Preview 2017: Tennessee Volunteers
Previewing and looking ahead at the Tennessee Volunteers season – and what you need to know.
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What You Need To Know About The Tennessee Offense
Frustrating at times but good overall, the Tennessee offense averaged 444 yards and 36 points per game. Consistency was an issue, but when it came to the key losses, the O wasn’t necessarily the issue.
The ground attack turned out to be fine, mostly because Joshua Dobbs was Joshua Dobbs taking off. New projected starting quarterback Quinten Dormady won’t run like Dobbs did, Alvin Kamara left early and Jalen Hurd is long gone. But John Kelly was the team’s most effective running back for a long stretch, and a slew of young options are waiting to show what they can do to back him up.
Leading receiver Josh Malone is done, and now Jauan Jennings needs to grow into a No. 1 target. The tight ends will likely be used even more under new offensive coordinator Larry Scott – he’s coaching the tight ends, too – meaning Ethan Wolf should play a bigger role.
The offensive line did a nice job for the ground game last season, and it should be a positive as the season goes on with decent depth and enough versatile options to play around with. Expect this group to pound away for more than five yards per carry again.
Biggest Key To The Tennessee Offense
Be awesome, Quinten Dormady. Fortunately, he looked and played the part this offseason with a strong spring to separate himself in the battle to replace Joshua Dobbs – who carried the team by himself at times when everything else was melting down
Dormady got in a little bit of work last year, but he now appears ready to step in make the machine go. He’s not Dobbs in terms of playmaking skills, but he’s an accurate enough passer to be a more-than-capable replacement. Jarrett Guarantano is an excellent-looking No. 2 option, but the Vols should have the position all but settled going into the fall.
What You Need To Know About The Tennessee Defense
A massive disappointment as last season went on, the Vols couldn’t stop anyone’s ground game and were too leaky overall against the quarterbacks who could throw a forward pass. They finished the year 95th in the nation in total defense despite all that talent – and now a slew of the key parts have to be replaced.
Step One is to find a pass rush without Derek Barnett. Getting behind the line wasn’t an issue for the Vols, but the defensive ends have to not only generate more pressure, but stay healthy too – rising-star Jonathan Kongbo is already banged up. There’s beef and talent on the inside, but they all have to start playing up to their prep hype – and not get hurt.
There’s a good group of linebackers returning with all of the key parts from late in the year back, but the main group of returning tacklers are in the secondary. Safety Todd Kelly is back after leading the team with 71 stops – the top five tacklers and eight of the top nine return.
Now they all need to stop someone before they make big things happen down the field, and that starts with …
Biggest Key To The Tennessee Defense
The run defense has to be much, much better. Injuries were a problem, but still, Tennessee isn’t supposed to give up 400 rushing yards in three games, and 353 to Texas A&M. The Vols were a disaster up the middle late in the year as just about everyone ground up the front seven.
The Aggies, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt all ran for four touchdowns and cranked out big dash after big dash against a D that gave up almost 900 more rushing yards than it did in 2015.
Tennessee Will Be Far Better If …
It doesn’t give the ball away so much. There’s having problems with turnover margin, and there’s turning it over seven times in a 45-38 loss to Texas A&M. How do you lose to South Carolina? You give it up three times and don’t force any takeaways.
Tennessee wasn’t good enough last season to win when it made a slew of mistakes, and it certainly won’t be able to overcome a horrible turnover margin this year.
Best Tennessee Offensive Player
RB John Kelly, Jr. – The running game was supposed to be up to Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara to own, but it was Kelly who took over with 630 yards and five scores, averaging well over six yards per carry.
He didn’t get much work early on, but cranked it up against Texas A&M and caught fire – after getting held down by Alabama – with close to 400 yards in four games. Now it’s his backfield, but can he be a workhorse? He’s got the breakaway speed to hit his share of home runs, but the offense needs him to be able to handle the load.
2. WR Jauan Jennings, Jr.
3. QB Quinten Dormady, Jr.
4. TE Ethan Wolf, Sr.
5. C Jason Robertson, Sr.
Best Tennessee Defensive Player
S Todd Kelly, Sr. – For a defense that needs playmakers to emerge, Kelly is a good place to start with the All-SEC smarts and experience to grow into the leader of a good-looking secondary. The 5-11, 208-pounder led the team in tackles with 71 stops with two picks, but he has to make more plays when the ball is in the air and get past an ankle injury suffered this spring.
2. S Rashaan Gaulden, Jr.
3. S Micah Abernathy, Jr.
4. LB Darrin Kirkland, Jr.
5. DE Jonathan Kongbo, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
DE Jonathan Kongbo, Jr. – Who’s going to replace Derek Barnett? Is anyone healthy up front? Will Kahlil McKenzie stay healthy and finally play up to the billing? Who’s going to get into the backfield? The Vols need a pass rusher.
The 6-6, 270-pound Kongbo worked behind Barnett last year, coming up with one sack and 11 tackles on the season, with a pick six against Missouri. He was rocking this spring before suffering a slight knee injury, but he has to grow into the team’s top end, or one of them, once he’s back.
The Tennessee Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins the SEC East. The goal at Tennessee always has to be to at least win the division. It’s supposed to be a power program – it’s supposed to win things.
Maybe, just maybe, the Vols will pull it off when no one’s expecting it to happen. Last year, Tennessee came into the season with what seemed like the best team in the East, and … oops. It’s not going to be easy with the Alabama game on the road and having to deal with LSU, but almost all of the key games in the East are at home, except for …
Key Game To The Tennessee Season
Sept. 16 at Florida – After all of the turnover and all the big changes, it’s Game On for the SEC East title if the Vols can pull off a win in Gainesville for the first time since 2003. Win, and with Georgia and South Carolina at home in the next two SEC games, it could be a huge first half of the season – and then comes the trip to Alabama.
2016 Tennessee Fun Stats
– Time of Possession: Tennessee 32:36 – Opponents 27:24
– 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 8-of-26 (31%) – Tennessee 2-of-9 (22%)
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Opponents 106 – Tennessee 80