We are all aware that the Tennessee Volunteers are coming off their worst season is program history. The Vols had some historically bad numbers in 2017, but what might have been most disappointing was the offense. Even more frustrating was the passing game. Tennessee finished 12th in the conference in total passing yards for the season with 2,084. Only Mississippi State and Florida finished lower.
Luckily, last season is behind us, and with a new head coach at the helm, Team 122 has nowhere to go but up. One of the position groups that struggled the most last season now has all the potential to succeed heading into spring practice. That group is the wide receivers and tight ends. The combination of returning talent, in addition to the early enrollees have this position group ready to break out in 2018.
Top Two Wide-Outs
If you still have not heard, yes, Jauan Jennings has been added back to the Tennessee roster. However, due to an injury he is recovering from, Jennings will not be participating in spring practice. While on the subject, there was a silver lining to Jennings’ injury last season: the emergence of Marquez Callaway.
Callaway stepped up in a big way after Jennings went down against Georgia Tech. He finished that game with four catches, 115 yards, and two touchdowns. The rest of the season was not as kind to him, but to be fair, last season was not kind to anybody. He finished the year with 24 catches for 406 yards. Callaway also led the team in receiving touchdowns with five, and average yards per catch with 17. It definitely was not the most prolific year, but heading into the spring, Callaway has the most potential for a breakout season.
Come spring practice, the receiver standing opposite side from Callaway will most likely be Brandon Johnson. Johnson was Tennessee’s most consistent receiver in 2017. Johnson eclipsed the 100-yard mark twice and had a catch in all but two games. He also led the team in catches (37) and total yards (482). Despite this, he still only had one touchdown the whole season. Johnson might not have that “superstar” persona, but with a more experienced quarterback, he has all the means for a tremendous season.
After Callaway and Johnson, this is where things begin to dwindle. Tennessee lost Jeff George to graduation and it looks like Tyler Byrd is switching to defense. So, as for returning players, next in line looks to be Josh Palmer and Jordan Murphy. Palmer only had nine catches for 98 yards, but for a freshman who was buried in the depth chart with a lackluster passing offense, that is not too surprising. Regardless, Palmer has all the intangibles and spring practice should help him immensely. As for Murphy, he only had one catch last year. Vol fans did not get to see a lot of him, but he was a four-star prospect for a reason, and it will be exciting to see how he performs.
The Vols do not have much in reserve after Palmer and Murphy. D.J. Henderson is a redshirt senior junior college transfer who worked at defensive back in 2017. However, it looks like he will get some time in at receiver this spring. Jacquez Jones will be another option for Pruitt. He played in five games last year, but failed to record any stats. At this point, there really is not much left to grab at on the roster, but Tennessee still has a fresh group of recruits coming in.
The Vols signed two receivers in their most recent class: Cedric Tillman and Alontae Taylor. Tillman will not join the team until later this year, but Taylor is an early enrollee and will be eligible to compete in spring practice. The Vols need all the depth they can get, so Taylor enrolling early should be a huge benefit. He was a four-star prospect and should compete at a high level from day one.
There might not be another position Tennessee is thinner at than tight end. The Vols lost Ethan Wolf, their most reliable offensive player and four-year starter, to graduation. Jakob Johnson also graduated, and although he was not a huge offensive prowess, it depletes the depth that much more. The only two tight ends returning for spring practice who saw action in 2017 are Eli Wolf, Ethan’s younger brother, and Austin Pope.
Between Wolf and Pope, the two combined for five catches and 57 yards receiving. Not the most impressive numbers, so their involvement with spring practice will be pivotal for their development. After these two, it looks like Pruitt might experiment with another position change. Latrell Bumphus was recruited as an athlete, and listed as a four-star recruit by ESPN. Since being at Tennessee he has primarily worked at defensive end, but according to UTsports.com he is now listed as a tight end. Who knows? A position change could be what he needs.
As for the newcomers, Tennessee signed two tight ends for this recruiting cycle. Dominick Wood-Anderson was the more notable signee, as the number one junior college player in the country. He was not able to enroll early, and that is unfortunate as the extra practice would have really helped. Nevertheless, with Wood-Anderson’s absence this spring it will open the door for Knoxville native, Jacob Warren. Warren will be able to get extra reps and with as thin as this group is right now, he should get adequate playing time in the Orange and White Game.