VOL. 132 | NO. 144 | Friday, July 21, 2017
Vols Roster Gets Little Respect from SEC Media
By Dave Link
Tennessee’s Butch Jones says the Vols might use both junior Quinten Dormady and freshman Jarrett Guarantano at quarterback as they seek to replace Joshua Dobbs. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)
It was no surprise last week when Tennessee’s football team was picked to finish third by the media in the East Division at 2017 SEC Media Days.
Almost every national publication is picking the Vols third in the East behind Georgia and Florida, although not necessarily in that order.
Such a finish won’t satisfy UT fans. Not after last year when the Vols were favored to win the East but finished tied for second behind Florida.
Despite back-to-back 9-4 seasons and three consecutive bowl wins, UT coach Butch Jones enters his fifth season in Knoxville with critics saying his job is at stake. You know he’s heard it.
“There’s so much more out there to be accomplished, and we’ve only started,” Jones said at Media Day. “That’s what I like about this year’s football team, they’re very, very driven, very, very motivated.”
UT landed four players on the media’s All-SEC teams, but no player on the first team offense – and no players on any of the three defensive teams.
Offensive lineman Jashon Robertson was on the second team and wide receiver Jauan Jennings on the third team. Evan Berry was the second-team return specialist, and Trevor Daniel the third-team punter.
Alabama had a record 10 players on All-SEC first teams. No other team had more than four.
The Crimson Tide was the heavy favorite to win the West with 225 first-place votes and 1,683 points to Auburn’s 11 votes and 1,329 points. No surprise there, either.
The media saw the SEC East to be a much tighter race. Georgia was favored with 1,572 points and 138 first-place votes, with second-place Florida getting 1,526 points and 96 first-place votes.
Tennessee had three first-place votes and 998 points, edging out fourth-place South Carolina (897 points, five first-place votes) and fifth-place Kentucky (869 points, no first-place votes). Vanderbilt was sixth with 554 points, and mysteriously, with one first-place vote.
Robertson, a junior guard/center from Montgomery Bell Academy, was one of three Tennessee players attending SEC Media Days, along with senior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers and senior cornerback Emmanuel Moseley.
“I was 5-7 in my first season (2013) and didn’t go to a bowl game,” Vickers said. “I never wanted to feel that way again. We have worked hard. We have the right players, and we are a family. We want to go out and win every game.”
As the July 29 start of fall camp approaches, here are some takeaways from SEC Media Days.
Fast start needed
Tennessee has a quick turnaround after the opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Sept. 4, hosting to Indiana State on Sept. 9 before traveling to Florida on Sept. 16.
“In terms of this year, we have to start fast,” Jones says. “We have three games in 13 days, so our health, the turnaround, is going to be paramount, and we’re excited to be able to have the opportunity to start the season in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game against a very good opponent.”
Alabama plays Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff opener Sept. 2, in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
More on QBs
Jones caught everyone’s attention when he suggested the Vols might use two quarterbacks, junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano, as they seek to replace three-year starter Joshua Dobbs.
Still, there has to be a starter against Georgia Tech.
“We will not name a starting quarterback until the time is right,” Jones explains. “I can’t tell you (when) that is. That will be decided, obviously, on the field when we start training camp.”
Guarantano was one of the nation’s top-rated dual-threat quarterbacks out of Bergen Catholic High in Lodi, New Jersey, and appears a perfect fit for UT’s spread offense. Dormady, coached by his father Mike at Boerne (Texas) High, has the look of a pocket passer but moves well enough to run UT’s offense.
“You know, you have two kind of distinct personalities,” Jones continues. “You have a young individual in Jarrett Guarantano, very energetic, very demonstrative, very passionate, very, very talented, and then Quinten Dormady, who is a coach’s son, who has kind of been in our football program.
“So (they’re) a little bit different in terms of personality-wise, but those two individuals are very, very talented.
“And the great thing about these individuals, we talked to our young football team about this all spring, is ‘compete and don’t compare.’ They’ve been able to do that, but they also have the mutual respect towards each other that they’re still helping each other out, and that’s been great to see. I think it’s a great issue to have.”
If there’s an impact freshman on UT’s roster, he’s offensive lineman Trey Smith of University School of Jackson.
Smith might not start, but he’ll likely be in the offensive line rotation at tackle or guard.
“I told our coaching staff, we have to be careful we don’t put too much pressure on this young man (Smith),” Jones points out.
“He’s still 17 years old. He is, at 17 years old, a difference maker. He had a 3.5 GPA in his first semester of college (this summer). He could sit on this (television) set and be the greatest gentleman you ever met, but when you step on the football field, he turns into a different individual, and I think he’s really elevated the toughness in that room (offensive line).”
Thin at running back
Junior John Kelly is the Vols’ No. 1 tailback going into fall camp, but the backup’s job is up for grabs.
Sophomore Carlin Fils-Aime was the Vols’ only other scholarship running back in spring practices. Fils-Aime played in seven games last year and rushed for 58 yards and two touchdowns, both against Tennessee Tech.
