Get ready for Butch Jones, version 5.0.
The coach that’s so much fun to kick around is preparing to open his fifth season on Rocky Top.
Usually high-profile jobs like leading the Vol football program serve to age the coach. But, in this case, having Jones as the head coach has only served to age the fan base.
The Vols are coming off a 9-4 season and a bowl victory over Nebraska that provides a slice of optimism. Tennessee enters 2017 as the 24th ranked team in the Amway Coaches Poll released last week. Predictably, Alabama is ranked No. 1.
The biggest challenge facing the Vols is finding a QB to replace Joshua Dobbs. My pick to win the job is junior Quinten Dormady, who is a prototypical pocket passer. Should the Vols want an entirely different approach, redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano has been highly praised for his talent running the read option, a big part of the UT offense under coach Jones.
If you take away the QB position, the Vols look more powerful at every position than last year.
The strength of the team is expected to be the offensive line. The Vols suffered a preseason blow last week when tackle Chance Hall was lost for the year due to injury. But even with Hall not available, UT returns six OLs who started at least three games, including Brett Kendrick (13 starts) and Jashon Robertson (12).
The Vols also landed freshman Trey Smith, who was rated by ESPN as the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, regardless of position.
There are flashy players at the skill positions led by RB John Kelly, a playmaker. WR Jauan Jennings, WR Marquez Callaway and TE Ethan Wolfe all have star potential.
Ty Chandler, a true freshman, has grabbed attention at RB. He hasn’t played a down of college football, but he’s a four-star recruit who has impressed thus far.
As for the defense, it has to be improved, if for no other reason than it couldn’t get any worse. With a berth in the Sugar Bowl on the line in the season finale, UT surrendered 45 points to Vanderbilt in a 45-34 loss.
It wasn’t just a one-game letdown. The defense gave up more than 30 points six times. That puts an awful lot of pressure on the offense.
Looking at the schedule, the Vols get to play Georgia, South Carolina, LSU and Vanderbilt at home. Playing Florida and Alabama on the road will be tough, but those games always are.
Last year, the Vols were picked to win the SEC East. The expectations aren’t as lofty this year, but the team needs to perform well if we’re to see Butch Jones, version 6.0.