Coach Josh Heupel and the Tennessee Volunteers football team will begin their fall camp one week from Wednesday, on Aug. 4. With countless changes among coaches, players, and administrative representatives since the start of the 2020 season, there are a number of key questions surrounding the Vols offense as camp quickly approaches.
Who Will Be the No. 3 Wide Receiver Behind Velus Jones Jr. and Jalin Hyatt?
Tennessee certainly took a big hit when their leading receiver from 2020, Josh Palmer, took a step towards the NFL and was eventually drafted by the Chargers. But nonetheless, the Vols still return their second and third leading receivers from 2020 in Velus Jones Jr. and Jalin Hyatt.
The Vols return 556 yards and five touchdowns of production from Jones and Hyatt alone, but there is a big question as to who will fill the production in the third spot.
Currently, Tennessee has 16 wide receivers on the 2021 roster, but only five of them had a reception in 2020. Ramel Keyton, Cedric Tillman, and Jimmy Calloway join Jones and Hyatt as those five receivers.
Keyton finished the season as arguably the most productive of those three, although the margin was slim. Keyton had nine catches for 76 yards in his seven games played. However, Tillman was on the field throughout more of the season, as he played in all 10 games last year. Tillman finished the season with three receptions for 67 yards and even added in a touchdown.
Although, the biggest X-factor for Tennessee is likely incoming transfer, JaVonta Payton.
Payton played for Mississippi State last year, and in his six games played, racked up almost as many catches (19) as Hyatt (20) and Jones Jr (22) did last year in their ten games apiece. Not to mention, even in four fewer games, Payton was still within 100 yards from Jones Jr and Hyatt in terms of receiving yards as well.
Payton finished with 19 catches for 225 yards and one touchdown in his six games played for Mississippi State in 2020. If he can acclimate himself to the offense quickly, he could very well catch the eye of Heupel and the offensive staff for that critical third spot.
What Will the Distribution of Reps Look Like Amongst the Quarterbacks?
When coach Josh Heupel ran his first spring practices in 2021, he made it clear that the priority for the quarterbacks would be overall acclimation and not the establishment of a starter. Heupel gave each quarterback equal opportunities in the spring, but in reality, they still didn’t even have their full room set in stone yet.
For the most part, Tennessee’s spring practice saw three main quarterbacks in rotation: Harrison Bailey, Hendon Hooker, and Brian Maurer. Each individual saw plenty of reps as the players became familiar with the coaching staff.
However, Joe Milton, a transfer quarterback from Michigan, did enter the mix during the summer, as well.
With multiple quarterbacks on the roster heading into fall camp, Tennessee and the coaching staff will eventually have to move away from equal reps and towards more specific candidates. As camp progresses, there will also need to be a progression in deciding the starting quarterback, which will affect how many reps each individual may receive with the first team.
But regardless of how, when, or why the reps get distributed amongst each player, one thing is known for sure. The reps during fall camp, as it moves forward, should give a good idea of how the staff feels about the quarterback room heading into the season.
Who is Going to Step Up and Have a Productive Ground Game?
In 2020, Heupel’s offense at UCF produced 212.6 yards per game on the ground. In comparison to Tennessee’s 141.5 rushing yards per game, it is a fairly stark contrast. Heupel has shown commitment to the running game during his career in the past, and with how important time of possession is in today’s game of football, he will need to show the same emphasis at Tennessee.
However, the Vols will have to find some new ground threats, as their two leading rushers from 2020 have exited the program. Eric Gray, who totaled 772 yards, and Ty Chandler, who totaled 456 yards, will need to be replaced headed into the 2021 season.
Currently, there are 10 running backs on the Tennessee roster. Jabari Small had the third-most rushing yards on the team last year (117), which will set him up in a good position for 2021.
Tennessee showed a committee of backs during their 2021 spring game, as well. Small came out with two touchdowns, and Jaylen Wright also found some production on the ground as well.
But as Tennessee goes through fall camp, there are a number of players who could potentially come in and be disruptive. Jimmy Holiday, Dee Beckwith, and Jimmy Calloway all saw some touches here and there but will find more opportunities to see the field without Gray and Chandler.
The Tennessee Volunteers and head coach Josh Heupel will begin their 2021 fall training camp on Wednesday, Aug. 4.