Tennessee’s roster won’t be as senior-laden in 2017 as it was for the 2016 season. The Vols are far from being one of the youngest teams in the nation, but they aren’t one of the more experienced teams either. Tennessee will have to rely on several inexperienced and younger players to not only provide depth this season, but also to play some pivotal roles in all three phases of the game.
And Butch Jones is keenly aware of that.
“We have a lot of young players, and we’re going to rely on a lot of youngsters,” Jones said during a press conference on Sunday during Tennessee’s media day. “Our players have done a great job of embracing the strength and conditioning area. I think they understand hydration, nutrition and continued that into the weight room. Everything that’s associated with being a championship team and championship habits that we speak about on a daily basis.”
Jones knows that his team is younger this season, but he’s pleased with the progress they’re making so far in the weight room and on the field both. The Vols are extremely young at some positions and will be counting on first-time starters at several spots.
The Vols return no starts at quarterback, only one career start at running back, only five career starts along the defensive line aside from Kendal Vickers, and no tight end has more than two career catches behind Ethan Wolf. The young players on Tennessee’s roster won’t be asked to just provide depth at key positions; they’ll also be counted on to play meaningful snaps. And in some cases, those inexperienced players will be asked to start as well.
Several sophomores and freshmen are competing for playing time right now, and so far some of those new faces have stood out to Jones.
“We still have a number of positions that are extremely competitive,” Jones stated. “Some freshmen are showing that they’re going to be able to play for us. Some are still developing.”
Two freshmen have already had their black stripes removed during fall camp. Safety Theo Jackson and tight end LaTrell Bumphus were the first two Vols to have their stripes removed of this freshmen class. Other freshmen, such as offensive lineman Trey Smith, are vying for legitimate starting spots on Tennessee’s roster and continue to impress during practices.
The Vols won’t have nearly as many freshmen and sophomores playing for them this season as they did in 2014, for example. That team was Butch Jones’ youngest roster he’s had while at Tennessee. But the Vols will still need younger players to contribute this season, and so far those young players are looking up to the task.