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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    RTI contributor Murphy Carlton is the author of this article 

    The NCAA transfer portal has been making headlines all offseason. It’s been the main topic of many debates among fans, coaches, and media members as we inch closer and closer to the 2019 college football season.

    The transfer portal is allowing players to basically re-enter the recruiting process and see what other schools would be interested in gaining their services if they wish to transfer from their current school. While players used to transfer for reasons like being closer to home or pursuing their playing career at a better program, the transfer portal has now created a type of free agency for college athletes.

    Tennessee’s SEC Media Days appearance was used to talk about what the Vols did this offseason and how they’re getting ready for the 2019 season. But the topic of the transfer portal was also brought up.

    Head coach Jeremy Pruitt was asked about his thoughts on the transfer portal while at the podium on Tuesday. The Vols have had a handful of players enter the transfer portal this offseason, and they’ve also brought in two players as transfers, too.

    Pruitt has a unique perspective when it comes to the transfer portal since he was a transfer player himself.

    “Well, I have a unique view because I was a transfer myself,” Pruitt explained. “A lot of people say: Why did you transfer? I signed with Middle Tennessee. I played there for two years, was a starter. And I left, not because I was unhappy, just because I wanted to go fulfill a dream.”

    As someone who made the decision to transfer himself, Pruitt knows exactly what it’s like being in that situation and ultimately making that tough decision. There are many reasons why a player may want to transfer, and Pruitt seems to understand that.

    Some people make the point that players nowadays are just transferring for no reason, but Pruitt sees in it in a different way.

    “You know, these guys have tough decisions in making decisions where they are going to go to college, and sometimes they may not get it right. And to me it’s about the mental wellness of the student-athlete,” Pruitt stated. “And I think everybody that’s involved is definitely sensitive and really considers that, and I think that’s one of the things that we have to put to the forefront when it comes to kids that want to transfer.

    “We need to help them find their way.”

    Pruitt has also had a lot of experience with players that he has coached wanting to transfer or bringing in transfers from other schools.

    Aubrey Solomon and DeAngelo Gibbs benefited greatly from the transfer portal, which allowed them to find a school that would provide a fresh start and a better environment for them to play in. Solomon decided to leave Michigan to come to Knoxville, and Gibbs left Georgia to join Tennessee. Vol fans everywhere are still waiting to hear the verdict on whether or not Solomon and Gibbs will be eligible to play in the upcoming season, but the Vols stand to gain a lot from the addition of both.

    On the flip side, Tennessee has had a number of players enter the transfer portal and leave UT’s roster this offseason, too. Offensive lineman Drew Richmond, defensive back Marquill Osborne, quarterback Will McBride, and linebacker Austin Smith are the notable departures via the transfer portal.

    Pruitt chose not to comment on the rules regarding eligibility and the impending decision regarding his players’ eligibility, though.

    “As far as the rules or whatnot, as far as eligibility, I don’t have enough information to really comment about that,” Pruitt admitted. “But, you know, as a guy that has transferred before myself, it worked out well for me.”

    All in all, the transfer portal has definitely had its impact on the college football world and will continue to be a factor moving forward. How much effect will it have on the 2019 season? We’ll just have to wait and find out.



      Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

      Talent has never been an issue for Tennessee redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano.

      Coming out of high school as an elite recruit, Guarantano chose to turn down the likes of Urban Meyer and make his way south from Lodi, New Jersey to the University of Tennessee. With that came high expectations.

      Whether it’s having four offensive coordinators in four years or the play of the offensive line that has resulted in multiple injuries, Guarantano has been dealt a bad hand from the moment he stepped foot on campus. Not to mention the disheartening culture former coach Butch Jones created and the false narratives that were promised.

      One would be hard-pressed to find a quarterback in the country that has had to deal with more than Guarantano over the course of his four years. But now, all of the clutter is in the rearview mirror, and his past experiences have made him not only a better quarterback, but a better leader.

      “The thing that excites me about Jarrett is you can stand out on the field and you can see his arm talent,” Jeremy Pruitt said on Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “You know that he’s a good athlete.

