By Alex Norman
OK so I’m going to completely contradict the title. When it comes to the 2018 Tennessee Volunteers, no one knows what to expect. You can say that this is the case for every football team in every season, but I feel that it applies even more for the latest Vols squad.
First and foremost, there are many questions about Jeremy Pruitt. The new Vols head coach has never… you know… actually been a head football coach before. That makes it impossible to really know what a Jeremy Pruitt team will look like. Sure, we have some hints. Pruitt is switching the Vols to a 3-4 defensive alignment. He says that this will be a physical football team, but come on, they all say that. I mean… what coach boasts about having a finesse team?
Pruitt has also proven that he isn’t especially happy with what he was left in terms of the roster by former head coach Butch Jones. At quarterback Pruitt got former Stanford quarterback Keller Chryst to play his final season in Knoxville as a grad transfer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Jarrett Guarantano’s days as the starter are numbered, but it does show that Pruitt wants another option.
Pruitt wasn’t done on the grad transfer market. He got former Alabama offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy and former Michigan State running back Madre London to choose Tennessee. Kennedy has two years of eligibility remaining and will help a young offensive line. London is listed at 6-1 and 218 pounds, and has the big back build Pruitt seems to covet more than smaller backs like sophomore speedster Ty Chandler.
The new Vols head coach was so unsatisfied with his roster that he took time in the spring trying players at different positions. Running back Carlin Fils-Amie spent most of March and April working at cornerback, which is definitely a position of need. Incoming freshman Alontae Taylor played quarterback in high school, and projects to play wide receiver in college. But with depth at the wide receiver position came an opportunity for Taylor to try his hand in the secondary in the spring.
Getting back to the fact that Pruitt has never worn the big headset, how will he fare as a game manager? This was a point of contention for Vols fans with former coaches Derek Dooley and especially Butch Jones. So many games could have and should have been won, if not for odd and unexplainable decisions by Jones. A few of those go differently and Butch Jones probably is getting ready for a sixth season on Rocky Top.
Pruitt is a defensive guy. Does that mean that offensive coordinator Tyson Helton has free reign on that side of the football?
In terms of the players themselves, we touched on the quarterback battle to come between Chryst and Guarantano. Who will get the start in the season opener against West Virginia on September 1st in Charlotte? Chryst wouldn’t have come to Knoxville if he didn’t believe that he had a legitimate shot at being the starter.
On defense, what can we expect out of linebacker Darrin Kirkland Junior? When healthy he’s one of the best at that position in the SEC. But he missed nearly half the season in 2016 and all of 2017 due to injury. With that move to the 3-4 comes changes up front, and a healthy Kirkland is vital for Tennessee.
Can defensive tackles Kyle Phillips and Shy Tuttle put it all together in their final season at UT? What does fellow fifth year senior Todd Kelly Jr. have left in the tank at safety after missing most of 2017?
Folks, there are so many more questions than answers for Tennessee in 2018.
We will find out together just what kind of a season the Vols have in store in about six weeks.