KNOXVILLE — Tennessee returns 18 starters and the third-most experienced roster in the country, but a ballyhooed batch of newcomers are still expected to seriously contribute this fall.
Over the next month, a number of newcomers will compete for significant snaps in 2016, including freshman defensive back Nigel Warrior, defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo, receivers Tyler Byrd and Jeff George and linebacker Daniel Bituli.
However, Volunteers coach Butch Jones isn’t ready to talk roles just yet.
During Monday’s first preseason press conference, Jones did his best to temper expectations for the entire incoming class, saying, “It’s really, really too early to put expectations on any true freshman or transfer.
“We haven’t seen them play football here (yet). They haven’t taken one snap. I think it’s unfair to say this individual is going to step up or this individual will (play). I’ll tell you this, I really like this group.”
Jones noted that the freshmen had a productive summer and were already excelling in the classroom, registering a 3.09 GPA in their first semester on campus. He credited Tennessee’s veterans for “laying out the expectations” and “understanding our standards with a workmanlike approach.”
While Jones mostly shied away from mentioning any newcomers specifically, he did say that Warrior, the son of former Vols All-American defensive back Dale Carter, is among the candidates for a starting safety spot.
Kongbo — the headliner recruit of UT’s 14th-ranked Class of 2016 — was also discussed, as Jones wants the No. 1 JUCO-prospect to take things slowly. The gifted 6-foot-6, 270-pound lineman could start on Day 1 for Tennessee, but for now, Jones is more concerned with how Kongbo continues to improve everyday during training camp.
“Jonathan is a very prideful young man,” Jones said.
“He’s very competitive. He wants to do well. But for him, we have to make sure we don’t put too much undue pressure on him.”
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com