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Tennessee Football: Projecting Vols’ 2024 two-deep depth chart

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With the spring transfer portal window closed, there are no questions as to what the Tennessee Football roster will look like now in 2024 unless there is some wild surprise. Assuming there will be no injuries, who will be the starters when the season kicks off? Here is a projection of the two-deep UT depth chart.



Nico Iamaleava

No surprise here. Nico Iamaleava is expected to be a generational quarterback for the Vols, so obviously he would be the starter entering the season after taking over for Joe Milton III in UT’s Citrus Bowl win over the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Jake Merklinger

Gaston Moore gets a lot of practice reps, but Jake Merklinger was recruited for a reason. Josh Heupel needed somebody to back Iamaleava up in case something happened. As a result, the four-star will clearly be the second-stringer here.

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Running back

Peyton Lewis

A four-star commit in the 2024 Tennessee Football recruiting class, Peyton Lewis was held out of spring. However, the Vols don’t really have any answers for their feature back at the moment, and he has the most promise, so by default, he’ll take the job with Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small gone.

Dylan Sampson (All-purpose back)

By far the flashiest running back, Dylan Sampson doesn’t have the size to consistently shoulder the load throughout a game. It also makes him awful at pass protection. However, he can be a huge playmaker, so he’ll likely rack up the yards when he’s brought in. Effectively, he is another starter at all-purpose back.

Khalifa Keith (Power back)

Remember when Heupel lined up Princeton Fant in the I-formation two years ago? He now has a running back who can do that in goal-line situations with Khalifa Keith. A power back is the perfect change of pace for the program, and Keith will provide that.

Cam Seldon

If something happens to Lewis, or if he doesn’t work out, the feature back role comes down to Cameron Seldon or DeSean Bishop. Seldon has more raw talent, even if his vision is horrendous, so he’ll fill the void that would be left by Lewis.


Bru McCoy

Last year’s season-ending injury to Bru McCoy really hurt the passing game. He’s a rare, physical talent at wideout, and he’s a leader. Fully healthy this year, expect him to step back into his No. 1 wideout role as the most experience pass-catcher on the team.

Mike Matthews

A five-star in the Vols’ 2024 recruiting class, Mike Matthews stood out in the spring with his rare combination of hands and speed, and he’s got the size to be physical. As a result, he will steal a starting job as a freshman.

Dont’e Thornton

Another receiver from last year who suffered a season-ending injury, Dont’e Thornton is a rare talent like Matthews. However, Matthews is better and healthier, so he’ll win the job. Still, Thornton was out of position in the slot last year. He’ll be able to get a much more natural feel for the game this year and see more action.

Chris Brazzell II

A possession wide receiver, the Tulane Green Wave transfer was also effective for UT in the spring, but given the rare talent ahead of him, he likely won’t have much of an impact this year. By 2025, though, he could be a major force, and he especially will by 2026 if he stays.

Slot Receiver

Squirrel White

The successor to Jalin Hyatt seemed to take a step back in 2023, but Squirrel White wasn’t able to be as effective over the middle because of Milton’s limitations. Iamaleava doesn’t have those same limitations, so White, the ultimate speedster, should have no trouble emerging this year.

Braylon Staley

A crucial four-star pickup for Tennessee Football in 2024, Braylon Staley is likely to step right into the backup slot role with Thornton moving more over to wideout, his natural position. White is quicker and more athletic, but just as a receiver, Staley may be better, so watch out.

Tight end

Ethan Davis

Jacob Warren and McCallan Castles are gone. Ethan Davis is likely to fill the void left by Castles and Fant before him. Once a four-star recruit, Davis is going to be the main athletic tight end for the Vols. His rare, physical gifts could make him a superstar in the passing game, so watch out.

Miles Kitselman

Warren played the role of the physical, blocking tight end, and his departure is exactly why Josh Heupel went after Alabama Crimson Tide transfer Miles Kitselman. Immediately, the Vols will put him into the blocking tight end role to complement Davis as they switch every other drive.

