Tennessee spring practice starts just under a month from now (shoutout to new Vols’ coach Joe Osovet for the handy graphic below), and in doing so will give Jeremy Pruitt his first on-the-field look at his roster. This spring is a big one, and not just because (REALLY BAD RECORD TRIGGER WARNING) Tennessee is coming off of its first 4-8 season in program history.
If there’s any optimism, it’s that Pruitt has a chance to start fresh with a large number of young players. That youth will give the Vols’ roster plenty of chances to get an early, competitive leg up to impress the new staff. With that competition in mind, here are some players who need to impress during spring practice in order to start off 2018 the right way.
All eyes will be on the Vols’ returning quarterback during the spring. Last year’s offense in general was one to forget, but quarterback in particular was a position that never really “wowed” Vol fans. However, Guarantano finished 2017 strong, throwing three of his four touchdowns in the final two games of the season.
Despite not throwing for 1,000 yards, Guarantano at the least worked with an offensive line that returns most of its depth. The communication between Guarantano and the offensive line should have a nice foundation. That just leaves the New Jersey native to work with new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton to revive a downfield passing game that hardly existed during most of Tennessee’s 2017 season.
Tennessee’s leading receiver from a year ago is in prime position to take over as Guarantano’s primary pass-catcher once again this year. Johnson matched John Kelly with 37 receptions, but led all Vols with 482 receiving yards in 2017. His hands were often the most dependable on the field in the absence of big-play receiver Marquez Callaway, who battled injuries down the stretch.
Man-of-the-day Brandon Johnson finally pulls some life into this game. pic.twitter.com/ETM1yvfc78
— FOX Sports Knoxville (@FOXSportsKnox) September 23, 2017
With Jauan Jennings’ on-field status still uncertain, early enrollee Alontae Taylor and a sophomore-laden position group will look to Johnson and Callaway for leadership. Johnson’s development could provide a formidable one-two punch opposite Callaway if both are healthy in the fall.
Chandler, like Guarantano, is an easy pick to draw attention this spring. He’ll take the lead-back load following Kelly’s NFL Draft declaration after rushing for just over 300 yards and two scores last season. He also starred in place of Evan Berry while returning kicks, averaging just under 25 yards a return and taking one to the house.
Hello, Ty Chandler. pic.twitter.com/yw5badEoHd
— FOX Sports Knoxville (@FOXSportsKnox) September 9, 2017
Because of Kelly’s workhorse ability, Chandler didn’t spend a lot of time in the spotlight. However, he showed out after Kelly was suspended for the Vols’ game against Kentucky, rushing 22 times for 120 yards and two scores. His speed makes him a homerun threat in the backfield, and he’s not afraid to be physical.
Richmond’s 2017 season was one to forget. He underwhelmed at left tackle and only played in seven games, leaving some fans restless with the former blue-chip recruit’s production since arriving in Knoxville. However, Richmond’s experience makes him the leading candidate to fill the left tackle position once again.
No player may benefit more from the coaching staff turnover than the Memphis native. Under a new head coach and new offensive line coach Will Friend, Richmond has new life and a new slate for spring practice. It’s possible that the change could key a turnaround in the talented lineman’s trajectory.
With his big brother graduating, Eli Wolf will slide into the No. 1 tight end role on the depth chart during spring practice. Despite having just three catches last season, the younger Wolf spent a lot of time on the field. He probably picked up a few tricks from his brother, too.
There’s reason to believe Helton’s offense will get plenty of use from Wolf and the tight ends: USC, Helton’s former coaching stop, threw five touchdowns to tight ends in 2017. Three of those went to Tyler Petite, who tied for the fourth-most receptions on the Trojans’ offense. Wolf will be under some pressure to impress, especially considering the future arrival of junior college tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson in the summer will make his spot on the depth chart far from a sure thing.