      “The thing that I see that excites me the most is the impact he’s having on his teammates. I think that’s a true mark of a leader, is having a positive impact on the people you’re around. And I see him developing and doing that, and that’s what excites me about him and the future of our program.”

      The leadership aspect of Guarantano’s game has been the biggest area of emphasis this offseason. Not that he was a bad leader before, but in order for Tennessee to overachieve this season, the quarterback needed to take a step forward.

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      “He can change plays at the line of scrimmage, and he can get us in the right protections, but the most important thing is Jarrett has the respect of his teammates and his coaching staff,” Pruitt explained. “And he’s been a fantastic leader for us over the last six months or eight months as we started this offseason and works out about his future.”

      Guarantano’s surroundings are quite different this offseason, particularly his coaches. Last season, it was just Tyson Helton as the offensive coordinator and the quarterbacks coach.

      This year, he’s surrounded by Jim Chaney as the offensive coordinator, Chris Weinke as the quarterbacks coach, and Tee Martin as the passing game coordinator. All three coaches have quite the resume and can help Guarantano improve in different ways.

      Not only does Chaney have an impressive list of quarterbacks he has helped develop, but he’s arguably the best offensive coordinator in the SEC. With Weinke as the quarterbacks coach,  Guarantano can learn from a former Heisman-winning quarterback. And to complete the trifecta, who understands being the quarterback at Tennessee more than Tee Martin?

      Former Vol quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who flourished under Jim Chaney as the Vols’ OC back in 2009, likes that trio of coaches and what they can do for Guarantano as well.

      “Having a Tee (Martin) to be able to lean on and a Chris Weinke to be able to lean on — this staff as a quarterback is the ultimate staff you want to play on in the country right now,” Crompton said in an interview with AtoZ Sports last week. “And I’m not just saying that because it’s my alma mater, I’m saying that from look at the track record of these coaches on the offensive side of the ball.

      “You got Chris Weinke, Tee Martin, and Jim Chaney. That’s all I need.”

      As for Pruitt, he has all the faith in the world in Chaney’s ability to run an offense and mold a quarterback.

      “If you look at Jim’s time at Georgia, you can look at his time at Tennessee, and really wherever he’s been, he’s had a lot of success, and he’s done it a bunch of different ways,” Pruitt said of Chaney. “Jim’s a guy that, in my opinion, is one of the best guys in the country.”

      Having Chaney is one of the many reasons there are expectations for Guarantano to take the next step this season.

      During Pruitt’s first year as Tennessee’s head coach, Guarantano threw for 1,904 yards, 12 touchdowns, and three interceptions. He took care of the football at an exceptional rate, but because of the constant pressure he faced, he and the rest of the offense lacked big plays on a consistent basis.

      According to Pro Football Focus, Guarantano was just as good under pressure, however.

      Guarantano was sacked on 8.2 percent of his drop backs last season, which ranked 106th in the country. But when he was pressured, he completed 57 percent of his passes, the best completion percentage under pressure in the entire FBS.

      Among SEC quarterbacks, Guarantano first in completion percentage (57.0), second in QBR (42.3) and second in completions of 20 or more yards (15) when facing pressure. He also threw six of his 12 touchdowns when facing pressure.

      “He can handle a whole lot,” Pruitt said. “The last 18 months, I’ve got to know who he is.

      “A tough guy that has plenty of arm strength. He’s a really good athlete. He understands our expectations, and I think he’s been a really tremendous leader over the last six months of this offseason.”

      Guarantano and his head coach will look to meet those expectations when the Vols take the field for the first time in 2019 when they face Georgia State on Aug. 31.



        (Photo via Kenneth Cummings/The Jackson Sun)

        Every time Tennessee gets a commitment in either football or men’s basketball, we will write up an impact report looking at what that recruit does well, what he needs to improve in his game, and what his projected impact with the Vols could be over the next few years.

