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Tennessee Football: 2018 Volunteers Preview and Prediction

Ty Chandler, Tennessee Football

Ty Chandler, Tennessee Football

Tennessee won nine games as recently as 2016, but getting to six victories would be a step in the right direction for new coach Jeremy Pruitt. The first-year coach inherits a team with major question marks on both sides of the ball, along with one of the SEC's toughest schedules. The defense struggled to stop the run and gave up 34.8 points per game in SEC play. Pruitt's background and the return of linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. from injury should help this unit, but concerns remain at cornerback and in the trenches. The line of scrimmage is also a concern for the offense, especially with the uncertainty surrounding standout tackle Trey Smith. The addition of quarterback Keller Chryst and return of receiver Jauan Jennings will bolster a struggling offense. Will it be enough to get the Vols to six wins? Stay tuned.

Previewing Tennessee Football's Offense for 2018

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Jeremy Pruitt envisions a physical offense capable of pounding out rushing yards and creating explosive pass plays. Much will depend on the quarterback, however, where the Vols are unsettled entering fall drills. Graduate transfer Keller Chryst was 11–2 as a starter in Stanford's pro-style offense, and his experience would seem to put him at an advantage. Chryst and freshman JT Shrout will arrive in Knoxville over the summer. Sophomores Jarrett Guarantano and Will McBride battled through spring drills.

Whoever lines up under center will be playing behind an inexperienced line, particularly with the future of budding star Trey Smith in doubt. If Smith doesn't return, junior Drew Richmond will get yet another chance to live up to his five-star billing at left tackle after two unremarkable seasons.

Big-play threat Ty Chandler leads a crowded backfield. Grad transfer Madre London and incoming freshman Jeremy Banks are bigger backs. Sophomores Tim Jordan and Trey Coleman complete the stable.

The return of playmaker Jauan Jennings -- he of the 2016 Hail Mary catch against Georgia -- gives the receiving corps a boost. Jennings suffered a season-ending broken wrist in the 2017 opener. Brandon Johnson and Marquez Callaway are sleek targets who will complement Jennings on the perimeter. Dominick Wood-Anderson, the top-ranked junior college tight end, could create matchup problems.

Previewing Tennessee Football's Defense for 2018

Pruitt ranks among the finest defensive minds in the country, and the first puzzle he'll need to solve is repairing a Tennessee front seven that played a big role in the Vols' porous rush defense. 

Seniors Shy Tuttle and Alexis Johnson -- both around 300 pounds -- figure to share snaps at nose tackle as the Vols transition a 3-4 defensive front. Tennessee will rely on seniors Kyle Phillips and Jonathan Kongbo outside. 

Darrell Taylor has transitioned from end to outside backer, ready to attack from new angles. Quart'e Sapp added 15 pounds, up to 226, and is expected to play alongside 2017 tackles leader Daniel Bituli at inside linebacker. Darrin Kirkland Jr., plagued by knee injuries throughout his career, also hopes to get in the mix.

The Vols return battle-tested safeties in Nigel Warrior and Micah Abernathy, with 2016 team tackles leader Todd Kelly Jr. returning from a knee injury and looking to get his starting spot back.

The defense's efficiency might ultimately be determined by the Vols' inexperienced cornerbacks, as Pruitt has pledged to play press coverage. Sophomores Shawn Shamburger and Maleik Gray and juniors Baylen Buchanan and Marquill Osborne will all be in the hunt for time.

Previewing Tennessee Football's Specialists for 2018

Sophomore placekicker Brent Cimaglia connected on 8-of-13 field-goal attempts, including five of 40 yards or more. Michigan graduate transfer Ryan Tice is a walk-on with two years of eligibility who hopes to challenge Cimaglia. Freshman Paxton Brooks was rated the No. 2 punter in the nation by Kohl's Professional Football Camps. 

Final Analysis

College Football Top 25: Tennessee

Tennessee doesn't have much margin for error, particularly with a challenging schedule that opens with offensive juggernaut West Virginia. The Vols plan to be efficient with a low-risk offense, mindful of turnovers while featuring aggressive blitz packages and coverage schemes. Pruitt hopes that recipe is good enough to produce (at least) six wins in Year 1.