KNOXVILLE — The start of the second spring practice for Josh Heupel and the Volunteer football program gets underway Tuesday morning. The Vols are looking to carry over the momentum established in Year One under this staff, which had to replace only one position coach in the offseason.
The intriguing part of the 2022 spring will be having a leader on offense, Hendon Hooker, and not having to search for the next starting quarterback. Tayven Jackson arrived on campus a few months ago, and he and Joe Milton will compete for the backup spot.
On the offensive line, four starters are returning, which should help with progression from the first to second year. The return of Darnell Wright, Jerome Carvin, Cooper Mays and Javontez Spraggins allows the coaching staff to focus on finding a suitable replacement for Cade Mays. Could Dayne Davis, Jeremiah Crawford or even Florida transfer Gerald Mincey be the missing piece? This is something we’ll find out over the next 15 practices.
The Vols also have work to do at the wide receiver position, replacing Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton. But with Cedric Tillman returning after his breakout season in 2021, this team also need to find options in the slot. Jalin Hyatt, Marquarius White, Walker Merril could be solid options, as would Jimmy Calloway. Look for players like Ramel Keyton, Kaleb Webb, Chas Nimrod, Jimmy Holiday and a few others to make a run at the spot on the opposite side of Tillman. This group has talent, but finding solid replacements for Payton and Jones will be tough.
We have all seen Hyatt’s talent. But can he take the next step and be the guy? He has experience and can be a weapon for this offense, so we’ll see if he can take one of the spots and run with it.
The running back position group is also intriguing. Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright have both returned and newcomer Justin Williams is an exciting addition. We could see a three-headed monster at this position for most of the season, especially with Williams, who has the size to mow down defenders. However, he’ll have to pick up this offense quickly. I expect the staff to throw him into the fire and see what he can do. They’ve got time, so there’s no need for him to prove himself in everything right now.
We will preview the defense over the next few days.
This is a big moment for Josh Heupel, who looks to build upon the foundation he laid in 2021. There will be pressure for this team to take the next step in 2022 and with the talent still in place on offense, they should be able to do just that.
Now the real fun begins. The next 15 practices will set the tone for the next four months of football, before the regular season begins. Time to get to work in Knoxville.