When Larry Scott was hired as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, the response was underwhelming from much of the fan base. But Scott’s familiarity with the Vols’ personnel is crucial as the Vols begin a do-or-die season for their head coach.
Butch Jones trusts Scott in a pivotal season. And Scott trusts his young contributors to step up.
“I think the guys have had a great approach, a great mental approach towards everything,” Scott said Thursday during media availability. “We’ve come out and given great effort out on the field to get better at the things we’re constantly challenging to get better at. I like where we are, and we’re only at practice nine of 26. There’s still so much more improvement that needs to be made across the board at all positions, and we’re just getting together and making sure we continue to build continuity.
“We still got a long ways to go but I like where we are. The kids are ending summer school here, and we’ll be able to get them locked in a little bit more mentally with that, so we’re looking to continue to make strides as we keep going.”
So how do you replace your starting quarterback, running back and best receiver? Tennessee will use a committee of players to do that. There aren’t any superstars left. But Scott is fine with that.
On Thursday, Scott said that his receiving corps has a “long way to go.” But he says that Kevin Beard’s group is the biggest surprise of camp so far.
“There’s some young guys in there that played a little last year, but now they’re in some roles that have picked up for them,” Scott stated. “The way that they just have responded to everything, some of the things we’ve been doing a little bit differently than we have in the past and different things like that.”
Tennessee needs breakout seasons from most of its new receivers. Marquez Callaway says he feels more comfortable in the offense. Tyler Byrd has to average more than 7.9 receiving yards per game like he did his freshman season last year.
At running back, John Kelly has to build upon his momentum from the end of last season. Kelly finished 9th in the SEC with 6.4 yards per carry on only 98 attempts.
But like Jauan Jennings at wide receiver, Kelly won’t be asked to do everything. Scott feels very comfortable with his trio of freshman running backs.
“(They’re) a lot like the receiver group,” Scott said of his young running backs. “They’ve kind of exceeded some expectations a little bit as far as their ability to retain the amount of information that’s been thrown at them. A big part about being a running back in our system is you’re on special teams. You play a host of special teams as well, so being able to retain the special teams information, the protections, the run reads and all those things, I think those young kids have done a real good job.”
Kelly acts as a player-coach to the freshmen, which is a huge asset to any coach, especially someone in their first year as offensive coordinator.
“It’s a testament, too, to the leadership they’re getting from John Kelly through the summer and in camp,” Scott stated. “The times that we weren’t able to meet with them, he’s spent extra time with them to teach them and has taught them our system and how we do things.
“I’m very excited about those three young backs, and they’re going to all have a role and they’re going to all find themselves playing for us at some point.”
The Vols’ quarterback battle will continue to be a major storyline as well leading up to week one. But Scott’s signal caller is just one of many question marks on the offensive side of the ball.
Look for Scott to keep things simple, relying on a veteran offensive line for the first couple of weeks. Fans likely won’t get to see everything Scott has to offer until the Vols’ trip to the Swamp in week three. But right now, he likes what he’s seeing from his young players.