Three Offensive Players to Watch For Tennessee on Saturday
After an offseason unlike any before, the Tennessee Volunteers are set to play football on Saturday night in Columbia, South Carolina. The Vols will kickoff their SEC-Only schedule against the Gamecocks, and will be looking to best Will Muschamp's squad for the second season in a row. There will be new faces and new roles for both teams, but there are a few key players to watch. If the Vols come away from Carolina 1-0, it will likely have come behind strong efforts from these players on offense.
The strength of the Tennessee offense this year should be in the offensive line. If this unit is as good as expected to be, they will set the tone all season for the Volunteer offense. Smith is the best player in what should be Tennessee's best unit. He, along with Brandon Kennedy, are the unquestioned leaders of the team, and Smith is the best player the Vols have, one of the very best in the nation, anywhere in the trenches. If the Vols want to start this bizarre season with a win, they need to have something normal to help them settle into a groove. In the last three years, the most consistent thing on the Vol offense has been a healthy Trey Smith blowing holes opening by flattening opposing defenders. Smith is the best player that Tennessee has, and they need him to play like it if they want to be successful. Good won't be enough this year, Smith needs to dominate, which he does regularly, from the first snap. South Carolina will be in their first game trying to replace Javon Kinlaw, departed to the NFL, and Smith could take serious advantage of the new faces in the Carolina front.
The Tennessee offensive line is a unit that is going to look to impose their will, and if Trey Smith is able to open big holes in the running game, Eric Gray is the man that will benefit. Gray arrived at Tennessee in 2019 as a four-star recruit and the top-rated all-purpose back in the nation. He showed flashes early in the season, but he closed down the stretch extremely strong for the Vols. Now, Gray returns as a sophomore, accustomed to play in the SEC, what is expected of a running back, and ready to be the feature back for this offense. Gray showed last season that he is capable of taking games over, grinding down an opponent and moving the chains, as well as exploiting a hole for a long touchdown. In every sense of the expression, Gray is a complete back. He has the speed to break away for a touchdown each time gets his hands on the ball, the strength to break tackles, the quickness to shake free in the open field, excellent hands, and he is solid in pass protection. The Vols will be replacing Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway outside, which makes Gray one of the most proven weapons returning on offense. Paired with Ty Chandler, Gray should be able to stay relatively fresh. If the Vols are to be victorious Saturday night, they will likely need a big game from Gray.
Palmer is the only returning receiver from Tennessee's talented top trio in 2019. Palmer showed multiple times in 2019 just how valuable and explosive he can be. This offseason, Palmer has taken the step up to become the number one receiver for the Vols as they enter the season. In his career, he has shown a knack for being particularly dangerous when working deep routes. That said, in the past, Palmer wasn't drawing the best corner from the opposing defense. That will be his assignment each week in 2020, and it starts with a Carolina defense that is typically built not to give up big plays under Will Muschamp. While Muschamp's defense is designed to limit big plays and force teams to work underneath, the Vols had success with multiple deep shots for touchdowns against the Gamecocks last year. If the Vols run the ball well, they will force Carolina to stack the box, leaving one-on-one opportunities on the outside for Palmer. The simple fact is the Vols will likely need Palmer to show up on at least one long, highlight-reel catch in order to leave Columbia with a win.