KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will hold its opening spring football news conference today, and everyone will be checking the roster.
To our knowledge, junior wide receiver Jauan Jennings is still on the team and in good standing after an offseason off-the-field issue. But the roster release will provide some clarity.
Jennings is the most irreplaceable player on the Vols’ roster with his playmaking and game-changing abilities.
But Tennessee needs even more than that from Jennings, as it has a young and unproven receiving corps.
New Tennessee receivers coach Kevin Beard said he’s looking forward to helping Jennings take his game to another level in addition to showing him how he can become a leader.
Beard also said he’s excited to be working with so many young receivers.
“Some people might feel like it’s a bad thing when you have young guys, but I think it’s a great thing, because those young guys are hungry and eager to get out there to get better,” Beard explained. “They just want the opportunity and they want to take advantage of it.”
Tennessee football WR overview
Coach Butch Jones has said the Vols will run the same base offense after setting a single-season record for points and touchdowns last season — despite not having any offensive players voted first-team All-SEC.
But it seems likely UT will rely more on the run game with the inexperience at quarterback and receiver, so when the Vols do throw the ball, they’ll need to make the most of it.
Outside of Jennings, sophomore Tyler Byrd appears to be the most explosive athlete, even if he didn’t appear intuitive on the offensive side of the ball last season.
Sophomore Brandon Johnson appears to have the length and athleticism to make plays, but he’s expected to be limited this spring with a shoulder injury.
Junior college transfer Jeff George is a tall target at 6-6, but he struggled to get on the field last season, and to this point has been somewhat of a bust.
Marquez Callaway is an intriguing talent, as is speedy Latrell Williams. Intriguing, but unproven.
Tennessee football WR by the numbers
Of the 238 passes the Vols completed last season, only 32 percent of those (77) were made by returning receivers. Jennings represented 40 of those 77 catches.
The next leading returning receiver is Byrd, who as a true freshman had 15 catches for 209 yards. Josh Smith, a senior, had 13 grabs.
Some might wonder what could have been had former 5-star recruit Preston Williams stuck it out, but Jones insists his receivers block, and Williams wasn’t on board.
Tennessee football WR moving forward
The Vols have a lot of work to do at receiver, and that’s probably why Byrd is still on that side of the football instead of in the secondary, where some believe he’s ultimately better suited to play.
It’s a numbers game, and with Josh Malone turning pro after his junior season, Tennessee is hurting in that respect.
Who knows, there might be more double tight end formations if the younger receivers can’t prove the Vols are worthy of 3- or 4-receiver sets.
Tennessee football WR standout performer
Whoever wins the quarterback job would benefit a great deal from having a talented receiver like Jennings, provided the rising junior can stay between the lines and have a positive and productive spring and offseason.
But as important as the spring is, how Jennings learns to lead and handles the upcoming offseason will be just as important to the team as well as his NFL aspirations for the 2018 draft.
Projected depth chart:
Jauan Jennings (6-3, 205, Jr.)
Marquez Callaway (6-2, 190, So.)
Jeff George (6-6, 195, RS Senior)
Latrell Williams (5-11, 175, So.)
Brandon Johnson (shoulder injury, limited spring, 6-2, 180, So.)
Tyler Byrd (6-0, 195, So.)
Josh Smith (6-1, 213, RS Sr.)
Others competing to play:
Jordan Murphy (6-1, 170, Fr., reports summer)
Joshua Palmer (6-2, 200, Fr., reports summer)
Jacquez Jones (5-11, 175, Fr., reports summer)
Princeton Fant (6-3, 215, Fr., reports summer)
Logan Fetzner (5-9, 182, RS Sr.)
Thomas Orradre (6-2, 205, RS Jr.)
Ben Powlas (6-5, 205, So.)
Will Martinez (5-8, 184, Jr.)
BJ Bishop (5-10, 180, RS Fr.)
Jaye Rochell (6-2, 210, RS Sr.)