Holden Staes

Another transfer, Holden Staes joins the Vols from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He or Emmanuel Okoye is likely to be the backup athletic tight end, but Staes has more experience playing the position, so the role will likely go to him.

Charlie Browder

One more physical tight end, Charlie Browder has been in the system for a while now and has plenty of experience with Heupel’s offense. That makes him a valuable backup blocking tight end, but he may just not have the real physical gifts to be a starter.

Left tackle

Lance Heard

Heupel and co. targeted the LSU Tigers transfer so they could immediately plug him into left tackle, and that’s probably what they’ll do here. Lance Heard has five-star talent, and provided he has a level head, he could immediately become an All-SEC blocker.

Shamurad Umarov

Glen Elarbee has to develop somebody Tennessee Football signed out of high school, right? Shamurad Umarov seemed to generate a decent amount of buzz in the offseason, so he’s probably the guy who will back up Heard if things go wrong there.

Left guard

Andrej Karic

Last year, Andrej Karic was a major disappointment after transferring from the Texas Longhorns. However, the Vols are still desperate for help at left guard, and they’re still all in on him, so they’ll likely remain committed to him as the starter.

Ayden Bussell

This is a major position of concern. Behind Karic, Ayden Bussell is a guy who has been in the system and is likely to provide depth here, but the coaches probably really hope they don’t have to use him at all this season if not necessary.


Cooper Mays

Arguably the most important player on the offense, Cooper Mays’ injury in early 2023 cost the Vols in their loss to the Florida Gators. His one fully healthy season as a starter was 2022. There’s a reason Tennessee Football won 11 games that year.

Vysen Lang

Lots of work went into finding a backup center, and truth be told, it was to no avail, but Vysen Lang is the best option for UT to have somebody behind Mays. He may end up being a backup guard as well, but he’s definitely the primary backup center.

Right guard

Javontez Spraggins

Mays’ injury at the start of 2023 was devastating, but Javontez Spraggins’ injury at the end was just as bad. These are the two key run blockers in the offense, and Spraggins may be the best run blocker in the SEC, so if he’s healthy, he’ll take back the right guard spot and should dominate.

Jackson Lampley

A Jeremy Pruitt recruit, Jackson Lampley came with lots of expectations. It’s time for him to step up. He doesn’t have to be a starter anywhere, but there’s no reason for him to not be a valuable rotational option at this point for the Vols.

Right tackle

John Campbell Jr.

Here’s a transfer who worked out last year for Tennessee Football. John Campbell Jr. emerged as a solid left tackle for the Vols, but with Heard, he’s moving over to right tackle now. Although he’s not likely the next Darnell Wright, he should be elite here, so watch out.

Dayne Davis

Probably the top lineman in the rotation as a utility player, Dayne Davis could end up being a backup guard or center, but his primary backup role will be at right tackle. Expect him to have an impact up front for Tennessee Football no matter what happens.


Nose tackle

Omari Thomas

Welcome to the Mays of the defense. Omari Thomas is one of those lineman who has been an anchor for his unit for a while now, and he made a crucial decision to return to Tennessee Football for 2024. Watch out for what he’ll be able to do this year, as he could burst onto the NFL Draft scene with is play.

Elijah Simmons

Nobody who is not a projected first teamer has more raw potential than Elijah Simmons. At the moment, he’s too nice. However, if he could turn on a mean streak, he’d immediately turn into the best nose tackle in the SEC, and if that happens, he and Thomas would be an epic rotation.

Defensive tackle

Bryson Eason

The tackle positions on defense will be led by a couple of Memphis players, as Bryson Eason came from Whitehaven while Thomas came from Briarcrest. Eason hasn’t made the same splash, but he’s a reliable player with plenty of experience, so he should have an impact.

Omarr Norman-Lott

Rodney Garner’s rotation at tackle means all of these guys will play, as they did last year, and that includes Omarr Norman-Lott. The Arizona State Sun Devils transfer was very reliable for Tennessee Football last year, so he should be able to make the same impact in 2024.

Edge rusher

James Pearce Jr.

Is there any question about this one? By far the Vols’ best 2025 NFL Draft prospect, James Pearce Jr. should be able to take a major step forward this year, and if the UT offense returns to form, he could have numerous field days given how many more teams will play catch-up.

Joshua Josephs

Jordan Ross, Daevin Hobbs and Chandavian Bradley are all candidates here, but Joshua Josephs has the most experience. As a result, by default, he’s the edge rusher to back up Pearce now, but that could change in a heartbeat early in the season.

Defensive end

Dominic Bailey

Garner and Tim Banks have been looking for that hybrid defensive end who can play anywhere from three-technique to five-technique for two years now after Caleb Herring and Ja’Quain Blakely left. Dominic Bailey has the most experience in that role, so he should step in and complement Pearce.

Tyre West

Beyond Bailey, the Vols have multiple other hybrid ends who could fill the void Herring and Blakely left three years ago, and that includes Jayson Jenkins, but Tyre West has the most hype. As a result, he should finally find his way into the rotation after two years in the system.

Mike linebacker

Keenan Pili

If he doesn’t get hurt in the season-opener last year, Keenan Pili likely helps secure a couple more victories for Tennessee Football. Now that he’s fully healthy again, he should help the Vols take a major step forward on defense.

Jeremiah Telander

After Pili went down, Elijah Herring and Jeremiah Telander filled in. Telander was better, which is why Herring entered the portal, so Telander will likely back up Pili as the middle linebacker this year. That’s a great situation for the Vols overall.

Sam linebacker

Arion Carter

With Aaron Beasley gone, it’s time for Arion Carter to live up to the hype. That was always the plan, and Josh Heupel has touted him. With new linebackers coach William Inge, Carter’s potential as the main rushing linebacker is through the roof.

Kalib Perry

Multiple players could back up Carter as the rushing linebacker, but Kalib Perry is the most qualified. Despite limited talk from the coaches, that, by default, makes him the guy who will back up carter, even if Telander would fill the void first.


Jermod McCoy

Heupel, Banks and Willie Martinez nudged tons of defensive backs into the portal for a reason, and part of that was to make room for Oregon State Beavers transfer Jermod McCoy. A starter as a freshman, McCoy has the qualifications to immediately be the main cornerback for Tennessee Football.

Rickey Gibson III

Towards the end of 2023, Rickey Gibson III managed to make a name for himself. He was highly touted in the 2023 recruiting class, so it seems like he should finally take that step forward this year. Despite the competition, the development should play a huge role.

Jordan Matthews

Before last year, most analysts believed Jordan Matthews would be the rising star cornerback over Gibson. Matthews’ potential is still there, though, so you have to believe that he’ll figure it out eventually, and that’s what puts him at cornerback.

Christian Harrison

The son of Rodney Harrison is a very smart player, but the coaches aren’t clear on where he belongs in the secondary. As a result, for depth purposes, they’ll try to put him in the rotation at cornerback entering the 2024 season, but that could change.


Jalen McMurray

Coming from the Temple Owls, Jalen McMurray is this year’s Gabe Jeudy-Lally. He’ll be a utility player for Tennessee Football, meaning he’s the top cornerback in line if somebody gets hurt, ahead of Gibson or Harrison, but if nobody gets hurt, he’ll step in at nickel.

Andre Turrentine

Yes, Andre Turrentine emerged toward the end of last year, but it was against two horrendous passing offenses. He’s still not a proven defensive back, and while he may provide depth at safety, he’ll mainly be the backup nickel because somebody has to fill that void. However, Matthews or Harrison would take it first.

