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The Tennessee coaching staff underwent a surprising amount of changes through the off-season. Most of the changes came with a measure of surprise, but one of them has felt imminent for some time. That was Jeremy Pruitt's decision to promote Joe Osovet to an on-field coaching role. When the departure of Kevin Sherrer for the NFL saw former tight end coach and recruiting ace Brian Niedermeyer take over Tennessee's linebackers, a spot opened for Osovet on the field. Regarded as a rising star by many in the coaching world, it has been surprising that the Vols have been able to keep him on staff but off the field for two seasons. Now, Osovet gets his chance on the field for the Vols, and he comes into one of the more challenging situations of any position coach on staff. The Vols are looking to replace last season's starting tight end in Dominick Wood-Anderson. Not only that, but the Vols failed to land any tight ends in the 2020 signing class. There will be pressure on Osovet to develop the players that the Vols have in the tight end room. Osovet will also be asked to show that he can go toe to toe with major national powers on the recruiting trail. With strong ties to the northeast, Osovet's recruiting ties are to areas that the Vols have not pulled a multitude of players from. There are many challenges facing Osovet in what is a, “Prove It,” season in his first year on the field in the SEC.

The Facts

Joe Osovet made a name for himself as a coach at the Junior College level. He was the head coach and offensive coordinator at Nassau Community College in New York, as well as ASA College in Brooklyn. Osovet was named the National Junior College Coach of the Year in 2014 after leading Nassau to a 10-0 record in his first full season as a head coach. He earned two Northeastern Football Conference Coach of the year awards in 2014 at Nassau and 2017 at ASA. During his time in the JUCO ranks, Osovet identified, recruited, and developed 47 players that went on to play at Division I schools, and 11 that went on to the NFL. This speaks volumes to Osovet's ability to find talent at any level. JUCO recruiting is one of the most challenging tasks in all of college football. First, coaches only have two years with players, three if they elect to use a redshirt. This means that roster turnover is fast and furious for JUCO coaches, forcing them to constantly have capable talent in the pipeline. Next, JUCO players are different to identify. Many top-end JUCO players were either at an FBS school or had some issues outside of football that kept them from playing on that level. That so many of Osovet's players went on to finish their careers at D-I programs speaks to not only his ability to identify talent but to maximize it. Osovet gets the most out of his players on the field, while also contributing to their success and growth off of it. Many players that Osovet coached were considered gambles by FBS coaching staffs, and Osovet won on those gambles more often than not. Osovet has extensive ties to the Northeast from his time as a JUCO head coach, but he also has an excellent understanding of JUCO football and players that makes him an enormous asset in recruiting those ranks.

The Strengths

Besides his eye for talent and gift for helping to develop young men on and off the football field, Osovet carries another label from his time in JUCO, that as a bit of an offensive genius. Osovet developed what he called his Bolt Offense during his time as a JUCO coach. This offense was built around the RPO, the run-pass option. Osovet was one of the innovators of the RPO at any level in the country. Most schools now incorporate at least some of the principles that he developed in their base offenses. Coaches from any level that can make that claim with a straight face are few and far between, but Osovet can. His Bolt Offense averaged over 41 points per game in one season at ASA. That kind of production, at any level, is extremely impressive. That kind of in-depth understanding of the X's and O's of the game, combined with such an innovative offensive mind means that Osovet should be more than qualified to teach technique to his young players that need it while teaching them where they fit into the wider offense. A football mind like Osovet's is always welcomed by a head coach, part of the reason Pruitt hired him as Tennessee's Director of Football Programming. In that role, Osovet worked closely with the team and assisted in recruiting despite not being able to go on the road. His success and ability to help grow players led Pruitt to promote him to his on-field role as Tight End Coach.

The Questions

The big question surrounding Osovet is rather simple, is he up to it? On the field, tight end is one of the biggest question marks on the Tennessee roster coming into 2020. On the recruiting trail, Osovet is now going on the road, serving as the lead recruiter on some elite prospects, trying to get them to commit to the Volunteers. Though he has shown promise and has a track record of success in both areas at Tennessee and in the JUCO ranks, this is uncharted territory for Osovet. He is now coaching on the field in the SEC, against the highest levels of competition that college football can offer. While he has helped the Vols land some good players, especially some elite JUCO players, Osovet will now be the lead recruiter for those elite players, JUCO and otherwise. His relationship will be the principle one the Vols rely on to bring players in, all while likely serving as at least a secondary recruiter on any major JUCO targets the Vols are after. Those are big responsibilities for Osovet to face.

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In terms of the group he takes over, Osovet may not have a new addition to his group in the 2020 cycle, but that doesn't mean the cupboard is bare either. Osovet will have the services of returning redshirt senior Austin Pope to lean on. Pope has started games the last three years for the Vols while being on the field for the majority of the offensive snaps the last two seasons. Despite the high percentage of plays he has been on the field; Pope hasn't put up much in the way of receiving statistics. He is, however, considered one of the best blockers the Vols have. He is a key factor in the run game whether he is playing on the line to seal an edge, or playing an H-back or fullback role out of the backfield. Pope is hard-nosed and experienced, and his importance in the run game, as well as his leadership, are not to be overlooked. That said, the Vols do need receiving production from the tight end spot. The departed Wood-Anderson felt like an underused weapon in Knoxville, primarily due to offensive line issues. Struggles in pass protection limited the opportunities Wood-Anderson had to run the deep middle routes where he was such a threat. It also meant that, since he was an excellent blocker, he was asked to stay in and help protect. The quarterback play Wood-Anderson had during his time at Tennessee also hindered his production. An excellent run blocker, Wood-Anderson was also critical in the Volunteer run game, but Osovet will be asked to prepare a player to get more production as a downfield threat. It appears that will fall to 2019 four-star tight end and redshirt freshman, Jackson Lowe. Lowe came out of Cartersville High School as one of the best receiving tight ends in the country. He will have to be an effective blocker to play in Jim Chaney's offense, but he figures to be a downfield threat in the Tennessee passing game. Osovet's development of Lowe might be his most important on-field task in 2020. Behind Lowe, the Vols have another redshirt freshman tight end from the 2019 class. Also from Georgia, Sean Brown showed on film that he was an effective receiver, but a punishing blocker. There is upside with Brown who arrived at Tennessee raw, but with an excellent frame and athletic ability. Brown seems the heir apparent to Austin Pope and his role for Tennessee, though there appears to be more upside there as a receiver. The Vols also made an interesting move in the offseason to add to Osovet's tight end room. Jordan Allen, a prized JUCO recruit and excellent athlete from Jeremy Pruitt's first-class at Tennessee, is moving from outside linebacker to tight end, where the Vols hope Osovet can teach technique to get the most out of Allen's excellent athleticism. The Vols will also have Jacob Warren and Princeton Fant as players with talent that the Vols hope Osovet can develop into weapons in the passing game.

Joe Osovet has a multitude of questions on his plate for the 2020 season. He has to get players that have not played or contributed as receivers ready to be a major part of Tennessee's offense by September. He needs to get on the trail and prove he can recruit with the big boys in his region, to pull some tight ends in the 2020 class to add to his room and to remain a major tool for the Vols in the JUCO ranks. There is an enormous amount for Osovet to prove, and even with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting his opportunities to hit the ground running, his time on staff and familiarity with the program should help to mitigate that lost time. Osovet's track record speaks for itself. Much like the JUCO players he so often gambled on and won within the JUCO ranks, history shows that Jeremy Pruitt has reason to feel confident about his gamble on his new tight end coach.