By Mark Nagi
It’s no secret that Tennessee’s football program is a struggling group.
From probable NCAA sanctions to coaching turnover to way too many blowout losses in 2020, the Vols are firmly in the bottom half of the SEC.
That doesn’t mean that the roster was without talent.
On Thursday, March 25, former Vols, including offensive linemen Trey Smith and Brandon Kennedy, defensive back Bryce Thompson and wide receiver Josh Palmer worked out for NFL scouts at Pro Day at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
“I’m definitely going to be a tone-setter,” said Smith, who likely will be the top Vol selected in April’s NFL Draft. “I’m going to be a guy that when things aren’t going our way, I’m trying to be the most violent dude out there. I’m trying to set the tone from play one to the end of the game. I’m going to try to be a mainstay on the offensive line for years and years and years to come. I’m not trying to give my position up either.”
Smith was on the field for over 2500 snaps in his four seasons in Knoxville, even though they were limited due to injuries and illness. He was an All-American in 2020 and a two-time All-SEC player.
His resume is stout. Brandon Kennedy’s isn’t, but that doesn’t mean he won’t find himself on an NFL roster. Kennedy actually spent six years playing college football, getting a couple of extra runs due to redshirts and injury. He picked up two Master’s Degrees at Tennessee, setting himself up for life after football. But he’s hoping that’s a long way off.
“Throughout your childhood, your goal is to be drafted,” said Kennedy. “Either way, I just wanted an opportunity to be able to go in there and showcase my abilities. From being a kid, I always had this dream of going and playing in the NFL. So just to even be able to get my foot in the door and getting an opportunity is what I’m really focused on.”
Josh Palmer was overshadowed for most of his Tennessee career, but still caught 99 passes for 1514 yards and seven touchdowns. Now he’s wanting a chance to break out on football’s biggest stage. He’s hearing good news in that regard from NFL scouts.
“It’s all the same things – just my ability to get defenders moving, being able to stop to improve my game, the transition of running after the catch, blocking techniques and really just becoming a better overall player,” he said. “That’s also something I have to improve on too, is just small improvements that will create big changes in my game.”
Palmer also got a lot of advice from former Vol receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, who found their way onto NFL franchise last year. “I talked to both of them a lot last year and just seeing what it was like. I got the same thing being in the playbook and just really understanding what you’re doing and what everybody else is doing and just taking care of your body because it’s a long season and you have to be able to sustain.”
Bryce Thompson passed up his senior year for this NFL opportunity. He believes that he’s ready for the challenge. “The last game of the season I felt confident in my skills, felt I put good film throughout the whole year, and I was consistent. I think I’m ready for that next level and I’m excited to see what it’s going to bring. Towards the end of the year when it came time to think about declaring for the draft, that’s when I started to weigh that option and go pro.”
Tennessee used to be a football factory, supplying the NFL Draft with multiple players every season. Those four guys could start that pipeline again.