•  Register
27

2017 Fierce 40 Previews: #24 Tennessee

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 27, 2017

#24 Tennessee Volunteers

2016 Recap:
2016 looked like the season Tennessee was finally not only going to make a push to win the SEC but possibly even make a BCS playoff run. After a 5-0 start including wins against Florida and Georgia, the Volunteers hit a wall and dropped three consecutive games. Tennessee scored a convincig win over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl 38-24 and won 4 of their last 5 to close the year at 9-4.


Coaching:
It took some time but Butch Jones seems to have the Volunteers thought of as an elite SEC program once again, the team is ready to take the next step and the talent is there. It will take a special coacvhing job this year with an immense amount of turnover on the offensive side of the football.

 

Offense

 Aftre relying on Josh Dobbs for so long the biggest question in Knoxville is who will be the quarterback. Right now it is a two man battle and the ultimate answer may not come until a few games into the regular season. Tennessee has a pair of quarterbacks with differing styles. Quinten Dormady the junior who is the prototypical passer and Jarrett Guarantano, the athlete with mobility and a big arm. There does not seem to be a clear cut #1 at this time and since each play contrasting styles we could see an alternating system to begin the season. John Kelly will be the running back and he averaged nearly 6.5 YPC a season ago as he takes over for Jalen Hurd who transferred. The offensive line has sopme new faces but this is a deep unit that seems to be about a year away from being one of the best groups in the SEC. Drew Richmond could be a future first rounder at the tackle position. Tight end Ethan Wolf looks to be the most reliable target in the passing game. The athletes are here but there are a number of questions about the overall direction of the offense.
 

Best Draft Prospects: Drew Richmond OT 2nd Round 2020.

                                       Brett Kendrick OT 4th Round 2018.


Defense

Tennessee has long been known for it's ability to stop the run and from an individual player standpoint a number od Defensive tackles from the school have made the NFL. This was not the case in 2016 as only Kentucky faired worse in the SEC as Tennessee surrendered 218.5 YPG on the ground. As an overall unit Tennessee finished 95th in total defense and 68th in scoring average. Only a handful of starters return but it all starts with the leader of the defense linebacker Darrin Kirkland. Kirkland registered 45 tackles a season ago but missed five games due to injury. During this stretch Tennessee limped to a 3-2 record. Rashaan Gaulden and Todd Kelly return in the secondary and Gaulden has NFL aspirations. Getting Evan Berry back is paramount for this defense at free safety if he returns to pre-injury form. The key remains the front line where Kendal Vickers is the only returning starter and the team looks for a suitable replacvement for Derek Barnett who led the nation in quarterback pressures.

Best Draft Prospects: Darrin Kirkland LB 3rd Round 2019.                

                                       Raushaan Gaulden CB 3rd/4th Round  2019.


Special Teams:

Evan Berry is the real question mark here. If Berry returns and plays solid at safety and Tennessee has faith in him you better believe they will let him return kicks again. Berry is among the best in the nation as his elusiveness is off the charts. The coverage teams for Tennessee were wildly inconsistent a year ago and it is the area that needs the most improvement. Aaron Medley and Trevor Daniel are both competant at the kicker and punter positions.


Schedule:

Tennessee has a habit of playing big games at neutral sites to start the season, this year Georgia Tech will be the test. The Volunteers third game of the year opens SEC play as they are on the road against Florida. Georgia, South Carolina and LSU are all home games for Tennessee while Alabama is the only ranked team from last season in the SEC that will be a road contest.


Draft and Overall Outlook:

The individual talent is there and the SEC seems to be a little down this year. The big question will be replacing Joshua Dobbs after he was the trusted QB for so long leading the Volunteers offense. Evan Berry and his return from injury could be a determining factor on just how effective the defense will be.

 

DJ Boyer