Tennessee football: Analyzing the Vols' projected starting lineup
Tennessee’s starting lineup is still very much in flux as preseason camp progresses for the 2019 season. However, it’s not nearly as unpredictable as it was a year ago in coach Jeremy Pruitt’s first season.
There are a few “guaranteed” starting spots, but the 2-deep depth chart still has plenty of molding to go in the coming weeks. The only guaranteed starter might be quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. After that, all is up for grabs. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a sign that there is more competition than in the past.
Surely some players believe they’re already locked into a starting spot — and some might be. However, with a team in rebuild mode, no projected starter should feel too comfortable. The Vols return 10 starters on offense and 6 on defense, but some talented incoming youth will determine if those upperclassmen are good enough to keep their starting spots.
Here is UT’s projected starting lineup and how each position group should be expected to perform this season. Take note, plenty of changes could be on the horizon:
QB: Jarrett Guarantano
RB: Ty Chandler
RB: Tim Jordan and Jeremy Banks
Guarantano seems ready to assume the role of leader as a starting quarterback. The Vols haven’t had that in some time. If Guarantano can stay healthy, which is a concern, and lead the Vols in tough times, then UT already has an advantage over recent seasons.
The Vols like to use several tailbacks. Still, there’s no question that Chandler is the best of the group, especially as a complete, all-around running back.
LT: Wanya Morris
LG: Jahmir Johnson/Trey Smith
C: Brandon Kennedy
RG: Jahmir Johnson/Ryan Johnson
RT: Darnell Wright
This is one of the toughest group of starters to predict at UT, if not the entire SEC. If Smith isn’t healthy, then he’s out, and everybody’s job becomes that much more difficult. Are Morris and Wright ready to start as true freshmen? If not, then what happens? Can Kennedy stay healthy and hold down a starting job for the first time in his college career?
The Vols have suffered some tough breaks over the past few seasons. They could greatly benefit from this offensive line if it can fall into place and be healthy. It that happens, the Vols can get by and maybe even be above average up front. Otherwise, this is a group that could be a huge weakness.
WR: Marquez Callaway
WR: Josh Palmer
WR: Jauan Jennings
TE: Dominick Wood-Anderson
Assuming Jennings is healthy, the Vols could have a very formidable trio of receivers. Jennings has had health issues and recently underwent a reported surgery for a knee injury suffered during summer drills. Palmer has been a pleasant surprise and Callaway has plenty of athletic ability to be one of the better receivers in the SEC.
It remains to be seen just how much Wood-Anderson can raise his game Is he a threat or just a player?
DL: Matthew Butler
DL: Savion Williams
DL Aubrey Solomon/Darel Middleton
This group is in flux after the Vols already lost 1 projected starter and might not have another. Emmit Gooden would have started, but he injured his knee and is lost for the season. Michigan transfer Aubrey Solomon would start if he is cleared to play by the NCAA this season. However, that decision hasn’t been made and the tide seems to be shifting against immediate eligibility for transfers after the path was wide open earlier this year. Matthew Butler has some experience. However, the Vols would like to see Savion Williams or Darel Middleton up their game and step into a starting role. Greg Emerson, John Mincey, Ja’Quain Blakely, LaTrell Bumphus and Kingston Harris are possibilities. The Vols don’t have any game-breakers on the defensive line, but they have enough big bodies to take up blockers. That’s what Pruitt wants, so his linebackers can run free.
OLB: Darrell Taylor
ILB: Daniel Bituli
ILB: Quavaris Crouch/Will Ignont
OLB Deandre Johnson
There is no player the Vols need to make a quantum leap more than Taylor. The Vols know what they can expect from some other key starters. Taylor, who was moved from defensive end to linebacker, is an inconsistent enigma. He looked like an All-American at times last season then was hard to find on the field at others.
Bituli is very solid. Crouch seems poised to become a star. If everything falls into place, this could be a team strength.
CB: Alontae Taylor
CB: Bryce Thompson
S: Nigel Warrior
S: Trevon Flowers
The Vols have a pair of cornerbacks who could be special in Taylor and Thompson. Both have shown flashes of being lockdown cornerbacks with the ability to make big plays. That’s a rare combination. Warrior seems to still be trying to reach his potential. Flowers fills out the secondary.
K: Brent Cimaglia
P: Joe Doyle
KR: Marquez Callaway
PR: Ty Chandler
Cimaglia returns as UT’s starting kicker. That’s good news for a team that likely will be in several close games. Cimaglia was 10-of-13 on field goals last season and was accurate on kicks from longer distances. There will surely be a game that relies on his foot this season. There might be 3 or 4.
Knoxville product Joe Doyle continued to get more comfortable as the season rolled on. He can be a weapon at punter if he can further improve this season. The Vols figure to be a field position-team. They could use some key Doyle kicks.
As for the return game, Callaway is expected to be the main man on kickoffs while Chandler handled most of the duties last season. Both could see less action in the return game in 2019 since they will be expected to carry more of the load offensively.
Final thought …
The Vols are still very much a team — and a roster — that is trying to find themselves. Will Pruitt go for youth and talent over experience? That’s a tough call. He has a program to build and has to consider the long-term future.
The starting lineup in the opener won’t provide much of an answer to the long-term question. There are at least 10 position battles that will continue to unfold throughout the season. It will be up to Pruitt to make the correct decisions on those battles. A bowl game could be on the line. Developing Tennessee’s future starters is also at play.