The Vols are set to take on No. 17 West Virginia tomorrow at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. It will be Jeremy Pruitt’s first game as head coach and Vol fans first look at what is to come under the new coaching staff. With many questions at hand and all of the “ors” on the depth chart, it’s hard to say who Pruitt will rely on to make plays.
Tennessee has the talent on both sides of the ball to come out of this game with a win. We should see a much more disciplined team, eager to prove the naysayers wrong. This will be a tough test for this team but as they have stated, they would’nt have it any other way. Here is my top 5 key players Jeremy Pruitt will rely on opening day.
C Brandon Kennedy, Junior
Kennedy provides a boost to an offensive line that lacks depth. At 6-foot-3, 301 pounds he served as a reserve at gaurd and center during his Alabama career and has two years of eligibility remaining. His leadership and experience will be key to the Vols having success with running the ball. Pruitt has to keep Will Grier on the sideline as much as possible if he wants to win this game. The best way to do that is chew up the clock and with Kennedy at center I like Tennessee’s chances of having a successful run game.
RB Ty Chandler, Sophomore
Chandler served as John Kelly’s backup last season but showed flashes of NFL talent. He rushed 22 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns while adding 33 receiving yards against Kentucky last season. He also led the Vols with 17 kick returns for 416 yards and set a career-high with 94 return yards on four attempts at Alabama. Pruitt needs Chandler to perform at the highest level on Saturday and with WV’s run game last season, Ty could be set to have a very productive day.
WR Juan Jennings, Junior
Jennings is one of the SEC’s top game changers. He returns to Tennessee after a dismissal following a social media meltdown involving the previous coaching staff. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds Jennings is as physical as any receiver in the nation. He plays with a linebacker mentality and features a vertical leap that strikes fear into defensive backs. Whichever QB gets the start will need Jennings to open the field up creating balance for the offense.
S Nigel Warrior, Junior
Warrior will be the Vols most important player on defense Saturday. Turnovers could be the game changer in this game and with Nigel’s ball seeking ability’s and high football IQ there’s a good chance this is where they could come from. Last season Warrior finished second on the team with 83 stops (43 solo), 3.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 3 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. With a young secondary Pruitt needs Warrior to step up in a big way.
OLB Darrell Taylor, RS Junior
A key factor to winning this game is getting pressure on Will Grier. And as I mentioned before causing turnovers. West Virginia had 26 turnovers in 2017 and Taylor is a guy that can do both. Last season Taylor had 3 sacks which was second on the team and 5 QB hurries which ranked first on the team. He also broke up 2 passed, forced 2 fumbles and recovered a fumble. Paired with Jonathan Kognbo as edge rushers they should have no problem staying in Grier’s face.
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