Tennessee is three days away from kicking off the Josh Heupel era against Bowling Green. Heupel named his week one starting quarterback Monday and released his full depth chart.
The Vols’ depth chart was detailed. Whereas in the past depth charts were riddled with “ORs” as Jeremy Pruitt tried to keep opponents off balance.
Heupel’s first depth chart includes just five “ORs” in the starting lineup. There are plenty of “ORs” for Tennessee’s backups.
One of those undecided back ups is at quarterback where Josh Heupel wasn’t ready to name Joe Milton’s back up just yet.
At running back, Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small are listed as potential starters. Tennessee coaches have raved about the duo this August and at the running back spot expect both to get a large bulk of carries and snaps.
“Both of those guys, they can go in the game right now as 1A and 1B and participate,” Tennessee running backs coach Jerry Mack said of the duo. “They both have very similar skill sets. Jabari is obviously a little bit smaller, a little bit shiftier, has got some experience playing the receiver position, so he can do a lot of different things as far as his repertoire. At the same time, you have Tiyon, who has just so much power like I said before, running between the tackles. Those guys have really been a good 1-2 punch throughout fall camp.”
Speedy freshman Jaylen Wright was listed as the group’s third running back.
Tennessee named starters at two of the three receiver spots with a competition still brewing at the third spot. Sophomore Jalin Hyatt will start in the slot with Walker Merrill and Jimmy Calloway listed as his backups.
After a strong fall camp, redshirt-junior Cedric Tillman earned a starting spot. Tillman has just eight career catches but brings a physical component to Tennessee’s receiver room.
“When I got here in the spring, about six and a half months ago, I saw a big frame, big body who didn’t have a whole lot of confidence, really, as I came in here at Tennessee,” receiver coach Kodi Burns said. “Right now, I think he’s starting to play more confident and starting to play big. He’s a big body wideout that can go up and make plays. I had a guy similar to him (previously), that when there was a 50-50 ball, you’re covered, you’re still open. He’s that type of receiver.”
Tennessee’s third receiver spot is still an ongoing competition between Velus Jones. Jr and Mississippi State transfer Javonte Payton. No matter who starts, both will play a big role Thursday and this season.
The experienced tight end tandem of Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren were both listed as possible starters.
Tennessee announced all five starters along the offensive line with Darnell Wright, Jerome Carvin, Cooper Mays, Javontez Spraggins and Cade Mays starting left to right.
Along the defensive line, Ja’Quain Blakely, Matthew Butler and Elijah Simmons are announced starters. Simmons earned some harsh words from defensive line coach Rodney Garner earlier this month but the junior improved and showed enough to get a starting spot week one.
“He had a great fall camp,” defensive lineman Matthew Butler said of Simmons. “Obviously, he’s one of the biggest dudes I’ve ever met in my entire life. Strong, powerful and he’s really translating that to his game. I can see it in the weight room. I lift with him every day trying to match his numbers and it’s definitely translated to the field.”
The fourth defensive line spot is still up in the air with Tyler Baron and Byron Young listed as co starters. The duo may be the two most talented edge rushers on Tennessee’s roster. It will be interesting to see how much they play together.
Second team players across the defensive line included Caleb Tremblay, LaTrell Bumphus, Da’Jon Terry and Roman Harrison.
At linebacker, Texas transfer Juwan Mitchell and Jeremy Banks are listed as starters while Solon Page III and Aaron Beasley are listed as the second teamers.
There were no surprises in Tennessee’s veteran defensive backfield. At cornerback, Alontae Taylor and Warren Burrell are listed as the starters. Theo Jackson is the starter at STAR while Trevon Flowers and Jaylen McCollough are projected to start at safety.
Alabama transfer Brandon Turnage made the two-deep at cornerback while Auburn transfer Kamal Hadden wasn’t listed.
Tennessee’s last position battle is at kicker where USC transfer Chase McGrath and redshirt-junior Toby Wilson are still vying for the starting spot.
Preseason All-SEC selected Paxton Brooks is listed as the starting punter and kick off specialist. Brooks will also serve as the holder.
Matthew Salansky is the starting long snapper. Tiyon Evans and Velus Jones Jr. will return kicks while Theo Jackson will return punts.
You can view the Vols’ full two deep here.