I'm sure y'all are focused on WVU, as you should be. But since we open with Ball St, the fan base has all eyes on Pitt.
I wanted to give you a position breakdown of Tennessee to spark some discussion about this match up and learn more about Pitt.
QB1 is Hendon Hooker (6'4 218). We all love Hendon. He got better as the year went on. 31 TD to just 3 INT. All reports this off season have been that he's exactly what you want in a returning starting QB. We're also pleased with our depth at the position with veteran Joe Milton. He started the Pitt game last season and had some infamous (by Tennessee's recollection) over throws. But good reports from him this off season as well. The the transfer portal era having a talented and experienced back up is a luxury we're happy to have.
This room is solid but no great players in it. Jabari Small (5'11 213) will get the most touches early in the season. He's just a steady-eddy type back. Behind him I expect freshman Dylan Sampson (5'11 190) to get the next snaps. He's a speedster clocking 10.48 in the 100m in HS and has some natural RB skills. Jaylen Wright, sophomore, has changed his body and looks like a million bucks but has been bothered by quad this preseason. There is also 4* freshman Justin Williams Thomas and Clemson transfer Lyn-J Dixon in the room.
This room is led by former 2* Cedric Tillman (6'3 215). Tillman had 1,000 yard season in 2021. He played his best against the best, putting up big numbers against UGA and Bama. Behind him there's a lot of potential but no one proven. The names you'll likely see are 5* journeyman Bru McCoy (6'3 220) and Jalin Hyatt in the slot. Hyatt can really go but isn't a stop and start jitterbug type. This offense doesn't struggle to get guys open but finding complementing pieces to go with Tillman will be important for sure. Walker Merrill seems to be the 4th man up right now. He's a 6' 200 sophomore.
Veterans lead the way here. Jacob Warren (6'6 250) and Princeton Fant (6'2 235) compliment one another well. They both are solid blockers and good pass catchers too. Like RB, good room but not great.
Return 4/5 starters. Darnell Wright (6'6 335) has some first round potential and has moved from LT to RT. Finding a LT will be key and we have 2 guys battling there. Interior depth is better than tackle, but thats the case everywhere for the most part. Cooper Mays, the center, is the most important player. The offenses tempo is better when he's playing and he's had injury issues in his career.
BIG TAKEAWAYS ON OFFENSE
Heupel and company know how to get guys open and score. Tennessee fans aren't terribly worried about much on offense because of the track record there, but RB depth and LT are the biggest concerns. Early in the season I worry about finding the right group of receivers. We have tons of potential in that room but Pitt could certainly beat us if we're trying to figure that out in week 2.
Byron Young (6'3 245) should have a breakout year. He was unbelievable raw last year and an off season has done him wonders. The physical tools are there for sure. After him, the room gets a lot more pedestrian by SEC standards. Roman Harrison (6'2 244) is likely your #2 here early in the year. He's a bit too stiff to be a big time play maker but he understands leverage and has a good motor. After that, it is likely some talented freshman getting time in obvious pass rush situations.
A lot of guys here. Omari Thomas (6'4 320) is the most talented and the most proven. After that, it's a mixed bag of solid veterans and young-ish guys who have potential. Our DL coach has stated we could play as many as 10 guys across the DL. It's simply a situation where outside of a few guys, there's just not a lot of seperation. Not saying this group is bad, just not a lot of big-timers by SEC standards.
Tyler Baron (6'5 260) has all the potential in the world if he can stay healthy. After that you're looking at veteran Latrell Bumphus (6'3 290) and short-on-experience Dom Bailey (6'3 270).
This group was bad last season and the thought is that it will be much better this season. Jeremy Banks (6'1 224) is the best in the group. He's got NFL potential. Good size. Big time athlete. Texas transfer Juwan Mitchell (6'1 235) looks the part and after a frustrating 2021, where he wasn't all that bought in, he's healthy and ready to play. After these two we've got a couple of salty ole veterans who arent great but they're solid with Aaron Beasley and Solon Page.
CB and N:
I won't waste your time rattling off guys here because as of today, no one knows. Theres probably 4 or 5 guys who could start at CB and 2 at Nickel. That might sound like a bad thing but for Tennessee fans and coaches, we are thankful to have quality bodies to choose from and compete with one another.
All about the veterans here. Much like LB, a group that wasn't great a year ago... Sometimes not very good. But these guys have seen a ton of ball and don't make mistakes. When they get beat its because they lost a physical battle. I could see some younger, more talented guys taking someone's job later in the year, but not for the Pitt game. Starters will be seniors Trevon Flowers (5'11 200) and Jaylen McCullough (6' 205).
BIGGEST TAKE AWAYS ON DEFENSE
We simply have more depth than a year ago. That is the big positive. The negative is, I am not sure how many difference makers we have on this side of the ball. Those guys that make those handful of plays that are the difference in the game.