Kelly was the Vols’ second-leading rusher (630 yards) behind Dobbs (831 yards). Dobbs rushed for 12 touchdowns, Kelly five, and Alvin Kamara nine (and 596 yards).
“For us, it’s not (a question of) John Kelly,” Jones says. “It’s the depth. It’s Carlin Fils-Aime coming on and having some true freshmen come in and play.”
Nashville’s Ty Chandler tops that list. The consensus four-star prospect from Montgomery Bell Academy ranks seventh in TSSAA history in career rushing yards (6,158) and third in career touchdowns (92) and is a two-time Division II-AA Mr. Football Award winner.
Who replaces Barnett?
One reporter at SEC Media Days asked Jones who will replace right defensive end Derek Barnett, selected by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 14th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Well, Jones has more than Barnett to replace up front. Also gone are starting left end Corey Vereen (senior in 2016), starting tackle Danny O’Brien (dismissed at midseason), and part-time starting tackle/end LaTroy Lewis (senior in 2016).
“We’re looking to get Kyle Phillips back,” Jones says. “He’s an individual who has been beset by injuries, but he’s back to his full health now, and he’s one of those individuals who has grown into a leadership role.”
Phillips, a junior from Nashville Hillsboro, underwent a surgical procedure on his shoulder in the offseason and missed spring practices.
Tennessee needs junior Jonathan Kongbo to play up to his hype coming out of Arizona Western Community College, where he was the No. 1 ranked JUCO player in the nation by 247Sports. Kongbo suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in 2016, but was back at practice in the spring.
“Jonathan Kongbo is an individual that you play (at) defensive end, and then we’ve had the rash of injuries up front, he was forced to play defensive tackle,” Jones adds. “He’s had as good of an offseason as anybody. He’s about 265 pounds right now. He’s one of those individuals who’s working out day and night, so we’re excited about him.”
Sophomore end Darrell Taylor played in eight games last year as a redshirt freshman. Jones says he’s got a shot at more playing time in 2017.
“Darrell Taylor is another young man that we thought took tremendous strides this offseason and into spring football,” Jones says. “He’s really committed himself to the weight room and strength and conditioning area. He doesn’t even look like the same player right now.”
UT hopes junior tackle Shy Tuttle bounces back after two injury-plagued seasons. Tuttle suffered a broken ankle against Georgia in 2015, and last season tore multiple ligaments in his knee in the loss to South Carolina.
“They started running now, doing change of direction drills (with Tuttle),” Jones adds. “We anticipate him being ready for August camp. He’ll be limited in some facets of his game. To be able to have him back and be running now is very, very encouraging.”
Tennessee’s annual game against Alabama has become a one-sided rivalry of late with the Tide winning 10 consecutive games against the Vols.
Jones was asked about the disadvantage of playing Alabama every year, and he didn’t give a direct answer.
“In terms of Alabama, obviously, it’s a great rivalry. That game means so many things to so many people. So again, we take that game very, very seriously and have a lot of respect for what Coach (Nick) Saban has built at Alabama and what they’ve done. It’s also a great rivalry game, so that game means a lot to us.”
Jones was asked about having former UT coach Phillip Fulmer around the program again and Fulmer’s new role with the program.
Fulmer, who was fired late in the 2008 season, was announced June 21 as special advisor to University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro for community, athletics and university relations.
UT offered Fulmer the part-time position in early June for an annual salary of $100,000.
“That’s a friendship I value,” Jones points out, referring to Fulmer. “He’s been a mentor to me. He’s been a sounding board to me. This has been over time. This started from year one. I reached out to him, had him come by … [I] welcomed him back to the program, had him speak to our team.
“You know, you have a great resource right here. Here’s a College Football Hall of Famer. He understands the dynamics of Tennessee. He understands everything associated with our institution, and I consider him a great friend, a great mentor, and it’s great to have him back.
“And like I told him, ‘Coach, I want you at practice. Come to practice. I want you to sit in meetings. Anything that you feel, it’s your program. You helped build this program.’”
Jones tried to upgrade his coaching staff in the offseason with five changes and noted each one in his opening comments at Media Day: Larry Scott at offensive coordinator, Mike Canales at quarterback coach, Walt Wells at offensive line, Charlton Warren at defensive backs and Brady Hoke at defensive line.
Scott previously was UT’s tight ends and special teams coach, and Wells was offensive quality control assistant. Canales, Hoke and Warren are new to UT’s staff.
Hoke, associate head coach to Butch Jones, had head coaching stints at Ball State (2003-08), San Diego State (2009-10), and Michigan (2011-14).
“The exciting thing about this coaching staff is we have three former head coaches,” Jones says, referring to Scott (interim coach at Miami in 2015) and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop (Columbia head coach, 2003-05).
“Any time you can have head coaches on your staff, I think it’s extremely healthy. It’s been a great help for me, but it also helps mentor your younger coaches on your staff as well, as we want all coaches on our staff to have the goal of being a head football coach one day.”
Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.