Josh Heupel and Tennessee football have a lot of open starting roles to fill this year given their key departures. With spring practice set to begin Monday, here is a ranking of the top 10 position battles based on who will be available for the Vols over the next month.
10. Kickoff returner
Jimmy Holiday was the Vols’ primary kickoff returner last year, but he has entered the transfer portal. With the return of Dee Williams, who handled punts, that makes this the one return spot open. Obviously, such a role could go to a variety of people, and Heupel will certainly use the spring to try to figure that out.
9. Place kicker
Chase McGrath is gone, and Tennessee football added Indiana Hoosiers transfer kicker Charles Campbell this past year. Josh Turbyville, Toby Wilson and J.T. Carver are still on the roster too, though, so this isn’t a given for Campbell just yeat.
In addition to losing their kicker, the Vols lost their punter in Paxton Brooks. Turbyville can also play punter, and Kolby Morgan and Jackson Ross are also in the program. With no indication of anybody new coming in the summer, this battle starts in the spring.
7. Tight end
UT lost Princeton Fant from last year’s team, and Miles Campbell entered the transfer portal. However, Jacob Warren is a proven contributor and returns. Charlie Browder is also back. Meanwhile, Heupel added transfer UC Davis Aggies transfer McCallan Castles and four-star tight end Ethan Davis, and all will be there in the spring.
6. Weakside linebacker
Defensive line has voids with LaTrell Bumphus and edge rusher Byron Young gone, but since Tyree Weathersby and Chandavian Bradley aren’t there yet, it’s not a real battle. Everybody is there for the weakside linebacker spot, though. Tennessee football has four commitments and BYU transfer Keenan Pili. Who will replace Jeremy Banks?
5. Wide receiver
Wideout Cedric Tillman is gone, as is slot receiver Jalin Hyatt. Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton started most of last year anyway at wideout. In the slot, though, Squirrel White is back, and the Vols added Oregon Ducks transfer Dont’e Thornton. That will be an epic battle.
Okay, so Joe Milton III enters with the favorable hand. However, Nico Iamaleava brings the hype, and this battle begins immediately. Heupel made it clear there would be open competition in the spring, so while there is a favorite here, it’s still a position battle.
3. Offensive tackle
Two of the five linemen in the Vols’ recruiting class aren’t there in the spring, which eliminates the left guard opening that Jerome Carvin left from being a real battle. With Darnell Wright gone, though, tackle is huge. Jeremiah Crawford and Gerald Mincey are back, and UT added transfers John Campbell Jr. and Andrej Karic.
Everybody is back at cornerback. However, Warren Burrell returns to health, Tennessee football added BYU transfer Gabe Jeudy-Lally, and every defensive back in the Vols’ 2023 recruiting class will take part in the spring. Given how bad this unit was last year, the race should be wide open.
1. Free safety
With Trevon Flowers gone and every defensive back who will be there in the fall currently on campus, the safety to replace Flowers and start opposite Jaylen McCollough will be a huge battle. Flowers covered for a lot of deficiencies last year, much to his own personal detriment, and the Vols desperately need somebody who can fill that void.