By John Luke McCord
Tennessee ended a wild coaching search earlier this offseason by hiring away yet another branch from the Nick Saban coaching tree. Jeremy Pruitt is a fiery, defensive-minded coach that has found success in his time working for Saban, as well as his time spent coordinating the defense at Georgia. His experience in both divisions of the SEC, as well as his sharp recruiting prowess are reason to believe he will be successful as the head coach of the Vols. His inexperience in that role, however, lands him with an Hour Glass coaching stamp of 2, which comes in just under the national average of 3.5.
The good news for Pruitt is that Butch Jones recruiting in the top half of the competitive SEC, as Tennessee boasts a three-year recruiting average that ranks 7th-best in the conference. Proof of that is shown mostly on the defensive side of the ball, where Vols should have defensive playmakers at all three levels. The offensive line, as well as skill positions should also be in good shape.
The bad news, however, is that the roster is void of leadership or returning production at the quarterback spot. As well, there’s always an adjustment under a new coach, especially one who brings a new system. Jarrett Guarantano played the most last season, and would appear to be a better fit for the pro-style system Pruitt brings than Will McBride. Guarantano’s skill set, similar to McBride, is highlighted his athleticism, but there’s no doubt the New Jersey native has enough arm to make the throws in the new offense. Then there’s Stanford grad transfer, Keller Chryst, who will be in Knoxville after spring workouts. While Chryst has been in a pro-style system in Paolo Alto, he did lose his starting position for the Cardinal. Guarantano is the projected starter here, and he holds an Hour Glass stamp of 2, which ranks 9th among returning SEC QBs.
Senior running back John Kelly could be the biggest beneficiary of the new offensive philosophy, as he a workhorse-in-waiting. A talented youngster Ty Chandler also possess major talent, and should put up big numbers this season, as well. The receiver group should be able to help pick the QB position up this season. Marquez Callaway flashed the ability to make ridiculous plays last season, and both he and Brandon Johnson should benefit from more consistent quarterback play. To help bring it all together, the offensive line should be a year stronger and a year better, former blue-chip tackle Trey Smith should be an anchor for the unit.
The Vols’ front seven on defense should be one of the more feared across the SEC. Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle and Jonathan Kongbo are three of the more talented defensive linemen in college football. Meanwhile, the team’s leading tackler from a season ago, Daniel Bituli, is back to lead the linebacker group with an iron fist. Nigel Warrior and Micah Abernathy are back in the defensive backfield. Overall, there’s enough talent on the defensive side to believe Pruitt should get good play from his defense.
HG analytics pick: 6-6, 5th in SEC East
My pick: 4-8, 6th in SEC East
2017 Tennessee Projections 8-4; Actual Finish 4-8 (50 percent accuracy)
Hour Glass National Recruiting Ranking: 18th – Inside our Realistic College Football Playoff Bust Line on our talent index.