All my life I have been around sports, but naturally gravitated toward football. From the time I was a kid to now, I have been in most positions, player, ball boy, water boy, coach, you name it. I love the game and the excitement and connection is brings along with it. Typically, I’ve been on the rough end as a fan, but things seem to be on the rise in recent years so I’m excited to see what the future holds. Getting to cover one of my favorite teams, the Tennessee Volunteers, is an amazing opportunity and will only allow me to get closer to the sport, the fans, and the rest of the Volunteer community!
It seems that every year the off-season drags on even longer than the last. This is even more the case after a coaching change, like Tennessee just had, and seeing the moves that they make to turn the program around. With that being said, here are 5 points to pay attention to as the 2019 football season approaches.
1. Year 2 Under Pruitt
It is unrealistic to expect a complete turnaround of program in year one with a new coach at the reigns, especially following the many, ‘moral victories’ under the Butch Jones era. After the 2018 season, I think it was clear what areas the team was lacking which seems to have been addressed by Coach Pruitt this off-season. He found the right coaches for the program and now has players in positions to make some noise. While I won’t say National Champions, I do believe we will see a great deal of improvement this season.
2. Jarrett Guarantano
Over the past couple seasons, I believe that we can see a huge growth in Jarrett Guarantano. Under Jones, Guarantano had more of a ‘I’ mentality rather than a ‘team’ mentality. Last season we could see Guarantano turn into more of a leader for the team and rather than let bad plays get the best of him, he would help his teammates figure out the problem so the team could succeed. With a season of the Pruitt program under his belt, and some serious growth in the offensive linemen, I think we may be getting ready to see a Guarantano breakout.
3. New Coaching Hires
Jeremy Pruitt and Phil Fulmer have made great strides to bring in the right coaches for this football program. First, he brought over Jim Chaney from the University of Georgia after putting up some of the best offensive numbers in college football, to serve as our Offensive Coordinator. Chaney is a familiar face to Knoxville as he previously served as an Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach for Tennessee from 2009 to 2012. Next another familiar face in Tee Martin. Yes, the same Tee Martin that quarterbacked the Volunteers to 2 SEC Championships in ’97 and ’98 as well as the National Championship in 1998. Martin will serve as the Wide Receivers Coach and Passing Game Coordinator, fitting for the former quarterback. Lastly another familiar face with Derrick Ansley serving as the Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach. Ansley was on the Tennessee staff in 2012 at the same time that Jim Chaney and has since been with the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Oakland Raiders. Needless to say the “new” faces to the coaching staff are ones that understand where the culture of Tennessee football is supposed to be and are the right ones for getting it back there. Coach Pruitt stated in his Media Days Press Conference that the coaching staff as a whole is comprised of 16 national championships, meaning they know what it takes to succeed at this level.
4. Potential Impact of Transfers
As Tennessee is clearly making moves to turn the program around, other players around the country are starting to notice that. The Vols have gotten two transfers who could prove to be quite useful if they are ever granted eligibility. Aubrey Solomon, a 5-star DT transfer from Michigan, would be a huge help to the middle of the defensive line. The other player is 4-star safety, Deangelo Gibbs, coming from Georgia. He already has that SEC mentality and could play a vital role to our overall young secondary in the upcoming season. While both would be huge assets to the Vols, their eligibility for the upcoming season has still yet to be approved. This is a decision that we hope to be made within the next couple weeks.
5. Growth in the Offensive Line
Right out of the gate last season we could see struggle in the OL position. We stood no chance against West Virginia and while they improved slightly throughout the season, it was still no match for some of the bigger SEC foes later down the road. Coach Pruitt stated during media days that last season the team had 2 OL that were over 300lbs, not exactly the best stock to have for an SEC football program. This season there are 15 linemen that are over 300lbs showing the work that Coach Craig Fitzgerald put in with the team over the off-season. And that’s just the linemen, I think we should expect to see a much bigger, much more physical Tennessee football team this season.
There are many different variables that you could look at as Coach Pruitt and the rest of the coaching staff have been putting in this off-season with the team. I know I personally am very excited for this upcoming season as we are going to see a much different football team than the previous years. While it is okay to be excited, we need to remember to stay realistic and remember that this is a process and will take time. That being said, you shouldn’t be expecting a national championship this year but I think you are safe to expect 8-10 wins this season. Go Vols!
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