The 2022 Tennessee Volunteer football season is quickly approaching. Heading into each respective season there are always plenty of storylines. Over the next few weeks, the Volunteer Country staff will look into some of these storylines, position group battles, etc, and make the case for each topic being discussed. Today, we take a look at which position group is most important to Tennessee' success in 2022.
The passing game is a clear must for this Tennessee Football team. If they lose any of the momentum they built in 2021 in their aerial attack with Hendon Hooker, Cedric Tillman and co., then this will be an underwhelming season for the Volunteers.
But I don't think anyone is predicting that. I'm sure not. The passing game is the most important aspect for Tennessee remaining competitive and getting the upper edge on teams early.
However, for this question, I'm going to look at a position group that the Vols must have do well to take a step forward from last year. And that's the secondary.
The secondary was one of the worst position groups for Tennessee last year. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't particularly good. And we all saw how much Alontae Taylor's absence affected the Big Orange in the Music City Bowl against Purdue.
So this is the position group I'm looking to. It's the biggest question mark currently. How will this group do after all the injuries this Spring? Are Jaylen McCollough and Trevon Flowers going to live up to the preseason hype and become true leaders like Theo Jackson did last year? How will the young corners contribute?
So many questions. And Willie Martinez is likely to get plenty of corners some playing time early in the season against the likes of Ball State and Akron. I'm looking to Christian Charles, Kamal Hadden and Brandon Turnage to emerge as key pieces. Warren Burrell has a year of starting under his belt, so he should take a step forward even though he's dealt with some injuries.
Charles was one of the most exciting freshmen coming into 2021 but had an injury-ridden first year. From what I've seen in Spring ball and what Martinez, Flowers and McCollough have said, I'm expecting an encouraging year from the Gainesville, Georgia, native.
There are also other guys I haven't mentioned that will make an impact, such as Tamarion McDonald, Doneiko Slaughter and freshman Desmond "Dee" Williams.
The Vols were good last year. And now it is time to take a step forward. The offense will definitely improve, but for Tennessee to potentially make some noise as a top two team in the SEC East, which is a reachable goal, the secondary cannot fall flat.
The offense is going to find ways to have success. Josh Heupel and Alex Golesh are too good as play callers for it not to. Jack mentions the defensive backs unit above, and I think they will play a key role in determining Tennessee's success. But at the end of the day, I think, they, like any secondary, need some help in doing so.
Rodney Garner's defensive line unit lost veterans in Matt Butler, Jay Blakely and Caleb Tremblay following the 2021 season, and while there is promise inside of the current group, there are still unknowns. Omari Thomas has as much upside as any defensive lineman in the SEC, not named Jalen Carter, but it needs to translate. Kansas transfer Da'Jon Terry could be poised for a big season as well, after a full off-season in the program. Incoming Freshmen Jordan Phillips and Tyre West add intrigue, and veterans like Kurott Garland and Elijah Simmons return. Byron Young, Tyler Baron and the edge rushers can be grouped into this as well.
For a secondary to be successful, you have to disrupt the passer and create negative plays to get offenses behind the sticks. This is even more pronounced in the SEC, where nearly every receiver is immensely gifted. I could complete passes to some of these guys, especially if I have all day to stand back there. Eventually someone is going to get open because the receiver holds all of the advantage as it is.
That is why the defensive front, linemen coupled with the edge rushers, are the most important group in my mind for Tennessee's overall success in 2022.