Generally, any time you have a changing of the guard in the head coach’s office, the roster is going to look very different the following season. Players will transfer citing the fact they no longer fit the coach’s system or their relationship with the coach that recruited them.
Four Newcomers to Watch in Year One under Jeremy Pruitt
Coach Jeremy Pruitt’s roster in year one certainly looks different. However, there has been a noticeable lack of transfers out of the program despite the change in leadership, the disappointing 2017 season, and the major overhaul in coaching philosophy. Instead, the roster overhaul comes in the form of a slew of graduate transfers and promising recruits signed by Jeremy Pruitt as he tries to build the personnel he needs to run his physical 3-4 defense and Tyson Helton’s Pro Style/West Coast offense. There are several newcomers that Vols fans hope will make an immediate impact in the 2018 season.
Top Four Tennessee Vols Newcomers
4. Madre London, RB
Much has been made of the narrative that incumbent running back Ty Chandler doesn’t fit the power running style Tennessee wants to implement. That may be true, but Chandler seems to be the most talented running back on the roster so Tennessee can’t afford to keep him off the field. Still, all indications from fall camp point to Tennessee using a running back by committee approach. This approach has worked well at other high profile schools to keep running backs fresh late in games and in November.
If that is indeed the case, look for Madre London to make an impact between the tackles. With his power running ability, he is the perfect balance to Chandler’s speed attack. He may be the primary option in goal line and short yardage situations. If the power running game is a focus of this offense, London should get plenty of touches in his lone year on Rocky Top. The return of a fullback in Tennessee’s offense–sure to make Tennessee fans happy–will also benefit London. Let’s just hope the new coaching staff doesn’t throw three times from the one yard line and instead recognizes the talent and power they have in the 6’1”, 213 pound tailback from Michigan State. Look for London to inflate his touchdown numbers if this is the case with plenty of red zone work.
4. Dominick Wood-Anderson, TE
Any time you beat out two of the four sitting head coaches with a national championship for a JUCO prospect, you expect that player to be a key cog in your game plan immediately. That’s exactly what Tennessee did when they signed Dominick Wood-Anderson over Texas A&M and Alabama. Anderson fits the mold for Pruitt’s expectations for his tight ends. He is an excellent weapon in the passing game, but he has the strength and stature to block the defensive ends that will line up against the Vols in SEC play to support the run game.
Based on Pruitt’s playful jab at incumbent tight end Eli Wolf during SEC Media Days, it wouldn’t be surprising if the best blocking tight end gets the nod to start in this offense regardless of their pass catching ability. It just so happens that Wood-Anderson can provide both to this offense. He has impressed thus far with his play making ability through fall camp and he will create mismatches when covered by linebackers. Look for him to be a safety blanket for whoever wins the starting quarterback job. Wood-Anderson can provide an additional blocker on the edge to support an offensive line that still has much to prove and also release and win you some contested catches in the passing game. It is this versatility that makes him such an intriguing prospect and a likely candidate to make an impact in his first year on The Hill.
2. Brandon Kennedy, C
Call it the Alabama bias if you will, but it’s hard to argue that Alabama’s two deep offensive line could have started for Tennessee any of the past 5 years dating back to Tiny Richardson and Ja’Wuan James time in the trenches in year one of the Butch Jones era. Tennessee fans might not like to hear that, but it’s the truth, and that’s exactly why Vols fans were excited to hear the update to the SEC transfer rule that paved the way for UT to add graduate transfer Brandon Kennedy to the roster.
SEC football starts in the trenches and offensive line woes have plagued the Vols for many years. Now, fans are hoping that the addition of Kennedy and the return of injured talent such as Chance Hall and Trey Smith can open up some lanes for London and Chandler and keep the quarterback off the grass. Kennedy may be the safest bet to be a day one starter of all the transfers Pruitt has added to bulk up his team. His teammates have shared that few newcomers have transitioned as well as the Alabama transfer during fall camp, and the offensive linemen seem excited to have a championship caliber player to feed off of.
1. Alontae Taylor
Many fans will argue that this spot should have gone to Keller Chryst. If it turns out that Chryst proves to be the difference between 5-7 and 7-5, he very well may deserve this spot. However, with the quarterback competition being so close even as we approach game week, Tennessee will likely give the nod to the quarterback with the most remaining eligibility and upside for the future.
The number one spot goes to arguably the best athlete we have seen from the newcomers in this group. Cornerback was a known position of need when Pruitt walked on the job. Judging from his performance in the fall camp scrimmages, Alontae Taylor may have been just what the doctor ordered. He has a nose for the ball, and that showed when he intercepted both of the favorites to land the starting quarterback job in the open practice to start camp. He has good top end speed and has the quickness to break on balls in the air. This makes him a strong contender to be a starter against West Virginia.
Taylor may have deserved a spot on this list based solely upon how desperate the Vols were in the defensive backfield. Add to this fact that Jeremy Pruitt is known for developing top talent at this position and one can see why he made the top of this list. Taylor may have seen himself playing wide receiver at UT, but if Jalen Ramsey is right about Pruitt’s ability to craft elite cornerbacks, this may be the perfect opportunity for him to use his athletic ability to make an impact at the next level.