Spring practice is over, the second transfer portal window has closed, and now, it’s all about looking ahead to the start of the season. Tennessee football has largely put its roster together for 2023, barring any surprise.
There will be some new arrivals in August, but we have a pretty good idea of where most players stand heading into summer workouts. Past performance, regardless of the school in case we’re referring to transfers, recruiting hype and production in December all helped with that.
As a result, it’s now safe to make a fairly reasonable prediction over who the starters will be at each position for Tennessee football this year. Here is our two-deep depth chart projection for the Vols in 2023.
Tennessee football offense
1. Joe Milton III
2. Nico Iamaleava
Despite all the hype Nico Iamaleava brings with him, it was clear after spring practice that the job to succeed Hendon Hooker is sticking with Joe Milton III for now. Milton had accuracy issues, but he’s got a cannon for an arm, he’s experienced, and he is extremely physical. All signs point to him starting this year while Iamaleava develops and then takes over in 2024.
1. Jabari Small
2. Dylan Sampson
It’s no surprise that Jabari Small would be the starting running back for Tennessee football. He’s the one true playmaker who can also shoulder 20-25 carries. However, Dylan Sampson is the shocker. He’ll take the all-purpose back role from Jaylen Wright this year. Wright could still be valuable, and Khalifa Keith could be the power back. Cameron Seldon is a wildcard.
1. Bru McCoy
2. Ramel Keyton
3. Dont’e Thornton Jr.
4. Nathan Leacock
If there’s one debate here it’s whether or not Dont’e Thornton could take the starting job away from Ramel Keyton. Thornton is an elite receiver and could play wideout or in the slot. However, Keyton has too much experience and such a strong history of production that he’ll hold the No. 2 wideout spot. Bru McCoy, on the other hand, is too special not to be the go-to wideout.
1. Squirrel White
2. Dont’e Thornton Jr.
Along with being the first wideout off the bench, Thornton is the first slot receiver off the bench. The Oregon Ducks transfer was a favorite to win the job, but in spring practice, Squirrel White didn’t let it up. White is a rare weapon given his speed, and he’s the perfect receiver for a quarterback with Milton’s arm.
1. Jacob Warren
2. McCallan Castles
Princeton Fant’s departure leaves a void that McCallan Castles could fill as the athletic receiving tight end. However, look for Josh Heupel to use Jacob Warren a lot more. Warren is more of the physical blocking tight end who can make plays in the red zone. Now, though, he’ll do a lot more between the 20s, and he’ll get the bulk of the snaps.
1. John Campbell Jr.
2. Jeremiah Crawford
Gerald Mincey and Jeremiah Crawford manned this position, but Mincey will move over to right tackle to replace Darnell Wright. John Campbell Jr. was a pleasant surprise for Tennessee football in spring practice after transferring from the Miami Hurricanes, so he’ll hold onto the left tackle position for now. Crawford will remain a staple, though.
1. Andrej Karic
2. Ollie Lane
Another transfer, this time from the Texas Longhorns, Andrej Karic will fill the void at guard left by Jerome Carvin. He was a huge get back in December. Ollie Lane is a veteran, though, and he’ll see plenty of action despite not technically being listed as a starter on the roster.
1. Cooper Mays
2. Addison Nichols
By far the leader of the offense at this point, Cooper Mays probably has the most talent of anybody on the Tennessee football offensive line. He’ll man the starting center role for the third straight year. Backup center has been a question for two years, but Addison Nichols has shown signs of playing well there, so he’ll hold the spot.
1. Javontez Spraggins
2. Ollie Lane
A two-year starter at right guard, Javontez Spraggins will stay in that role this year. His experience is a huge boost for the Vols, and fans can know what to expect. Meanwhile, Lane will be the backup at both right guard and left guard, which is why he will see a lot of action on the field despite not starting.
1. Gerald Mincey
2. Jeremiah Crawford
Mincey is this year’s Wright. He and Crawford alternated time at left tackle last year, but it was clear that Mincey has more talent in general. Now, with Campbell to man the left tackle spot, Mincey can move to right tackle and emerge into a superstar. Crawford, though, like Lane, will back up both tackle spots.
Tennessee football defense
1. Roman Harrison
2. Joshua Josephs
Don’t look now, but Roman Harrison had the best spring of all the Tennessee football edge rushers. He has the most experience of anybody here, and his seven tackles for a loss were third on the team last year. However, Joshua Josephs is right behind him. This guy is a rising superstar on the edge, and he’ll certainly see a lot of action behind Harrison in 2023.
1. Omari Thomas
2. Bryson Eason
3. Kurott Garland
4. Da’Jon Terry
Rodney Garner finally has a stocked cupboard of defensive tackles despite losing LaTrell Bumphus. Omari Thomas may be the biggest star on defense, and Bryson Eason and Kurott Garland have a track record of proven production. Da’Jon Terry will see action as well. Elijah Simmons, freshman Nathan Robinson and Arizona State Sun Devils transfer Omarr Norman-Lott will all be part of the rotation too.
