Whether it’s Jon Gruden, Dan Mullen, a surprise or someone further down the list, somebody is going to coach this team next year. What will Tennessee’s next coach inherit?
This is our first, rough draft of Tennessee’s 2018 depth chart. The point isn’t to squabble over why one guy is over another on the first team; generally I went with who played most often this season and will leave conversations like, “Why doesn’t Tyler Byrd play more?” for the off-season and the next coach. It also does not assume newcomers will step in and contribute meaningfully right away, except where the depth chart has a hole that cannot be filled by anyone other than a true freshman. We obviously don’t know about transfers, and this depth chart assumes everyone who can return to school will do so.
As you’ll see, many of these names are already playing big roles for the Vols. Tennessee’s games down the stretch this fall matter most for how they get this team ready for next fall, especially guys like Guarantano and Shawn Shamburger.
Take a look:
|Pos.||First Team||Year||Second Team||Year|
|QB||Jarrett Guarantano||RSo||Quinten Dormady||Sr|
|RB||John Kelly||Sr||Ty Chandler||So|
|WR||Jauan Jennings||RJr||Josh Palmer||So|
|WR||Marquez Callaway||Jr||Jordan Murphy||So|
|WR||Brandon Johnson||Jr||Tyler Byrd||Jr|
|TE||Austin Pope||RSo||Eli Wolf||RJr|
|OT||Drew Richmond||RJr||K’Rojhn Calbert||RFr|
|OG||Ryan Johnson||RSo||Riley Locklear||So|
|OG||Trey Smith||So||Ollie Lane||Fr|
|OT||Marcus Tatum||Jr||Devante Brooks||RSo|
|DE||Kyle Phillips||Sr||Jonathan Kongbo||RSr|
|DT||Shy Tuttle||Sr||Quay Picou||Sr|
|DT||Kahlil McKenzie||Sr||Alexis Johnson||RSr|
|DE||Darrell Taylor||RJr||Matthew Butler||So|
|LB||Darrin Kirkland Jr.||RJr||Quart’e Sapp||RJr|
|LB||Daniel Bituli||Jr||Austin Smith||RJr|
|CB||Shawn Shamburger||So||Cheyenne Labruzza||RFr|
|CB||Marquill Osborne||Jr||Jaycee Horn||Fr|
|NB||Rashaan Gaulden||RSr||Baylen Buchanan||Jr|
|S||Nigel Warrior||Jr||Todd Kelly Jr.||RSr|
|S||Micah Abernathy||Sr||Theo Jackson||So|
A couple of observations:
- If consistent quarterback play emerges, the Vols can be dangerous at the skill positions. John Kelly, Ty Chandler, Jauan Jennings, and Marquez Callaway are all proven threats. And other than John Kelly, all of those players would be eligible to return in 2019.
- If healthy, the Vols can also be dangerous up the middle of their defense. Senior editions of Tuttle and McKenzie in the middle, the return of a healthy Darrin Kirkland Jr. with Bituli beside him at linebacker, and all three safeties again available (assuming a redshirt for Todd Kelly Jr.). That’s a ton of returning experience. If the new coaches can continue to develop Kyle Phillips and Darrell Taylor off the end, the front seven (or six) can be a positive force for the Vols in 2018.
- Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, and Butch Jones all had to start freshmen right away. The next coach shouldn’t have to do the same, give or take an offensive lineman. There are holes here, but not many of them will show up immediately. Strong work on the recruiting trail for 2019 will be of vital importance, but right now this program is deeper and stronger than what at least Dooley and Butch Jones walked into.
- Tennessee must replace both its starting corners, and will lose the services of the Shaq Wiggins experiment that never quite turned out. But play at this position hasn’t been particularly strong this year, and Shawn Shamburger has shown flashes. There are few proven options behind him – highly-rated but yet-to-arrive Marquill Osborne, plus a redshirt freshman in Labruzza and a true freshman in Horn, if he stays committed. But the bar for overall improvement at the position is low, and if Rashaan Gaulden returns the Vols will still have some good news at corner/nickel.
- The Vols would love to have an answer to their quarterback question that still leaves the team with a capable backup, whether that’s Dormady, Will McBride, or incoming four-star Adrian Martinez.
- The Vols have a major issue on the offensive line. I’ve listed every scholarship lineman available for 2018, not including Chance Hall and Nathan Niehaus, neither of whom may return from health issues to play football again. I’ve also included three-star commit Ollie Lane at guard; the Vols also hold a commitment from three-star tackle Tanner Antonutti. That’s nine scholarship linemen for next fall at the moment. Who plays center? If Trey Smith slides out to tackle for good, how does that change things on the interior? Can anyone talk Venzell Boulware into coming back to the program? Even if you put Cade Mays back in the mix, this is a serious problem requiring immediate attention from the new coach in recruiting/junior college. As good as Tennessee’s skill players can be, if you can’t block in this league, you’re not going far.
- Four years of Ethan Wolf will give way to a big question mark at tight end. Can his little brother help fill the void? How often will the new guy want to use the tight end?
- Who punts?
- The Vols could have a major issue on the defensive line in 2019. Developing young talent at defensive tackle, including incoming players like Greg Emerson and D’Andre Litaker, will be of critical importance for the future. If healthy Tennessee won’t need many of them next fall, but might need all of them in 2019.
What stands out to you for the Vols on the field next fall?