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Tennessee 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch


The Tennessee Volunteers have good reason to be excited heading into the 2015 season. The Vols return 18 starters (10 on offense and 8 on defense) from a squad that won four of its last five contests. This run culminated in a lopsided victory over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the Vols’ first bowl win since 2008. Back-to-back top-5 recruiting classes also have infused the team with a high level of promising young talent that should pay huge dividends starting as soon as 2015.

Even the media has jumped on board the “Big Orange Bandwagon” with many experts predicting the Vols to win the SEC East this season. While Tennessee has a realistic chance to return to glory in 2015, there are still some lingering questions amidst all the fanfare as the Vols head into fall camp.

Tennessee’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines

1. Offensive Line Woes

There is no question that the Vols’ Achilles heel in 2014 was the offensive line. Tennessee ranked an abysmal 117th in the nation, allowing 43 sacks last season, and ranked second to last in the entire nation in tackles for a loss allowed with 101. The good news is that the O-line will be returning four starters from 2014. This unit also added some quality depth with the likes of Drew Richmond and Jack Jones via the 2015 recruiting class. A deeper, stronger and more experienced group should yield better results in 2015. But, will it be enough to help Tennessee return to prominence?

2. New Offensive Coordinator

The addition of Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator, Mike DeBord, should be fairly seamless with the plan being to keep much of Vols’ 2014 offensive playbook and scheme intact. That said, it’s still a significant coaching change with an entirely different person calling the plays, and Tennessee fans have good reason to get a little nervous when it comes to coordinator swaps. They still have nightmares thinking about 2008’s “Clawfense,” as well as the 2012 Sal Sunseri 3-4 defensive experiment. We should find out in short order if DeBord is the right man for the job.

3. Middle Linebacker?

Tennessee has some big shoes to fill at the MLB position. In what should be the most competitive of all the position battles in fall camp, the Vols’ coaching staff will have a wealth of talent to choose from. The primary contenders include junior Kenny Bynum, redshirt freshmen Dillon Bates and Gavin Bryant, as well as true freshmen Darrin Kirkland and Austin Smith. The issue is that Bynum is the only one with any real game experience, and he may be the least talented of the bunch at a position of paramount importance to this defense.

4. Veteran Experience vs. Talented Youth

Tennessee returns most of its starters on both sides of the ball. The Vols have also brought in a ton of young talent that will give some of those veterans a run for their money in terms of playing time. Newcomers Kahlil McKenzie (DT), Shy Tuttle (DT), Darrin Kirkland (MLB), Drew Richmond (OT), and Justin Martin (DB) all have a legitimate shot at beating out their more experienced counterparts for starting jobs. It should make for an interesting fall camp.

Related: 5 Tennessee Volunteer Newcomers That Will Have An Immediate Impact

5. The Hype Machine

For the first time, in a long time, the Tennessee Volunteers are actually expected to be good, if not great. With the lofty preseason expectations continuing to grow amongst the media and a rabid Tennessee fanbase, how will Butch Jones’ football team respond to the pressure?

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS