KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt has watched the cut-ups of each individual on the Vols’ roster, and he’s gauged the returning talent for the start of spring drills on Tuesday.
The verdict? They need more talent.
So far this spring, the Vols have added a graduate transfer quarterback (Keller Chryst, Stanford), a graduate transfer tailback (Madre London, Michigan State), a graduate transfer kicker (Ryan Tice, Michigan) and are recruiting a graduate transfer cornerback (Terrence Alexander, Stanford).
Oh, and Pruitt has made it clear Tennessee is interested in a graduate transfer offensive lineman.
Tennessee football is a “win now” kind of place, despite the program having gone 20 years since its most recent SEC championship (1998) and 11 years since its last SEC title game appearance (2007).
Pruitt is known as a great on-field coach and developer of talent, and he has hired a young but active staff that has lit a fire under players in the offseason.
There is no equity, and there are no starting positions established, which makes spring practices all the more important. The graduate transfers and a handful of impact freshmen will arrive in June, but for now there is a lot to accomplish.
Here are five things to watch this spring:
1. The quarterbacks
Pruitt said he knows you can’t win in the SEC without a quality quarterback, and there is some question whether returning sophomores Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride can pose a threat to start over Chryst. The incoming Stanford quarterback has experience in the pro-style offense that new Vols offensive coordinator Ty Helton will run, and Guarantano and McBride need to make the most of spring to learn the system or one could transfer.
2. Offensive line
Tennessee fans know all about the lack of depth here, especially after Freshman All-American Trey Smith was ruled out with a non-orthopedic condition that has required treatments. That leaves it up to Drew Richmond to prove he finally can live up to his 5-star recruiting rating after two disappointing seasons. Up-and-comers Ryan Johnson and Riley Locklear need to add some power, as does junior Marcus Tatum.
3. The coaches
Pruitt’s staff must get on the same page quickly, and that is easier said than done considering the different backgrounds they all come from. It is up to the assistants to make sure they’re on the same page as the head coach philosophically and teaching things the way he wants them taught. Tennessee likely will simplify a great deal this first season for the sake of better execution.
4. The schemes
Pruitt has said he wants to use a 3-4 alignment on defense, but there are real questions whether Tennessee has the personnel to play that scheme. The Vols have not had the sort of dominant defensive linemen necessary to play two-gaps, so it will be interesting how much 3-4 Tennessee actually uses, and how quickly Pruitt comes to that realization.
5. The leaders
Seniors typically lead teams, but Tennessee’s returning seniors might not have the type of talent to establish themselves over the young up-and-coming stars. Any time there is a coaching change, the slate gets wiped clean, and leadership becomes an earned privilege based on who performs best in the offseason.
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