Editor’s note: In advance of Tennessee’s Orange and White spring scrimmage, SEC Country is highlighting one storyline of note each day to help prepare fans for the culmination of spring practice. Thursday’s entry focuses on Tennessee’s legacy players. Wednesday’s edition focused on Tennessee’s perimeter players.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There’s no question that Tennessee coach Butch Jones and his staff have recruited at a high level since arriving on campus in December 2012. However, there’s no denying the Vols have benefited from a strong string of legacy players who have helped bolster the roster. Several will be on display during the Orange and White Game on Saturday.
Certainly, many eyes will be focused on rising sophomore Kahlil McKenzie. The defensive tackle had an average freshman season by most standards in 2015. He managed 24 tackles, despite not playing football as a senior in high school due to a transfer rule that deemed him ineligible. McKenzie is leaner and in much better shape this year. Both his father and uncle, Reggie and Raleigh McKenzie, played on the defensive line for the Vols.
Rising junior Todd Kelly Jr. is another legacy player to keep a close eye on Saturday. He’s embroiled in a battle with Micah Abernathy and Rashaan Gaulden to land one of Tennessee’s two safety positions. Kelly is the most experienced of the trio by far, having played in 26 games and started five. Moreover, he seems to have a knack for always being around the ball. Kelly Jr.’s father, Todd Kelly, was a standout defensive lineman for the Vols.
Neiko Creamer is another player to watch on Saturday as the rising sophomore continues to make the transition from linebacker to tight end. He has the athleticism to play the position, but has plenty of competition. His father, Andrew, was a standout defensive back for the Vols. Rising junior Elliott Berry should get some snaps at linebacker, especially since the Vols will be without linebackers Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Dillon Bates. Both were ruled out of spring practice with shoulder injuries. Creamer and Berry have both shown improvement lately. Bates, whose father Bill played safety for the Vols, has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career.
Berry’s brother, Evan Berry, won’t be practicing, as he’s been held out this spring with a knee injury. This fall, he’ll reassume his role as one of the top kick returners in the nation and will likely compete for playing time at safety. However, chances are fans will notice his exuberant coaching on the sidelines on Saturday. The Berrys’ father, James Berry, played running back for the Vols. Berry’s oldest son, Eric Berry, was an All-American defensive back for Tennessee.
Scouting Tennessee’s Orange and White Game
Names to know: Kelly and McKenzie
What to expect: Given his history, it seems logical to expect Kelly to have an interception or a fumble return. At the very least, he’ll likely have a pass break up. He just has a nose for the football. There’s a good chance McKenzie will embarrass someone in the “Circle of Life” drill, which is a one-on-one matchup. He’s in better shape and one of the strongest players on the team.
Final verdict: When healthy, the Vols have had good contributions from their legacy players. However, it appears Kelly and McKenzie are the players most likely to stand out on Saturday and in the future.