Tennessee Football entered this season having to replace several key members of last year’s 11-2
team. The quickest way to fill several of those holes — and add immediate depth at other positions —
was to hit the transfer portal.
UT added seven scholarship transfers during the offseason. All seven players have been part of the two-deep in the Vols’ rotation to start the season. So how have the performed during the first quarter of the season?Here’s a ranking of their performances so far.
1. DL Omarr Norman-Lott
Norman-Lott was one of the least talked about transfers during the offseason, but he’s made the greatest impact so far.
People behind the scenes at UT said to watch out for Norman-Lott, who arrived from Arizona
State. He has already earned a starting and has added legitimate depth on the interior of Tennessee’s
Norman-Lott will have to serve a suspension during the first half of the UTSA game because of
the dust-up at the end of the Florida game. But he’ll be back on the field helping the Vols’ D-line as soon as he’s eligible.
2. CB Gabe Jeudy-Lally
Jeudy-Lally has brought the veteran presence Tennessee Football needed in the secondary. The position group is still a question, but most of the concern has been pointed at players other than Jeudy-Lally
He missed a tackle at Florida and said he has to play better, which applies to most everyone on
the team. But Jeudy-Lally will continue to help Tennessee’s defense.
His leadership should also serve as a good example for Tennessee’s young defensive backs
who are trying to get on the field.
3. TE McCallan Castles
Tight end depth was a concern with the departure of Princeton Fant, who played several roles in
Tennessee Football on offense last year.
Castles’ start has brought confidence to the tight end position as he and veteran Jacob Warren
have played well.
Warren is versatile and has proven valuable as a blocker in the Vols’ offense. Castles has shown his ability to help as a receiver and blocker, too.
He scored on a long pass play against Austin Peay and was wrongfully called for a penalty on a
good block that sprung Jabari Small for a should-have-been first down at Florida.
4. LB Keenan Pili
Pili would be higher if not for the injury that’s kept him out for two games. If anything, the fact that Tennessee Football missed him so much at Florida should probably rank him higher.
Pili offered Tennessee’s defense exactly what it needed: an experienced linebacker who would
be accountable and understand his job. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to help and won’t be for a few more weeks. Pili’s absence will be felt.
5. K Charles Campbell
Campbell has been perfect on his four field goal attempts. He’s difficult to rank because of his position. But Campbell has provided the Vols what they’ve needed to this point.
At some point, Campbell will have to make a high-pressure kick for Tennessee Football. His experience in tough road environments at Indiana, as well as kicking in the Swamp, should help prepare him for that situation. Campbell has been a solid addition so far.
6. WR Dont’e Thornton
Is this too high for Thornton? He arrived with big hype, especially from people inside the building at Tennessee. He hasn’t lived up to it.
Thornton had an ugly drop on the sideline at Austin Peay, which earned him extended time on
the sideline the rest of the game. Against Florida, he failed to go up for a deep pass that was on target from Joe Milton III.
Thornton appeared to be interfered with on the play, but his effort was lacking. He redeemed himself with a catch down the field on the following play, and he made two more catches against the Gators, which could help him develop confidence within the offense.
To this point, Thornton hasn’t made the amount of big plays that were expected of him. However, there’s still time. He needs a sense of urgency.
7. OL John Campbell Jr.
Campbell went viral with his block that drove a Virginia defender through the end zone in Tennessee’s opener. That kind of drive has been missing the last two weeks.
Campbell had a rough outing against Florida. That was the case for the entire offensive line against the Gators.
During the offseason, Campbell was an important acquisition due to Tennessee’s concern at
tackle. I’d bet on him playing better moving forward. If he doesn’t, the value of this transfer class will take a hit.
8. OL Andrej Karic
Karic moved to left guard after playing tackle at Texas. The move has proved challenging so far.
Tennessee Football was pushed around by Florida on the offensive line. Karic was on the blocking assignment that helped lead to Milton’s interception against the Gators.
The Vols couldn’t run consistently against Florida, even when the Gators put five men in the
box. Left guard was a concern to start the season. Nothing has changed after three games.