It’s finally football time in Tennessee, and we’ll be squeezing every morsel of news out of every word that escapes new coach Jeremy Pruitt’s mouth over the next month leading up to the season opener in Charlotte against West Virginia.
But we are here to fully arm you with every bit of information we can leading up to the season’ start. In order to do that, we’ve got to get you up-to-date on all the new personnel you’ll be seeing on the football field in 2018.
More than 30 new players will suit up for the Big Orange who didn’t this spring. Many of those weren’t even in orange and white for the worst season in school history a year ago. That’s not a bad thing, either.
Pruitt came in and immediately determined the team that went 4-8 last year wasn’t equipped to win this year, either. So, he called on reinforcements. Over the next few days, we’ll brief you on the newbies at each position.
Let’s take a look at the offensive line.
This is a big ol’ group filled with big ol’ boys. Part of that is because Jeremy Pruitt was hell-bent on getting Tennessee bigger along the offensive front. When you throw in Freshman All-SEC performer Trey Smith, who is being limited this fall but has been given the green light after blood clots in his lungs kept him from participating in spring drills, it’s like UT got another massive “newcomer”, at least since April.
Smith will be in the starting lineup if he’s healthy, but will any of these other newbies? A couple certainly could be, with a couple more intriguing possibilities.
BRANDON KENNEDY, 6’3″, 301-pound RS Junior Center
There’s no question that one of the biggest pledges of the offseason was Kennedy, a player who received a lot of playing time at Alabama over the past couple of years. He wasn’t going to start for the defending national champions this year, though, so he sought greener pastures for clearer playing time.
He found that in Knoxville with former assistant Pruitt and noted developer of O-line talent Will Friend. Now, it’s just a matter of how and where Kennedy fits in the UT lineup. It’s not a guarantee that he will start, but it’s a near-certainty. He isn’t the biggest lineman, and he certainly doesn’t look 6’3″, but he is strong and has been in some key games. He will give the Vols a veteran presence up front, and he may even be the centerpiece at center.
Kennedy bolsters a group of interior linemen who could surprise after a miserable 2017 season. The best thing is that he has two seasons of eligibility remaining after graduating from UA early. The Wetumpka, Ala., native chose the Vols over Auburn — another team that needs big-time O-line help right away — and they are glad he did.
JEROME CARVIN, 6’5″, 303-pound Freshman Guard
It’s amazing that Butch Jones’ staff didn’t have as much heat on Carvin as some of the other offensive linemen in the state, but at least the Vols recruited him. They ultimately won that sweepstakes when Pruitt closed the deal, giving UT a major victory in the early signing period over plenty of other major SEC programs. Carvin and teammate running back Jeremy Banks look like major pieces of the offensive puzzle for years to come.
Carvin got plenty of starting reps in the spring as a mid-term enrollee, and that experience will make him a factor to start the opening game against West Virginia. Who will trot out there with the first team is a bit of an enigma right now as reporters don’t see a ton of reps in practice, but Carvin will get every shot. He’s a massive Cordova High School native from the Memphis area who is big and strong and already has several months in the weight room.
There’s almost no chance of him redshirting. He can help an offensive line unit that needs a lot of it right away. It looks like he’ll begin his career at guard, and he has more upside than anybody on the line not named Trey Smith.
CHANCE HALL, 6’5″, 328-pound RS Junior Tackle
You may not think Hall qualifies as a newcomer, but I don’t care. When a player is left-for-the-scrap-heap after essentially losing two years to injury, you’ve got to put him on here. Nathan Niehaus may be back in uniform soon, but Hall actually has been an SEC-level difference-maker.
Remember, as a true freshman, he came in against Georgia and Alabama, started and even dominated at times. Chronic knee problems kept him off the field, and now, it appears Hall is getting a second chance. Though there is obvious rust and some serious questions about whether he’ll ever be the kind of player he was pre-injury, there’s the hope that he’ll regain it. If he’s healthy, he’s a big, strong depth-provider who could give key reps.
The Vols don’t have guaranteed starters at tackle, though Drew Richmond looks like a near-sure bet. Players like Marcus Tatum and Jahmir Johnson could help out there, too. But Hall is an intriguing possibility. If he can return to form — and he’s got two years to do it — we may not have heard the last of him in orange and white.
JAHMIR JOHNSON, 6’5″, 285-pound RS Sophomore Tackle
It’s hard to figure out just where Johnson fits in the rotation — or if he’ll fit into the rotation — in 2018. Given the Vols’ lack of depth on the exterior of the offensive line, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he won’t play. But he could stand to add 25-30 pounds to his frame, and he needs to get stronger and learn the playbook.
It would have benefitted him to go through a spring, but that didn’t happen; that’s the bad news. The good news is he has three years to play three, so if he isn’t a world-beater this year, it doesn’t mean he’s a lost cause. Again, it’s hard to gauge where he is in the pecking order because the media doesn’t get to see all of practice. He may be getting a ton of reps for all we know.
The Philadelphia native began his collegiate career at Rhode Island before transferring to Arizona Western, where he helped anchor the line of a 9-1 team that averaged nearly 40 points per game.
OLLIE LANE, 6’4″, 308-pound Freshman Guard/Center
One of Tennessee’s little-known commitments from last year’s class who pledged to Butch Jones and was wanted by Pruitt was Lane, a nearby Corryton native who is big and strong and had offers from several SEC teams. There are probably a lot of folks who’ve written him off already because he doesn’t get the headlines like Carvin, but Lane is expected to take much more of a normal collegiate trajectory toward playing time.
In other words, nobody expects Lane — who can play guard or center — to step on the field in 2018, even though he went through spring drills. Maybe he will surprise, but he looks like an ideal candidate to take a year in the weight room and get bigger and stronger.
Lane will be a good player at UT before all is said and done; it just probably won’t be this year.
TANNER ANTONUTTI, 6’5″, 269-pound Freshman
Antonutti is an intriguing prospect, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he develops over the next couple of years. Just shy of 270, there’s almost no chance the former Midstate tight end will get in the game as an O-lineman in ’18. But he has a terrific frame that led to several big offers, including LSU.
Antonutti comes from a family of Vols fans, and though he made the mistake of joining Georgia O-lineman in a Tennessee-bashing video that went viral on UT message boards, there was no question where he wanted to spend his college days. There’s something in his projectable frame and strength that led to coaches liking something about him. I’m sure we’ll see what that is once he puts on 30 pounds, but Antonutti can’t do that this year.
His time is the future.
JARIOUS ABERCROMBIE, 6’4″, 322-pound Walk-on Freshman
You won’t see many — if anymore — walk-ons on this list. But I’m putting Abercrombie on here for his sheer size and strength. The Wenonah, Alabama, High School product is absolutely huge, and he stands out in videos.
Nobody expects him to provide depth this year, but Pruitt and Co. wanted him as a preferred walk-on late in the process, and he is turning heads so far in camp. The walk-on program at Alabama yielded guys like Rashad Johnson and Levi Wallace, so Pruitt has been a part of a team that identified talent, developed it and turned them into All-SEC players.
Abercrombie looks like a guy who could fit that mold down the road.