        Latest Commit: Darion Williamson, ATH
        Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 190 pounds
        School: Haywood (Tennessee)
        Home Town: Brownsville, TN

        Rankings
        247Sports Composite: 
        No. 872 overall, No. 68 ATH
        247Sports: No. 533 overall, No. 43 ATH
        Rivals: 5.5 rating

        Notable Offers: Memphis, Arkansas State

        What we like:

        Williamson has so much raw athleticism and potential that it’s a wonder he hasn’t already picked up more interest on the recruiting trail. Tennessee fell in love with his potential and skill set when they watched him at a practice at his high school, and their feelings were confirmed when he came and camped on UT’s campus. He has elite speed, and with his size and instincts, that’s a dangerous combo. He also can leap pretty well, and he’s very versatile. He played mostly on defense as a junior, but he showed promise as a wideout and was very impressive as one when he camped at Tennessee. He can play safety or wide receiver, and there’s even a thought he could put on more weight and keep that explosiveness and play a hybrid outside linebacker role. The options appear limitless for Williamson, and he has a very high ceiling.

        Places to improve:

        The biggest question facing Williamson right now is where he’s going to fit in to the roster. He’s simply too good of an athlete to pass up, and he has so many raw skills on both sides of the ball that he was definitely a take for UT’s coaches. But finding where he fits best may not be an easy task. Tennessee needs help at receiver moving forward, but they likely only have room to take four in their 2020 class. If they miss out on one or two of their other targets at that position, Williamson will probably play there. But he’s a good defender based on his film, so he may just end up at defensive back regardless.

        Either way, Williamson will need to learn techniques and hone his ability at either position. He has very good instincts and awareness, but he needs to learn the finer details to really tap into his potential and realize his ceiling. UT’s staff is the right staff to do that, at least.

        Analysis:

        It’s hard to see Williamson getting a ton of playing time as a true freshman at Tennessee, but once he learns whatever position he ends up at and puts on some good weight, he should definitely challenge for a role. Whether that’s on offense or defense remains to be seen, but I believe he’ll end up seeing the field fairly early in his career once he gets some development.

          (Photo via @d_dub4_ on Twitter)

          Tennessee’s streak of landing in-state targets in the 2020 recruiting class continued on Wednesday evening.

          Darion Williamson, a three-star athlete who plays for Haywood High School in Brownsville, TN, announced his commitment to the Vols via Twitter on Wednesday.

          According to the 247Sports rankings, Williamson is the No. 533 overall player, No. 43 athlete, and No. 19 player in the state of Tennessee. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound two-way athlete only has three offers as of now — the others being from Memphis and Arkansas State — but UT’s coaching staff became enamored with him after seeing him in person.

          Tennessee running backs coach David Johnson traveled over to Brownsville in west Tennessee to watch a practice at Haywood back on May 23rd, and he extended an offer to Williamson while there. Williamson attended a camp on UT’s campus on June 8th, and his performance there confirmed what Johnson saw in person in late May.

          Williamson was timed running the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds while on campus, and he caught every ball that was thrown his way.

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          Just because he camped as a receiver doesn’t mean that’s the position he’ll end up playing at Tennessee, though. Williamson is a raw, athletic prospect who could play at receiver, safety, or even outside linebacker in the future. He’s listed as a preseason All-State selection in 4A at running back for Haywood, in fact.

          Williamson has a lot of potential packed into his 6-foot-3 frame. He’s a sure tackler on defense and uses his blazing speed on both sides of the ball. He has solid instincts and knows how to read both offenses and defenses. Though still pretty raw, he has immense potential and athleticism, and finding the right fit for him at the next level will be key.

          As a junior for Haywood, Williamson totaled 70 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four interceptions, and two fumble recoveries on defense. On offense, he caught 10 passes for 150 yards.

          With Williamson’s commitment, the Vols now hold commits from 12 prospects in the 2020 class, and five of those recruits are within their own state borders. Williamson joins four-star safety Keshawn Lawrence, four-star offensive lineman Cooper Mays, three-star running back Tee Hodge, and long snapper Will Albright as the Vols’ in-state commits.



            Photo by Nathanael Rutherford/RTI

            According to a report from Blake Toppmeyer of the Knoxville News Sentinel, Tennessee tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer has earned a contract raise and an extension.

