A Look at Which Tennessee Freshmen Have the Best Chance of Starting this Fall
Jeremy Pruitt's 2019-2020 Tennessee Volunteers saw seven true Freshmen credited with starts, including Wanya Morris, Darnell Wright, Brian Maurer, Jaylen McCollough, Quavaris Crouch, Henry To'oto'o, and Warren Burrell, while various other Freshmen saw assorted amounts of playing time like Eric Gray, Roman Harrison, and Ramel Keyton.
Tennessee's 2020 class has arrived on campus, and the opportunity for multiple Freshmen to start games for the Vols are likely, and we take a look at which ones have the best opportunity here.
Keshawn Lawrence seems like an almost certainty to see the field early and often in Knoxville. He has a high draft ceiling coming out of high school, and he has all of the athleticism in the world. Lawrence flashed on special teams for Ensworth last fall, and he will have the chance to compete for early playing time in the secondary and crack the rotation. Sources have indicated Lawrence has already started showing out in the one week he has been on campus in Knoxville, and he expects to push into the lineup early. Where? Is the real question. Lawrence will get his first look at cornerback, and Oklahoma will certainly require Tennessee to have multiple DB's on the field at one time. It is possible he could find himself inserted into the starting lineup as early as week two.
Jalin Hyatt has the game-breaking speed to make an early impact for Tennessee's offense. He is a guy Jim Chaney can scheme for and be creative with. Hyatt has worked with multiple Tennessee quarterbacks this off-season, and results have been positive. The departure of Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway bolds well for his chance to push into the starting lineup at some point this season. Freak athlete and fellow true Freshmen, Malachi Wideman, will also factor into the receiver room, but there are concerns over how polished of a route runner he is.
Tyler Baron and Morven Joseph are both going to have an opportunity to create playing time early and often for Tennessee. The departure of Darrell Taylor leaves a major void in Tennessee's defense. Baron is college-ready at his size, and his ability to understand Tennessee's defense is going to be at a high level with his father serving on staff, and he has watched the Tennessee defense in person numerous times. All of this bodes well for him to crack the starting lineup at some point this season. Joseph, on the other hand, has produced at a freakish level against high-quality competition the last two seasons, and he is an athletic edge rusher with nice length and twitch. Joseph totaled 115 tackles with 28 for loss and 13 sacks in 2019, according to Maxpreps. Both of these guys will certainly factor into Tennessee's pass rush, but will they find a starting spot is the real question. It is likely to see one and/or both against Oklahoma.
Bryson Eason comes out of Whitehaven as one of the most coveted linebacker prospects in the nation. He is a bit old school in his "thumper" style play, which will likely limit him in passing situations, and lead to Tennessee playing alternate packages around him when available. However, Eason should have a chance to push for playing time in the middle of Tennessee's defense. JJ Peterson and however Tennessee chooses to use Quavaris Crouch will factor into this, but the depth at the position is concerning, which could push Eason into quick playing time in Knoxville.
Omari Thomas will be an early factor in the defensive line rotation, but he should not be expected to crack the lineup early. The Vols are not deep at the position, but they are returning multiple starters. Thomas should see early playing time in the rotation, but unless production is at a high rate, he may not crack the starting lineup unless an unforeseen injury was to occur. Aubrey Solomon battled injuries all last season, and Tennessee is thin from a numbers standpoint across the front, so the possibility is there for Thomas.
Harrison Bailey is the last one to touch on. Bailey is the highest-rated QB to sign with Tennessee in over a decade, and he is as talented as any quarterback on the roster. A shortened off-season does not bode well for his chances to find playing time right away in Knoxville, but prior to the shutdown, Jeremy Pruitt was set for an open competition to decide his quarterback. Bailey will have to grasp the playbook quickly, and he will have to make the best of his early opportunities if they are given. Jeremy Pruitt's willingness to replace one quarterback for another bodes well for Bailey to get an early opportunity, but only time will tell if the true Freshman can capitalize on it.