WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. – Tennessee had six players selected in the NFL draft in April for the first time since 2009.
The exodus of talented players from the program to the NFL shows how far coach Butch Jones has taken the Vols in his tenure. The task of finding replacements has just begun.
Jones will approach this new task with familiar faces, though. Because Jones enters his fifth football season with the Vols, every player in the program will be one of his guys.
“The great thing is we know every one of them,” Jones said at a Big Orange Caravan at The Barn at Sycamore Farms in Arrington, Tenn. “We’ve sat in all their living rooms, and they know us. That’s the great thing, the kind of transitional piece with this football team.”
Freshman running back Ty Chandler will be one player Jones might lean on early. Tennessee lost junior running backs Alvin Kamara (NFL draft) and Jalen Hurd (transfer to Baylor), creating an opening for Chandler.
“We are going to need a lot out of Ty,” Jones said. “I’ll tell you what, I’ve really liked the little bit that I’ve been able to see. He’s very mature, not real emotional, just a workmanlike approach and has come every day attacking the weight room and the strength-and-conditioning area. That’s obviously a need where we are going to have to play some true freshman there. We are very excited to see what Ty can do.”
Junior John Kelly heads into the 2017 season as Tennessee’s leading returning rusher after running for 630 yards and 5 touchdowns last season.
The loss of NFL talent from Tennessee’s roster has caused an extra emphasis on offseason training from the coaching staff and the veterans on the team.
“We’ve had an outstanding offseason, and I attribute a lot of that to coach [Rock] Gullickson and the new coaches, but really our players,” Jones said. “The older players have really done a great job of embracing the younger players with the standards and expectations in our program.”