No. 23 – The Tennessee Volunteers lost a lot this summer. They lost first round pick and their best defensive player in Derek Barnett. They lost their passing leader Joshua Dobbs, their rushing leader in Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd, who had a slow year with the emergence of Kamara. They also lost their receiving leader in Josh Malone. That is a lot of offense to replace, but the Vols believe they have the raw talent to replace them and improve in 2017. Last season, the Vols finished second in the SEC West at 9-4, and were a top-25 team when the season ended. Butch Jones brought in a solid recruiting class, featuring Trey Smith, 5-star tackle from Jackson, TN.
One player looking to make huge strides this year is defensive end Jonathan Kongbo. They lost both Derek Barnett’s 33 career sacks, and Corey Vereen’s 13, which will be tough to replace, but Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop expects former top recruit Kongbo to be a difference maker right away. At a staggering 6’6/265 Kongbo looks to put fear into the eyes of SEC linemen. Behind a solid group in front of him, Kongbo only managed 3 tackles for loss and one sack last season. Those numbers are sure to improve.
One player to watch for the Volunteer defense is Graduate transfer Shaq Wiggins. Wiggins spent most of last season injured, but started all 13 games for Louisville in 2015. Wiggins will be tasked with the responsibility of replacing Cameron Sutton, a 3rd round pick to the Steelers.
With the loss of Dobbs, there is question at QB for the first time in a while. Junior Quinten Dormady looks to be the favorite, but redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano is battling for reps. Dormady showed flashes in the spring game, going 10 for 10. Dormady has the potential to be a good SEC quarterback, due to his strong arm and running ability.
Running back John Kelly has extremely tough shoes to fill after Alvin Kamara wrapped up his career as a Volunteer. Kelly showed flashes of greatness last year in a crowded backfield, including 90 yards and a TD against Texas A&M. He will be the feature back for the Volunteers, and is expected to break 1,000 yards. Behind Kelly will be freshman Ty Chandler from Nashville, who ran for over 2000 yards his final two seasons in high school. The depth is a question, but Kelly and Chandler look to form a strong backfield for the Volunteers.
Some key games for the Tennessee Volunteers
– Tennessee vs. Florida – Sep 16 – Knoxville, TN
– Tennessee vs. Alabama – Oct 21- Tuscaloosa, AL
– Tennessee vs. LSU- Nov 18 – Knoxville, TN
Florida and LSU at home look to be staple games for this season.
AP Tennessee beat writer Steve Megargee joined the MMM Ranch to talk Vols football: