Where: Hillgrove High School (Powder Springs, Georgia)
Rivals.com rating: 4-star. No. 147 player overall. No. 11 safety. No. 17 player in the state of Georgia.
247 Sports composite rating: 4-star. No. 131 player overall. No. 10 safety. No. 15 player in the state of Georgia.
ESPN rating: 4-star. No. 167 player overall. No. 9 safety. No. 21 player in the state of Georgia.
Tennessee has been gradually creeping up on the top 10 when it comes to the recruiting class rankings for the class of 2019. According to the 247 Sports composite ranking, they are sitting pretty at 12 after today’s latest development. Rivals has them pegged at No. 8. It’s clear that the Vols are emphasizing defensive backs in the 2019 cycle. The Big Orange have already garnered commitments from defensive backs Warren Burrell (corner), Tyus Fields (corner) and Anthony Harris (safety).
And on Friday, Tennessee got more good news when blue-chip safety prospect Jaylen McCollough pledged to UT. McCollough pulled the trigger and opted to become a Volunteer over 20-plus other suitors who were vying for his services.
His offer list includes the likes of South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State. The Gamecocks were a power player in the McCollough sweepstakes and were perceived to be the Vols’ primary competition for his commitment.
McCollough possesses elite size for a defensive back. He is six feet tall and hovering around 194 pounds. He is a rangy ball hawk on the defensive side of the ball. He plays tailback for his high school squad, as well as safety. Check his tape to see the proof of his skills…
McCollough is a monster get for Jeremy Pruitt. The 2019 Vols recruiting class appears to be rounding into a dandy. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the defensive backs class shapes up since the Vols are still waiting on guys like Alabama-based prospect Jaydon Hill. We’ll see soon enough how things pan out as the football season draws closer every day.
On Friday, Tennessee snagged yet another commitment from a 2019 recruit. This time, four-star safety Jaylen McCollough verbally pledged to the Vols. He made the announcement on his personal Twitter account…
McCollough is a native of Powder Springs, GA who stands at 6-foot-0, 194 pounds. According to 247 Sports, he is the No. 10 safety in the class of 2018 and the No. 15 player from the state of Georgia.
In addition to Tennessee, McCollough held offers from Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, and South Carolina. The commitment gives UT the No. 11 overall recruiting class for 2019 in 247 Sports’ composite team ranking.
A great college football offense begins and ends with the offensive line. The five guys in the trenches can make a good team great and they can drag a team down if they aren’t prepared.
Tennessee’s offensive line needs all the help it can get after a season where it allowed 35 sacks and could only muster 117.42 rushing yards per game (13th in the SEC). Thankfully, things are looking a bit more promising for the o-line under Jeremy Pruitt’s new regime.
Let’s take a closer look at the Vols’ offensive line…
First things first, the change at offensive line coach from Walt Wells to Will Friend is a big upgrade. Wells wasn’t necessarily bad, Friend is just very good. During Friend’s time as the offensive coordinator at Colorado State, he had some phenomenal offenses and before his stint at CSU, he coached some top-notch o-lines at Georgia. He has the experience and expertise that could turn around Tennessee’s ailing offensive front. New head coach Jeremy Pruitt even specifically pointed out how much the o-line improved during the spring under Friend’s leadership. So, that’s a good place to start when analyzing this unit.
Now to the players themselves: When I look at the line as a whole, there’s really only one certainty. Trey Smith. Despite an offseason battle with blood clots in his lungs that kept him out of spring practice, you truly can’t overstate how important he is to this team.
There is a possibility Trey could be rusty early in the season, having missed the spring and being limited to non-contact work for a portion of fall camp because of his aforementioned health problems, but expect him to round back into the star he was a year ago as the year progresses.
Grad transfer Brandon Kennedy has lots of unknowns but he was Alabama’s backup center before coming to Knoxville and it’s never a bad thing to play for a national championship winning squad. It appears that Kennedy knows how to put in the work to be the player he needs to be and he brings a fair amount of experience to a unit that’s packed with question marks. In total, Kennedy played in 10 games during his three years in Tuscaloosa and at the moment, he’s the presumed starter at center for UT. With his frame and potential, there’s no doubt he should be a key cog in the Vols’ offensive front.
Much like Kennedy, the rest of Tennessee’s offensive line simply has to go out and prove itself. Chance Hall is still coming back from injury but he is expected to play a meaningful role in the coming season if he can get healthy. Drew Richmond was very highly touted when he came to UT but in two years on the field, he hasn’t fully lived up to the hype. We’ll see if the guidance of a new coaching staff helps Richmond finally emerge.
Marcus Tatum has plenty of upside and has started in three games in two years but he hasn’t yet showed what he’s truly capable of. Ryan Johnson and Riley Locklear have similar stories to Tatum, they came to UT as highly regarded recruits and were forced into action early. They’ve played some but still have a long way to go developmentally.
Junior college transfer Jahmir Johnson could be an immediate contributor with his skill and prior experience. Also, former four-star recruit Jerome Carvin could get playing time. He got first team reps in the Orange and White Game and he could be called on if he shows himself to be worthy. There’s a lot of players even past those that I’ve named so far who COULD be significant pieces on this line (such as Nathan Niehaus, K’Rojhn Calbert, and Devante Brooks) but the fact is this for everyone involved in the offensive trenches that isn’t named Trey Smith: They have to go and show what they’re made of.
And even though I listed guys at specific positions in the projected depth chart, expect lots of movement across the line. The offensive linemen that have spoken to media during the offseason have pointed out that Pruitt and Friend want everyone on the line to be prepared to play in any position. The staff has even gone so far as to pull defensive linemen over to play and get practice reps with the o-line so they will be prepared if the need arises.
In 2018, Tennessee’s offensive line is likely going to be an experiment. There will be a good amount of trial and error, testing out different combinations of players in different positions. And much like any experiment, it could end in the discovery of something great, or it could explode in your face. Let’s hope Will Friend can pull off the former.
We have plenty of clips of Tennessee’s offensive line in our videos of fall camp. Check it out…
Football season is inching ever closer and the Vols are continuing their fall camp practice sessions. On Thursday, a number of Tennessee players met with media to give their thoughts on what the team has looked like so far. Check it out…
Tennessee has beaten Georgia two out of the last three seasons.
That’s the best spin I can put on what was one of the worst Tennessee football games I’ve ever witnessed with my own two eyes. The Bulldogs dismantled the Vols 41–0 in Neyland Stadium last year and I’d be okay if that game was never spoken about again.
But unfortunately, UT has to face UGA every season, so we have to discuss the players that are coming back from that Georgia team that handed the Big Orange a total embarrassment of a loss, and for that, I’ll apologize right up front.
At first glance, it looks like the Bulldogs won’t be as great in 2018 as they were in 2017 when they went 13–2 and nearly beat Alabama in the national championship game. A fair amount of the most productive pieces on their roster moved on and up to the NFL or graduated. So, that’s some positive news, but I have to be honest with you, Georgia is still going to be very good.
Let’s take a closer look at what UGA will be working with in the coming season…
Georgia’s offense was lethal in 2017. The unit as a whole averaged 35.4 points per game and freshman phenom quarterback Jake Fromm could sling it to talented receivers or he could hand the ball off to a duo of running backs that were a couple of best backs in America.
In 2018, one of those great offensive elements won’t be quite the same. The incredible one-two punch of RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel is gone. Although, that doesn’t mean UGA won’t be able to run the ball. Sophomore D’Andre Swift, and juniors Elijah Holyfield, and Brian Herrien make up a backfield that combined for 1,176 yards on the ground a year ago. Swift will likely be the go-to option, having racked up 618 yards of that 1,176 yard total himself. But make no mistake, the ceilings for Holyfield and Herrien are high and the group will be working behind a fairly stout offensive line.
UGA’s o-line loses first team All-SEC left tackle Isaiah Wynn but they return four starters from a line that produced 258.4 rushing yards per game and gave up 22 sacks. So in short, the Bulldogs’ running game should continue to produce big numbers despite the loss of their two all-star backs.
As for the passing game, Fromm returns for his sophomore season and four of UGA’s top 5 receivers are coming back. It should be noted, although it likely won’t affect Georgia’s game against Tennessee, that star senior receiver Terry Godwin has reportedly missed all of fall camp to this point with what head coach Kirby Smart has called a “minor” knee injury. If Godwin doesn’t play, UGA’s receiving corps certainly takes a big hit but I would still expect him to play by the time UT travels to Athens on September 29th.
Junior wideouts Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley will be forces to be reckoned with on the outside and tight end Isaac Nauta has been hyped as one of the best TEs in the SEC. From all sides, Georgia’s offense appears to be set up for success. The unit may not be as dynamic as in 2018 but if they take only small drop off from a year ago, they will still be very good.
In 2017, Georgia’s powerful defense only allowed 16.4 points and 294.9 yards per game. The unit was packed with great players and even better leadership.
A solid amount of talent is left after the offseason but upperclassman leaders like Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter are gone. In total, Georgia’s defense returns just 5 starters for the coming season.
On the defensive line, Tyler Clark and Jonathan Ledbetter are the only starters that come back, having combined for 11.5 tackles for loss in 2017. Guys like Notre Dame transfer Jay Hayes will fill the vacancies on the line and highly-touted incoming freshmen like former 5-star Brenton Cox will also help out.
There’s potential for somewhat of a drop off in d-line production for Georgia with the loss of big contributors like Trenton Thompson (38 tackles in ’17) and John Atkins (38 tackles in ’17) but with how good recruiting has been to Georgia in recent years, they’ll likely fill the gaps with more than competent players.
As for the linebackers, it’s going to be a near total reset at the position for UGA. As was mentioned above, the incredible Roquan Smith (137 tackles in ’17) and Lorenzo Carter (61 tackles in ’17) both left for the NFL and Reggie Carter (36 tackles in ’17) and Davin Bellamy (34 tackles in ’17) are also gone. Kirby Smart will almost certainly be relying on sophomores and freshmen for a good deal of production at linebacker but the players waiting in the wings are well regarded so don’t expect them to totally fall apart.
Georgia’s secondary is in fair shape with the return of the No. 2 tackler on the team, JR Reed. Senior corner Deandre Baker and highly regarded sophomore safety Richard Lecounte III round out a unit that is inexperienced but extremely talented.
On the whole, Georgia’s defense likely won’t be as stout as it was a year ago. Losing team leaders who were big contributors can crumple a unit if care is not taken by the guys that come in to replace them. But we have to take an honest look at UGA here and with the crazy amount of former four and five-star players that are rising up, things will likely be just fine for the Bulldogs on that side of the ball.
Redshirt junior place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is returning and he might be the best kicker in the SEC. He made 20 of 23 field goals last year and should only get better. UGA will have to find a new punter after the graduation of Cameron Nizialek but their level of recruiting tells me they’ll be more than okay at that position.
Receiver Mecole Hardman is the primary return man and he’s shifty and fast. He’s not the best returner in America by any means but he’s good enough to get the job done effectively.
KEYS TO THE GAME
I want to say that this is the Georgia game and weird stuff always happens between UGA and UT, so it could be a toss up for who wins. I WANT to say that, but I can’t because I’m genuinely not sure there’s much that Tennessee can do to best Georgia this year. I hate how much positive stuff I have to say about Kirby Smart’s team but the fact is, they’re a great squad.
Thanks to the mess that Butch Jones left behind, Jeremy Pruitt will be hard pressed to get his players in good enough shape to effectively hang with Georgia in Athens.
If the Vols can be mostly healthy by week 5 and put up a phenomenal fight, specifically on the defensive side of the ball, maybe, just maybe, they can put themselves in a spot to beat UGA.
Depending on how well new OC Tyson Helton re-shapes the Vols’ offense, UT should be able to put up more than zero points on UGA this season but it will take the absolute best game Tennessee has to have a shot at winning against the Bulldogs.
By no means will it be impossible to beat Georgia. Smart’s squad could have serious growing pains with how many upperclassman leaders they have to replace and the Vols could bring their true “A” game and we could have ourselves an interesting matchup. But looking on paper, only Alabama will be a tougher game for UT this year and the difference between Bama and UGA isn’t that big.
Unfortunately, Georgia is simply way ahead in the team development race at the moment and it’s going to take a while for Pruitt and Co. to catch up. Perhaps under the right circumstances, this game will be close, but I wouldn’t expect a win against the Bulldogs until Tennessee gets back on more solid ground.
