Tennessee football has its work cut out for it with three-year starting quarterback Josh Dobbs and all-time sacks leader Derek Barnett moved on to the NFL.
SEC Country reporters Mike Griffith and Blake Morgan cover the Vols’ beat daily, and they weighed in on the areas fifth-year coach Butch Jones must emphasize in the preseason.
Tennessee opens the season at 8 p.m on Sept. 4 against Georgia Tech in Atlanta at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Yellow Jackets went 3-0 against the SEC last season and have won five of their past six against the conference under coach Paul Johnson.
The Vols, coming off back-to-back Top 25 seasons for the first time in nine years, are working to be as prepared as possible.
Tennessee focusing on offensive skill positions, LBs in August
• The quarterback position gets the most attention with junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt Jarrett Guarantano competing for repetitions. Dormady appears to be the starter though Jones has said Guarantano also will play. The bigger concerns are building depth at tailback behind junior John Kelly and at receiver behind junior Jauan Jennings. Tennessee will be young and inexperienced in the running back and receiver rotations, where Ty Chandler (tailback) and Josh Palmer (receiver) have been the most promising freshmen to emerge.
• The linebacking corps has been riddled by injuries the past two seasons, most notably middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. and outside linebacker Quart’e Sapp. Both have been hampered in fall drills, and the Vols are hoping to get them back for the start of the season at 100 percent. Former walk-on Colton Jumper took the reins in the middle when Kirkland was out last season and is one year better, but lacks the athleticism needed to play sideline to sideline in the SEC.
• The Vols have a new offensive coordinator in Larry Scott, who’s in his second year on the staff after his stint as Miami’s interim head coach the second half of the 2015 season. Scott is bringing a more physical approach to the offense, and Jones has wanted to see that carry over to the defensive side of the football, as well. New defensive line coach Brady Hoke has provided a lift on the front line, while new secondary coach Charlton Warren has stressed fundamentals and improved the defensive backs across the board.