Josh Heupel revealed that Warren Burrell is out for the season earlier this week. Without him, the Florida Gators and Anthony Richardson torched Tennessee football through the air.
However, while the concern that Jayden Daniels of the LSU Tigers can do the same thing is legitimate, there are differences, which we discussed Wednesday. More importantly, though, is the Vols’ personnel will be different.
Despite Burrell’s absence, Heupel said in his Thursday press conference that another cornerback would make his debut. Junior college transfer Dee Williams is set to play at LSU Saturday.
“Felt like he had an opportunity to play last week (against Florida),” Heupel said. “Felt like one more week of preparation was probably needed for him.”
Williams, who came from East Central Community College in Mississippi, was part of a deep class of newcomers at defensive back in the offseason. However, none of them have emerged at cornerback.
Ohio State Buckeyes transfer Andre Turrentine got more work in safety at fall camp, as did Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets transfer Wesley Walker. Signees Christian Harrison and Jourdan Thomas moved there too.
Meanwhile, Williams was one of two cornerbacks healthy enough to practice in the spring, the other being Christian Charles. He then was injured in training camp. Now, he can finally see the field.
“He’s excited,” Heupel said. “He’s looked really good and will be a huge part of the game for us.”
Of course, Tennessee football has been trying out different guys at cornerback all year. Without Alontae Taylor, they simply don’t have a No. 1 guy.
It’s not likely that Williams fixes that issue. However, he could help offset what happened against Florida, as Burrell could have too.
Brandon Turnage hasn’t played much, shockingly, and Charles and De’Shawn Rucker aren’t seeing a lot of action either. Kamal Hadden is actually worse as the No. 1 cornerback.
That really leaves Williams as the only option to help at this point, so his return is critical. Heupel said he has continued to be able to progress.
“We’ve kind of continued to build him up in what we’re doing since the start of the season,” he said. “Medical staff and strength staff have done a really good job with injuries sustained.”
Whether or not this helps remains to be seen, but it gives the Vols a chance to make things better. They can’t afford a repeat of Florida.
Beyond Williams, though, Tennessee football’s pass defense is a little more unique in this game because it also has to guard the tight ends and running backs. Brian Kelly may use them more than Florida did.
Mason Taylor has 13 catches for 106 yards at tight end. Heupel said that the tight end is a player the Vols’ defense will have to key on.
“They do a good job working the middle of the football field, but they use him on the perimeter as well, exits the formation in some of their run-pass stuff,” he said. You’ve got to do a great job of having your eyes on him and being disciplined in some of your reads.”
Of course, given the way LSU plays press-man coverage, the Vols can also utilize their tight ends and running backs. Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren each went over 40 yards against Florida.
With Cedric Tillman banged up, using them may be of even greater urgency. The wideouts will still play a role, but Fant and Warren could be huge. Heupel said the unit is continuing to grow within the offense.
“They’ve done a good job in the pass game when they’ve been asked to, and opportunities present themselves,” he said. “They continue to get better in their run game fundamentals. So they’re a huge part of what we do offensively.”