1. Tyler Baron
2. Tyre West
With Byron Young gone, Tyler Baron can take back the role he lost to Young in early 2021. Meanwhile, Tyre West is a guy who could play on the end or in the middle, and his potential is through the roof, so he’ll line up here. Just behind these two will be Dominic Bailey, who has a similar profile. Look for Baron to explode, though.
1. Aaron Beasley
2. Elijah Herring
Last year’s leader in tackles for a loss for Tennessee football, Aaron Beasley is the best playmaker at linebacker. He’ll resume his starting role this year, and as a converted safety, he also brings value in pass coverage. Elijah Herring, one of Heupel’s first ever commitments, showed flashes in the spring, so he’ll back up Herring.
1. Keenan Pili
2. Arion Carter
With Jeremy Banks gone, the Vols landed a huge pickup in BYU Cougars transfer Keenan Pili. He may not be as quick as Banks, but he does a lot of things similar and has great intangibles, so he’ll immediately fill that void. Freshman Arion Carter was somewhat of a breakout star in spring ball, though, so he’ll play a lot too.
1. Jordan Matthews
2. Gabe Jeudy-Lally
3. Warren Burrell
4. Kamal Hadden
Yes, a freshman will become the No. 1 cornerback for Tennessee football. It was down to Jordan Matthews or Rickey Gibson, and Louisiana kids are usually just better, so Matthews gets the nod. BYU transfer Gabe Jeudy-Lally is the most proven cornerback, so he’ll occupy the other spot, meaning both corners will be newcomers. Warren Burrel, Kamal Hadden, De’Shawn Rucker and Christian Charles are all there too.
1. Doneiko Slaughter
2. Brandon Turnage
In spite of the questions among the defensive backs, you can’t say there isn’t depth. Doneiko Slaughter will move to star after losing one of the cornerback jobs, and Brandon Turnage will back him up because of how ineffective Tamarion McDonald was there last year. Dee Williams is still on the roster too, but this job will be Slaughter’s.
1. Jaylen McCollough
2. Jourdan Thomas
Last year, Trevon Flowers was the glue guy at free safety given his experience, and he covered for lots of shortcomings. Jaylen McCollough will be that guy this year for Tennessee football as he enters his fifth year starting. Andre Turrentine should’ve occupied the backup role, but he hasn’t emerged yet, so true freshman Jourdan Thomas will back McCollough up.
1. Wesley Walker
2. Christian Harrison
Late in the season, Wesley Walker began to emerge for Tennessee football. With Flowers gone, he’ll fill that void at free safety, and this could turn out to be a huge boost for the Vols. Christian Harrison is a true freshman but he comes in with veteran experience as the son of Rodney Harrison, so like Thomas, he’ll be part of the depth chart.
Tennessee football special teams
Place kicker/Kickoff specialist
1. Charles Campbell
2. J.T. Carver
With the loss of Chase McGrath, Heupel went out and signed Indiana Hoosiers transfer Charles Campbell, who has one year left of eligibility. Campbell is a reliable kicker and will immediately take the starting job. Toby Wilson is gone, though, so J.T. Carver will move up to the backup role. Still, Campbell is the main guy on field goals and kickoffs this year.
1. Jackson Ross
2. Josh Turbyville
Heupel took the unconventional route and lured a rugby player from Australia to Rocky Top in Jackson Ross to take over punting duties from Paxton Brooks, who has graduated. Ross has to have a giant leg, but the question will be the accuracy, as Heupel’s system will naturally call for lots of short punts. If it doesn’t work out, Josh Turbyville will be there to take over.
1. Dylan Sampson
2. Dee Williams
Jimmy Holiday’s transfer leaves a huge opening here, and Sampson and Williams each returned one kickoff last year. Sampson will take the role for Tennessee football. If there’s a wildcard, Wright could take it because of the prediction he’ll lose his job, and White could also take it if he loses the slot job.
1. Dee Williams
2. Squirrel White
Sampson starts at kick returner because Williams will resume punt return duties. He returned 15 punts last year and averaged over 18 yards a return, running one back for a touchdown. This year, he should be just as elite. White did return two punts last year, though, averaging 23.5 yards a return, so if Williams doesn’t work out, again, he should be good to go.
1. Matthew Salansky
2. Alton Stephens
Don’t underestimate the importance of a long snapper. Tennessee football has one of the longest-tenured long snappers in the NFL right now, five-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Morgan Cox. Matthew Salansky has held this job since 2020 and will hold it again this year. Alton Stephens is a fifth-year senior, though, so if something happens, he brings experience and depth.