Tennessee comes into 2018 with an under-developed but very promising receiving corps. There’s a few supremely talented guys in this group that have the ability to take the SEC by storm. One of them (Jauan Jennings) has already done so in the past, and he’s looking to do so again.
Will there be some rust and growing pains to work through? Sure. But there is reason to believe that this group can excel.
Let’s pull back the curtains and take a look at who will be grabbing passes for the Vols in 2018….
Tennessee’s presumed ace receiver, Marquez Callaway, won the hearts of Vol Nation last year in the barn burner win over Georgia Tech to open the season. He took over as the clear leader of the group once Jauan Jennings went out with an injury, and stole the show with some big time grabs. However, after that impressive performance, he slowed down quite a bit for the rest of the season.
Most of this was not his fault, as the coaching staff seemingly refused to throw the ball to him. But when he was thrown the ball, he made it count. He will no doubt be the deep threat for Tennessee this season, as well as a target that the quarterback can go to with a tough pass, since Callaway has shown that he’s very skilled at going up and grabbing the ball, no matter the situation.
The aforementioned Jauan Jennings is a very intense and clutch receiver. He is already well known by Vol fans for his big time grabs versus Florida (“Toast Tabor”) and Georgia (“Dobbsnail Boot”) in 2016. Both were amazing plays, and both came in crunch time.
He missed the 2017 season with an injury, and got into some trouble with the previous coaching staff at end of last season, due to some choice comments he made on an Instagram post about those coaches. However, he has done everything he has been asked of by new head coach Jeremy Pruitt and AD Phillip Fulmer. As a result, he has been allowed back on the team and is ready to make a splash in 2018. He has that dog in him that simply can’t be taught. It is the main reason why he should be one of the primary leaders of the receiving corps. According to Coach Pruitt, Jauan is still dealing with some lingering effects of injury at the moment and has been somewhat limited during fall camp, but expect him to still be a big contributor this year.
In Butch Jones’ final season in Knoxville, Brandon Johnson took the role as the “consistent hands” guy, so to speak. He is being seemingly overlooked heavily heading into 2018, and not noticing him would be a mistake for any analyst. He has great speed and he had some big moments of his own last season. Besides being the Vols’ leading receiver a year ago, he also showed a knack for creating yards after the catch. He will fill the void left by Josh Smith at the slot and he should be a go-to option for whoever ends up being Tennessee’s signal caller.
And how can we forget Tyler Byrd? Easily one of the fastest guys on Tennessee’s roster who really showed a lot of promise in 2016. One play that sticks out is his catch and spin late in the game against Texas A&M, which led to a game-tying touchdown moments later. Last season, Butch Jones and his staff inexplicably refused to throw Byrd the ball. There was simply no reason for him to not get the ball after he showed himself to be a true playmaker.
During spring ball, Pruitt tried Byrd out at defensive back for a while but has since opted to put him back at wide receiver. We’ll see soon if he can work his way into a major role among the receivers.
Now we get to the much less proven portion of the receiving corps. Josh Palmer and Jordan Murphy have both flashed at time in games and practice sessions. It looked like Palmer might emerge as a significant contributor during his freshman season but ultimately not much came to fruition there. Both of these guys have major upside but they simply have to show what they’re made of before they get into the upper echelon of UT’s set of receivers.
Jacquez Jones is another option that just has to make his presence known to become a contributor. Jones has looked fine in practices but he was injured all of last season, so there’s currently no tape to show that he will be a big factor for the Vols quite yet.
Last but not least, there’s the emergence of true freshman Cedric Tillman, who flew under radar in this past recruiting class. According to GoVols247, he has made in impression on his teammates and new OC Tyson Helton feels optimistic about Tillman, saying he “can come here and help us.”
With this new and upgraded coaching staff, most notably David Johnson as the wide receivers coach, it certainly feels like this group will evolve this fall. Tennessee’s offense may ultimately be more focused on running the ball but passing will be a huge key to success in 2018. If the Vols’ quarterback can get the football into the hands of his receivers, it looks like this is a set of guys who could consistently make big plays.
We have plenty of clips of Tennessee’s wide receivers in our videos of fall camp. Check it out…