Head coach Josh Heupel and the Tennessee football team brought in eight players from the transfer portal this past offseason. In addition to kicker Charles Campbell, Tennessee brought in four offensive players and three defensive players, all with a unique skill set that can be advantageous for the Vols.
During his opening press conference last week, new Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle spoke about two of the transfer additions specifically with offensive tackle John Campbell and wide receiver Dont’e Thornton.
Thornton, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, played two years with the Oregon Ducks before transferring to Tennessee. After hauling in 175 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions in four games during his freshman season, Thornton broke out during the 2022 season. The 6-foot-5, 197-pounder receiver caught 17 passes for 366 yards and one touchdown with the addition of Bo Nix as his quarterback.
“With Dont’e (Thornton), really big guy that can run,” Halzle said about the former Oregon receiver. “He’s 6’4-plus, the day he steps on the field he might always be the fastest guy on the field. That guy can really roll. He does a great job of giving you position flexibility with what he has done and his ability to get in and out of breaks. He’s fluid, he can roll over the in-steps, he can do all of that type of stuff. He can read defenses from his time playing college football. He gives you a chance to move him all over the field and create mismatches.”
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It’s interesting to see Halzle note the speed of Thornton so early on. Considering his size and frame, some may have originally been projecting Thornton to be more of a physical receiver as opposed to a speed receiver. The Vols are certainly hoping that he can be both in this high-powered offense.
Tennessee will bring back the trio of receivers that started the 2022 Orange Bowl in the absence of Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman with Bru McCoy, Squirrel White, and Ramel Keyton. Thornton’s flexibility gives Tennessee a chance to use him behind, or with, any of those three guys in several different ways.
The other player that Halzle specifically spoke about was John Campbell.
Campbell, a five-year offensive lineman at the University of Miami, will have two years of eligibility remaining going into his first season with the Volunteers. After missing the 2021 season with an injury, Campbell bounced back well in 2022. The fifth-year senior played in and started all 12 games for Miami.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound player has plenty of experience under his belt after starting 18 of 34 career games for Miami. And considering that Tennessee is looking to replace 40 percent of its offensive line this season, that makes for pretty good timing.
“With John Campbell, you have a very large, athletic guy right there,” Halzle said. “Long arms, big hands, he has everything you want as a tackle. He’ll have a great chance to compete for a bunch of playing time. We got three or four or five really good tackles in that room that can go and play a bunch of ball. Really excited about his athleticism and his experience, he’s played a lot of big-time football. He’s not going to step into any kind of arena that’s too big for him. We’re really excited about what he can bring.”
Based on Halzle’s comments in early February, it certainly looks as though Campbell could be a big piece to the puzzle that is protecting Joe Milton III during the 2023 football season.
Tennessee will start spring practice in late March which will eventually lead to the return of the Orange & White game on April 15 in Neyland Stadium. That will be the first real chance to see Dont’e Thornton and John Campbell, along with the other six talented Tennessee transfers, in action on the field.
Tennessee’s eight transfer portal additions are as follows:
- CB Gabe Jeudy-Lally, BYU
- OT John Campbell Jr., Miami
- DL Omarr Norman-Lott, Arizona State
- WR Dont’e Thornton, Oregon
- LB Keenan Pili, BYU
- OT Andrej Karic, Texas
- TE McCallan Castles, UC Davis
- K Charles Campbell, Indiana