeil
FS2: Todd Kelly

NB1: Rashaan Gaulden
NB2: Micah Abernathy

Gaulden has the lead to replace Justin Coleman as the nickel back, who usually covers the opposing team’s slot receiver. The Vols were crushed in two games by slot receivers in 2014 as Alabama’s Amari Cooper caught nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns and South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper had 11 receptions for 233 yards and two scores. “I am studying these guys week in and week out,” Gaulden said to the Daily Beacon of the slot guys he’ll face in 2015. “I know who I have to go against. It’s just that confidence level you have to have as a (defensive back) that none of the (slot receivers) can make you stress over them.”


PK: Aaron Medley
P: Nate Renfro

KR: Evan Berry
PR: Cameron Sutton

Last year, Medley was second in the SEC in field goals made with 20 (missing six). Those 20 were the second-most by a Tennessee true freshman behind Daniel Lincoln’s 21 in 2007. Renfro, a redshirt senior, averaged 41.5 yards per punt in 2014.