KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football missed receiver Jauan Jennings more than any other player last season, and the Vols likely will look to him to be a go-to receiver this season.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt said earlier this week that Jennings’ status has yet to change, in terms of his compliance for reinstatement being on track and recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Fans should take that as “no news is good news,” and where the receiver position is concerned that’s important news.
Jennings, who suffered a fractured wrist in the season-opening 42-41 win over Georgia Tech, was dismissed from the team last November after he went on a social media rant.
The dismissal of athletic director John Currie opened the door for Jennings’ return, though new AD Phillip Fulmer left that to Pruitt’s discretion. Pruitt has applied several stipulations.
Without Jennings, Tennessee’s red zone offense sputtered last season and the receiving corps lost its toughness.
The Vols lacked experience at the position last season, and certainly no one possessed the ability to go up and take the ball away from defenders like Jennings.
Junior Marquez Callaway showed flashes, but when matched up against tough competition he often disappeared.
Junior Brandon Johnson was a reliable target, but by no means a game-breaking sort of receiver. Josh Palmer is of similar size and talent as Johnson, but younger and more inexperienced.
New Tennessee offensive coordinator Tyson Helton has said he’s looking to stretch the field vertically, so that makes speedy Latrell Williams a potential deep option.
Tyler Byrd has proven he possesses great speed, but that has yet to transfer into play-making abilities.
Freshman Alontae Taylor is a great talent, but Pruitt might find Taylor more valuable to the team on defense. Pruitt has said a decision has not yet been made on where Taylor will play.
The tight end position is changing in its very nature, with Pruitt making it clear he wants players there capable of blocking.
That’s not to say tight ends won’t also catch passes in Tennessee’s new offense, but they better be able to throw around their weight on run plays.
The shift in philosophy benefits Austin Pope and LaTrell Bumphus, while making weight gain more of a priority for the most improved offensive player this spring (as chosen by coaches), Eli Wolf.
Incoming junior college tight end transfer Dominick Wood-Anderson was considered one of the jewels of the recruiting class, and the assumption is he’ll be an impact player.
Projected starters: WR Jauan Jennings, WR Marquez Callaway, WR Brandon Johnson, TE Dominick Wood-Anderson.
Pressing issue: Making yards after the catch.
Big concern: Not enough speed to stretch the field vertically.
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