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Tennessee Football Spring Preview: Special Teams

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Tennessee will have a lot to work on with its special teams this spring.

The Vols also have plenty of reasons to be excited about their special teams units.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel and special teams coach Mike Ekeler have made that part of the game a priority. That will be the case again this spring as the Vols look for a new return man and placekicker. The Vols should have good competition this spring as the roster has grown deeper and more athletic.

Let’s take a look at Tennessee’s special teams entering spring practice.

BIG STORY

Tennessee has to fill two big voids left by placekicker Charles Campbell and return man Dee Williams.

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Campbell spent one season at Tennessee after transferring from Indiana. He was reliable last season and came up clutch against Kentucky, making all four field goal attempts in the Vols’ 33-27 win in Lexington.

Josh Turbyville will compete against JT Carver to replace Campbell. Turbyville projects as the favorite after handling kickoff duties last season and making his only field goal attempt, a 33-yard kick against Vanderbilt.

Replacing Williams will present a big task. He was one of the nation’s best punt returners over the last two seasons. Williams also handled most of the team’s kick returns, taking 12 of the Vols’ 15 attempts last season. Cameron Seldon handled the other three and can step into that role again this season. 

Freshman signee Boo Carter will be a player to watch in the return game.

Tennessee has plenty of athletes from the skill positions on offense and the defensive backfield.

Replacing Williams won’t be easy… at all.

But the Vols have options to make it happen.

SPRING STAR

Boo Carter needs to be the pick here.

With Williams gone, Tennessee needs a playmaker to step into the punt return role. That creates a perfect opportunity for Carter, one of the nation’s most electrifying athletes in the 2024 signing class and a natural playmaker with the ball in his hands.

There’s been a great debate whether Carter belongs on defense or offense as a full-time position. He’ll start on defense, and he’ll have a good chance to succeed there. But playing defense will cause a lot of people to wonder what Carter can do with the ball. He’ll have a chance to answer that question as a return man. Carter was a consensus four-star recruit, 2024 All-American Bowl participant, and the Tennessee Titans 6A Mr. Football Award winner.

He was built to star as a return man for Tennessee.

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BIG QUESTION

Can Tennessee’s kicking game be reliable again?

Jackson Ross improved after a slow start in 2023. Ross continued Tennessee’s run of not allowing return yardage on punts. The Vols allowed a total of four punt return yards last season and have only given up 47 total punt return yards in Heupel’s three seasons as head coach.

Finding the right place kicker will be important.

Tennessee will plan on scoring more touchdowns in 2024 – the Vols had the second-worst touchdown percentage in the red zone last season – but a trustworthy kicker will remain important.

Let’s see if Turbyville or Carver can take the job and run with it this spring.

ULTIMATE GOAL

Tennessee should plan on having one of the best special teams units in the SEC.

The Vols have upgraded the roster’s athleticism through recruiting and the transfer portal. That should mean better athletes are available on special teams. More speed should help the coverage units and give Tennessee an advantage in most games. Look at the best teams in the SEC and you’ll often see their best players – or at least their best athletes – on special teams.

In recent years, Tennessee’s depth of talent wasn’t where it needed to be. As the Vols have recruited more players, they’ve added more options to help on special teams.

There’s plenty of work to be done this spring.

But there are more players available to do the job.

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