Free safety

Jakobe Thomas

Landing another transfer, this time from the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, is a huge plus for the Vols. Jakobe Thomas has a lot of potential to be elite at the higher level, and his experience will propel him into the starting free safety job.

Jourdan Thomas

After seeing action toward the end of 2023 as a starter, Jourdan Thomas is ready to be in the rotation at safety. He’s likely going to be the backup safety behind both guys, but his primary role, if the coaches have a choice, will be at free safety.

Strong safety

Boo Carter

That’s right. Tennessee Football will turn to another freshman to step up. Secondary is the perfect spot for that given how bad it’s been, though, and Boo Carter is clearly a rare talent with tons of confidence. He could be the Eric Berry of 2024 when it comes to freshman safeties.

John Slaughter

Again, Thomas is the likely back up at both safety spots, but if we have to name somebody else, John Slaughter belongs here. A member of the 2023 recruiting class, Slaughter’s extra year of experience should allow him to be a part of the rotation.


Place kicker

J.T. Carver

Charles Campbell’s departure leaves an opening at place kicker, and J.T. Carver made the only field goal in the spring game. He was also a highly touted recruit, so it’s hard to see him not winning the job given his potential. At this position, potential wins out usually.

Josh Turbyville

Don’t underestimate Josh Turbyville, even with Carver likely to fill the void left by Campbell. Turbyville has a strong leg and actually was the kickoff specialist last year, so he does bring some experience, but he doesn’t bring Carver’s potential.


Jackson Ross

After a rough start last year, Jackson Ross’ rugby style kicking turned him into an All-SEC style punter. His experience playing rugby in Australia should help him take a huge leap this year, so he’s easily the starting punter for Tennessee Football.

Josh Turbyville

Again, Turbyville’s leg is a huge part of his advantage, and he actually committed to Tennessee Football as a punter. As a result, he should easily be the backup to Ross in this role, and in general, he’s the first kicker off the bench if something should happen.

Kickoff specialist

Josh Turbyville

Here’s where Turbyville should easily have the starting job. He was an elite kickoff specialist for the Vols last year, and he could double that with being their field goal kicker, but as a whole, there’s no reason to believe he can’t have some sort of a role this year.

Max Gilbert

Beyond Turbyville and Carver, Max Gilbert is the other place kicker on the Vols’ roster. As a result, he will likely be the backup kickoff specialist, even if Turbyville and Carver back each other up in their respective roles. Gilbert could make an impact.

Long snapper

Matthew Salansky

Don’t underestimate long snapping. It has a huge impact on the success of kickers and punters. Matthew Salansky committed to the Vols in 2019 and has been doing this for them since 2020, so he’ll likely handle all of the duties again, and his experience should be a huge deal.

Bennett Brady

Three years after Salansky, Bennett Brady joined the Vols, but he took a redshirt in 2022 and saw no real action last year. At this point, he’s the only option to back up Salansky, and at least he knows the position, so the Vols should be fine with him.

Kickoff returner

Boo Carter

Yes. Despite being a freshman, Carter will turn into an elite kickoff returner for the Vols. He has rare athletic abilities, and this is the spot to plug him in if Heupel is serious about maximizing his advantages. If he wasn’t lying in the spring, it’s clear Carter belongs here.

Cameron Seldon

Despite his lack of vision, Seldon’s physicality and the fact that he will be a backup running back per our projections lends itself to the idea that he’ll resume his role being in the kickoff return rotation. That doesn’t mean he’ll handle the lead role of it, but he’ll be a factor.

Punt returner

Squirrel White

Why not put the fastest guy on the team on punt returns? The Vols have depth at slot receiver and at wide receiver in general now, so they can afford to put Squirrel White here. He has shown abilities as a punt returner in the past, so they’ll likely put those on display again.

Dylan Sampson

As an all-purpose back, being a return specialist is a requirement. Dylan Sampson is that for Tennessee Football, and while he may not be the feature returner, there’s no way the coaches don’t turn to him to make big plays at certain times in the future.

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