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Hooker: Key Vols on Tennessee’s offense with decisions to make soon

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We already know that Tennessee’s offense will look vastly different than it did during the 2023 regular season. However, just how different depends largely on the group that was most often the determining factor in Tennessee contests this fall. The Vols’ offensive line.

Any coach taking over an SEC football program knows that infusing big, athletic players is key to rebuilding an upper-tier program. The Vols seem to have accomplished that on defense. They’re still lacking a bit on offense, partly due to injuries.

Tennessee’s offensive line will either have to be rebuilt, retooled or overhauled depending on what happens during this upcoming offseason. That line will be in charge of leading the way for a first-year starting quarterback, freshman Nico Iamaleava, and continuing to be one of the best rushing football teams in the country – despite possibly losing it’s most productive running back: Jaylen Wright.

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Just a junior, Wright has certainly showed off the skills that would cause NFL scouts and coaches to take notice. However, he also plays a position, running back, that is undervalued in the pros. So does that mean Wright will return to get a comparable NIL deal or head off to the NFL in hopes of getting paid while his body can still handle the wear and tear of playing football on a weekly basis.

Wright’s decision could certainly affect some other pending announcements. Here are some seniors that could return to Tennessee, move onto the NFL or retire from football all together.

C Cooper Mays

Mays certainly turned some heads when he decided not to take part in senior day festivities during an appearance on The Vol Report on Off The Hook Sports. Mays has since told OTH that skipping senior day festivities wasn’t a clear indication that he will return to Tennessee for his final season of eligibility. However, it should certainly make UT fans optimistic at the possibility. Mays has an intriguing view about leaving on a positive note after an abdominal injury sidelined him to begin the season.

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Mays will weigh his draft status, NIL opportunities and what sort of team he’ll be asked to lead next season if he returns to college. Mays – and everyone else that saw the Tennessee-Florida game – knows how important he could be for the Vols next season. Things could change, but Mays appears to be looking for every reason possible to stay at Tennessee instead of potentially being drafted and making the NFL minimum of $750,000.

Prediction: Tennessee

WR Bru McCoy

It would be immensely helpful for the Vols to get McCoy back for one more season. The senior, who transferred from Southern California before the 2022 season, is tough to manage in coverage, can catch jump balls and undoubtedly opens up the secondary for slot receivers like Jalin Hyatt, who starred with McCoy in the lineup in 2022. However, all that doesn’t mean McCoy is coming back.

McCoy is beloved by his teammates and considered a leader despite his unusual background, having transferred three times before he ended up at Tennessee. If McCoy leaves, he won’t be thinking about whatever contract he signs in 2024, he’ll be thinking about his second NFL contract, which tends to be quite a bit more lucrative. Per NFL sources, McCoy is one of best professional prospects on Tennessee’s team and began the season at the very top of the list before other players emerged, like James Pearce Jr.

2024 Prediction: NFL

OG Javontez Spraggins

Spraggins technically has two seasons of eligibility remaining and has given strong indications that he’ll return for at least one more of those opportunities. A starter for 11 games during the regular season before suffering a leg injury against Georgia, it’s worth noting that Spraggins did not even give up a pressure in 33 snaps against the Bulldogs before being injured. He’d be welcome back and could use an additional season of seasoning before the NFL.

Spraggins seems to be at his best against the Vols’ biggest rivals. Per Tennessee’s sports information department, Spraggins did not allow a sack in the Vols’ loss against Florida nor a pressure in Tennessee’s loss against Alabama.

2024 Prediction: Tennessee

RB Jabari Small

Small’s role diminished this season after being the go-to tailback in 2022. Does that mean Small will look elsewhere? Well, that depends on what Wright eventually decides to do. If Wright leaves, then Small would seemingly be the Vols’ first-team tailback with Dylan Sampson as the “change-up” back. Nevertheless, Small’s future has more than its fair share of moving parts. Sampson could also be named the starter.

2024 Prediction: Another school. However, if Wright leaves for the NFL, Small could have a big season next year.

OL Parker Ball/Dayne Davis/Jackson Lampley

At some point, Tennessee’s roster needs to be built up to the point in which it doesn’t have to rely on players like Ball, Davis and Lampley. Does that mean this is the offseason that UT’s coaches might suggest the three head elsewhere? Well, maybe not quite yet. However, their decisions could provide some insight as to what Heupel thinks of the current roster.

2024 Prediction: Let’s see

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