Tennessee will soon begin its second spring practice under Josh Heupel, who’s looking to build off a successful first season in Knoxville. Heupel knew he was walking into an ongoing NCAA investigation at Tennessee, and the staff has to be cautious with scholarship numbers to mitigate future punishment.
One of the key talking points around the program over the last two months has been that the Vols haven’t used the transfer portal much this cycle. If you remember, Tennessee added eight players, including Hendon Hooker, Brandon Turnage, Kamal Hadden, Joe Milton, Javonta Payton, Da’Jon Terry, Caleb Tremblay and Juwan Mitchell for the 2021 season.
Now, the Vols will look to add some depth to the roster following spring practice. Because the program must still work the numbers when it comes to player additions, only certain spots were available during this past recruiting cycle. The Vols did add OL Gerald Mincey, along with a a few walk-ons, including Navy Shuler, the son of former Tennessee QB Heath Shuler.
The staff made a run at a few players, but ended up striking out, and the reasons for that are different with each person you talk to. But that doesn’t mean this staff isn’t navigating the portal in hopes of finding the right playmakers who could contribute to this team, even after spring practice has concluded.
“For us, after spring ball,” Heupel said, “I think we’ll be able to evaluate our roster and hopefully navigate and find some specific needs and personnel that can help us go compete by the time we get to the fall.”
Josh Heupel was a guest at the Rotary Club of Knoxville on Tuesday, and someone in the crowd asked him about the Vols activity within the transfer portal. The Tennessee head coach made it clear that this staff was still dealing with problems from the previous regime, including an NCAA investigation, but that they are looking to put themselves in the best position long-term.
But Heupel also pointed out that he doesn’t think programs can build off the portal alone.
“I don’t think you can build your football program and your roster strictly through the transfer portal,” Heupel said.
The Vols coach went on to say that the players added through the portal have to buy into what they are building in Knoxville, and not just someone to plug into the depth chart for a season.
“And I say that meaning that in the combination of pieces, (the focus) has got to be the building of your program, guys that are going to truly be bought into your culture, that are going to know the culture, that are going to grow inside of it and grow in their ability to play at the highest level. A portion of what we did here this offseason, as we aligned forward the things that we wanted to do inside of our program to protect ourselves and put ourselves in the best position long-term with some of the things that we were dealing with before I got here.”
Right now, this 2022 group is looking to get bigger, faster and stronger through winter workouts. Then the fun begins, and they will hit the field for spring practice sometime around late March, with the spring game most likely coming in the middle of them. Because of the ongoing construction at Neyland Stadium, the spring game is expected to be played at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, and the school is trying to finalize those plans as we speak.
The Vols coaching staff had a plan last season to bring in some help after spring practice, and I expect the same this year.