            Niedermeyer’s contract amendment was obtained by the News Sentinel following a public records request. The 30-year-old’s contract will now run through Jan. 31, 2021. He will earn $355,000 annually, which is a $150,000 raise from his previous salary.

            Before the raise and extension, Niedermeyer was making $205,000 annually and his contract ran through 2020.

            Niedermeyer’s contract extension is well-deserved, as he was named the 2019 247Sports National Recruiter of the Year. This previous recruiting cycle, he played a pivotal role in the Vols landing five-star offensive tackle Darnell Wright, four-star athlete Quavaris Crouch, and four-star outside linebacker Henry To’oto’o. Niedermeyer served as the primary recruiter for each recruit.

            Niedermeyer also served as the primary recruiter for four-star corner Tyus Fields, four-star tight end Jackson Lowe, and he was the secondary recruiter for Savion Williams, who was the No. 1 JUCO defensive tackle in the country.

            Tennessee was able to finish with the 12th-best recruiting class in the country according to 247Sports thanks to his efforts.

            In the 2018 recruiting cycle, Niedermeyer served as the primary recruiter for Tennessee starting tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson, who was the No. 2 JUCO tight end in the country.

            So far in the 2020 class, Niedermeyer has been placed on several of the Vols’ top targets in the class. Prospects like five-star linebacker Sav’ell Smalls are main targets for the Vols’ tight ends coach in this cycle.

            Before joining Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee, Niedermeyer had never held an on-field coaching position at an FBS school. He the assistant director of recruiting operations at Alabama in 2017 and followed Pruitt to Tennessee. He served as a graduate assistant at Alabama in 2016 and was a grad assistant at Georgia in 2015. He’s now entering his fifth-straight year working under Pruitt.



              Photo by Edwin Keeble/RTI

              RTI contributor Adam McCracken contributed to this article 

              After a 22-minute opening statement that was followed by questions from the media, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt seemed much more comfortable in almost every facet when speaking at the 2019 SEC Media Days. The second-year head coach not only looked more comfortable with the media, but he seems more comfortable with his team, too.

              Obviously, a 5-7 season wasn’t something Pruitt was pleased with, but he made it known the football program has taken many strides in his short time at Tennessee.

              Pruitt mentioned how establishing routines and continuity have played a major role in that growth.

              “After being there for a year, we know the players that we have. We know what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and I think that’s been extremely important in the development of our football team,” Pruitt said on the main stage at SEC Media Days. “Obviously, the longer you do something, the better you get at it. So, guys are playing the same position they played last fall throughout the spring.”

              With many players switching positions in his first year as head coach at Tennessee, it’s been a welcome sight to see players given time to truly develop at one position. Spring practices this year weren’t nearly as hectic as in 2018.

              That familiarity with the roster carried over to the recruiting trail as well. Pruitt and his staff knew better what holes the roster had, and they recruited to fix those areas.

              “We knew how we wanted to plug (recruits) in. So we recruited to the team that we had,” Pruitt added. “We’ve made lots of strides.”

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              Pruitt is known around the recruiting world for the relationships he has built, and it definitely makes helps when a recruit knows exactly where they will fit in the program.

              It has been a process for Pruitt to really insert his direction into Tennessee’s program. After two recruiting cycles, Pruitt is finally getting the chance to mix in his own players. His familiarity and comfort with his players is manifesting in how the players are reacting this offseason.

              One of the big signs of players buying in to Pruitt was the difference in players committing themselves to the weight room and offseason bonding compared to last year.

              “We had 60 guys that attended May mini-mester. Lots of times every time I coached, most everybody goes home in May,” Pruitt stated. “We had 60 guys that did not. They chose to be at the University of Tennessee to continue to work in the weight room, to take another class. I think that says a lot about the directions of our program.

              “If I look back from the year before, we had like 20. So we’ve tripled that in a year’s time. So I think we’ll see a little dividends this fall by the extra work that these guys have put in.”

              Year two under Pruitt will be a huge gauge for the direction of this program. From the new coaches, to recruiting, and player development, Pruitt has done everything he can so far to make that leap.

              The only real question that remains is whether the changes and the continuity will end with results. For Pruitt, mediocrity is not in the books any longer.