The Tennessee Volunteers have an ideal 3-0 document heading into SEC play. In this convention, you need to financial institution the wins when you may. There are only a few straightforward weeks, and you’ve got to have the ability to alter on the fly. Tennessee is hoping for a great begin to their convention play with a win over the Florida Gators this Saturday. This recreation isn’t straightforward, however Tennessee has a number of reasons to really feel assured heading into the matchup.
After three video games, we will begin to make some conclusions about what Tennessee brings to the desk. We already know their offensive philosophy and what they need to do on protection. From there, we will see how shut they’re to reaching their very best type. We can even see which gamers are beginning to shine…and which gamers want to begin bettering.
So earlier than this Saturday begins off the gauntlet, we determined to interrupt down what the crew does nicely, and likewise some questions it must reply.
What to really feel assured about
The line of defense is legit
I feel we will say that the Tennessee line of defense has confirmed itself within the first few video games. They might not be an elite unit, however they clearly have sufficient expertise and depth to anchor the protection. The inside particularly has a great group of choices, led by rising star Omari Thomas. We’ve additionally seen some strong contributions from guys like Bryson Eason and Roman Harrison, and even true freshman like Joshua Josephs.
On the sting, Byron Young resides as much as his billing as one of many high cross rushers within the league. He offers offensive tackles a handful on each play. But I would argue that the larger emergence has been Tyler Baron on the opposite facet. He is not normally tasked with being the first cross rusher, however Baron has been a wall on the opposite facet of the road. He does a fairly good job of containing offenses and easily not being pushed again on the line of scrimmage.
If it was simply the line of defense that performed to expectations, I’d be a bit weary of the entrance seven heading into convention play. But it is due to this subsequent man that I’m shopping for Tennessee’s protection.
Aaron Beasley has taken the following step
This man is my choice for defensive MVP of the primary few video games. Tennessee hoped that Beasley might enhance on a robust 2021 season and spherical out the linebacker corps with Jeremy Banks (we are going to discuss him later). He flashed lots in 2021, however he nonetheless obtained exploited by some offenses. The employees has been granted their want.
Aaron Beasley is a brute power within the center, and he has a knack for the ball. Wherever the play is headed, you will discover Beasley. We’ve identified since he was a recruit that he liked contact—he put the harm on guys in highschool. It has lastly translated to the school degree, the place Beasley has been the enforcer on quite a lot of performs. He’s additionally violent sufficient that they ship him on some cross speeding duties to attempt to stress quarterbacks. This is one thing that might significantly alter how Tennessee’s protection goes about their job because the yr progresses. I’m unsure if he’ll proceed to play at this degree, however I’m fairly assured that he’ll proceed to solidify his spot.
Offensive firepower stays intact
The level totals and varied statistics would point out a transparent reply right here. But on the identical time, there’s been some worries about Tennessee’s offense discovering themselves in tough patches. We noticed it pop up within the Pittsburgh recreation, particularly in the beginning of the competition. Obviously, Tennessee’s offense is not going to be the unstoppable juggernaut all through all of SEC play.
But I’ll say—after watching the video games again (together with a full rewatch of the Pittsburgh recreation) I feel a number of the worries are overblown. There have been loads of performs the place Tennessee had a receiver large open; the end result was both a nasty throw by Hendon Hooker, or a psychological mistake by a receiver.
It could be one factor if the offense was merely getting shut down. But the rewatch made it clear that there’s nonetheless room for enchancment. That will possible include simply extra reps because the season goes on. There is a small tendency to latch on to Cedric Tillman, who hasn’t been as sharp as we would have anticipated. But once more, on quite a lot of of the missed connections, Tillman was truly open.
To add onto this, the Volunteers have three choices that could possibly be a No. 1 receiver at most faculties within the nation. It appears odd to say after they misplaced Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton—however this Tennessee large receiver room may be much more proficient.
What to fret about
Jeremy Banks has not taken the following step (though he can nonetheless make an impression)
This was one thing I all the time had a little bit skepticism about. Through his 5 years at Tennessee, Jeremy Banks has proven himself to be a promising athlete and a tough hitter…however prone to receiver mismatches. Banks likes to fly round and is assured to make a great play mainly each recreation. But that has been the very same case for the previous couple of years. What has additionally maintained is that Banks can get picked on in protection, and appears to react slowly to what a quarterback is giving him.
I do not suppose Banks is a nasty linebacker. In reality, I’d argue he is above common. But the expectation of Tennessee was not above common. The expectation was that Banks would put all of it collectively for 2022 and turn out to be the all-around stud linebacker that Tennessee wants. Through three video games, it has not materialized. In reality, you may look to Aaron Beasley as being the nearer of the 2.
I nonetheless suppose Banks is your best choice going ahead, and he can carry you a degree of physicality that your protection wants. But I’d additionally acknowledge that there are actual flaws in his recreation which you’ll have to be capable of reply to.
No standouts within the secondary
This might be essentially the most worrying, and a kind of points that you simply mainly must recruit your self out of. Right now, Tennessee doesn’t have a great secondary. They’ve obtained strong starters at security with Trevon Flowers and Jaylen McCollough. Beyond that may be a log jam at cornerback, the place nobody has actually confirmed themselves but. This has not been exploited a lot this yr, since Tennessee has probably not confronted any elite receivers. The greatest passing recreation they confronted was Pittsburgh with Kedon Slovis, however Slovis left the sport early with an damage. The defensive outcomes previous to his departure weren’t inspiring.
Two slivers of hope do exist. The first is Tamarion McDonald on the STAR place. It’s the proper use of his pure skillset, and he is already made some spotlight performs this season. The second is Kamal Hadden. He seems to be like a top quality athlete who can progress right into a CB1. The key for him will merely be extra reps within the system.
On the alternative finish of the spectrum, cornerback Warren Burrell appears to have hit his ceiling. The indisputable fact that he performs lots most likely signifies that Tennessee does not belief the blokes behind him.
Struggles on the inside
Unfortunately, Tennessee’s offensive line has not been capable of spring the large inside runs that we witnessed final yr. It’s a little bit of a conundrum, as a result of the Volunteers returned beginning heart Cooper Mays and starters at guard Javontez Spraggins and Jerome Carvin. The offensive line appears to have improved a bit on cross safety, however the identical can’t be mentioned for the run blocking. In reality, for those who run the numbers, Tennessee’s yards per carry within the first three video games of this season have gone down in comparison with final yr (by about half a yard). That’s not essentially an enormous drop off, however it’s regarding. Mainly as a result of this offensive line was purported to be some of the skilled within the league. But quite than construct on progress, they appear to have regressed on this space.
Granted, a few of that is additionally by design. Tennessee desires to air it out, they usually’re additionally attempting to see which of the working backs is essentially the most reliable. Tennessee has a considerably shallow working again room as of now, so it may be a mere belief challenge. Coaches do not need to put the stress on a real freshman working again.
We’re about to seek out out if Tennessee has been “holding again” to begin the season. The Volunteers can nonetheless have a terrific yr with Hooker and their receivers. But if they’ve related speeding efforts because the Pittsburgh recreation, that might price them a win or two.