Tennessee's depth chart for Vanderbilt game – 247Sports

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Tennessee will look to salvage a season soured by a damaging loss at South Carolina last week when it plays its regular-season finale against Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Nashville (7:30 p.m., SEC Network). The Vols fell out of the College Football Playoff picture and dropped to No. 10 in the new rankings after a 63-38 setback in Columbia, while the Commodores are coming in on the opposite end of the momentum spectrum having snapped a 26-game SEC losing streak with back-to-back conference wins against Kentucky and Florida the past two weeks. Tennessee earlier this week unveiled its unofficial depth chart as part of the game-notes package produced by the sports information department for Saturday’s game.
The only change this week comes at quarterback with star Hendon Hooker out after suffering a torn ACL in the fourth quarter of the loss at South Carolina. Tennessee also has some injury concerns heading into this game at a couple of positions. The rotations and pecking orders are pretty clear at this point, though you have to wonder if the defense could try some different personnel after last week’s debacle.
Here is Tennessee’s depth chart – and, more importantly, some pertinent personnel notes for each position group – for the Vanderbilt game.
1. (7) Joe Milton III (R-Sr., 6-5/245)
2. (13) Gaston Moore (R-Soph., 6-2/207)
The season- and college-career-ending knee injury to star quarterback Hendon Hooker added unnecessary misery to an already rough night for Tennessee, which now turns back to Milton, who started the first two games of the 2021 season before his own injury (ankle) opened the door for Hooker. Milton, a second-year transfer from Michigan, has played in seven games this season, completing 23 of 33 passes for 573 yards with six touchdowns. The Vols likely won’t change too much of who they are on offense, and the coaches and players around him all believe the offense can continue operating efficiently with him at the helm.
“We have all the confidence in the world with Joe Milton,” said running back Jabari Small. “I was talking to one of the trainers yesterday, in practice last week when Hendon was in, Joe would be right behind me while I’m in the huddle. He’s preparing like he was QB1 throughout the whole year, so he’s definitely prepared for this opportunity. It was just timing. He was going to get his chance. Hate it had to be under these circumstances, but he’s more than ready.”
Notably, Milton is the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster. In addition to Hooker, freshman third-stringer Tayven Jackson is out with a shoulder injury suffered last month against UT Martin. Walk-ons Moore, a second-year transfer from UCF, and Navy Shuler, the Appalachian State transfer and son of legendary Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler, likely will join Milton on the travel roster for Vanderbilt, but Josh Heupel made it clear the Vols won’t limit Milton in any way trying to protect him because of the situation behind him.
1. (2) Jabari Small (Jr., 5-11/213)
2. (20) Jaylen Wright (Soph., 5-11/205)
3. (24) Dylan Sampson (Fr., 5-11/190)
4. (26) Justin Williams-Thomas (Fr., 6-0/210)
With Tennessee attempting 50 passes and compiling just 28 rushing attempts, opportunities were limited for the Vols’ running backs at South Carolina. Small turned 11 carries into 80 yards, Wright had six carries for 28 yards and Sampson, a week after his impressive cameo against Missouri, got just four carries. In terms of snap distribution, Small played 43, Wright got 33 and Sampson saw just eight.
Small stressed the importance of other players on the offense and the team stepping up their play and their leadership in the absence of Hendon Hooker.
“I think that’s the most important thing, making sure the locker room is good, making sure we all know how to respond from it, because everything’s not going to go well,” Small said. “You’re going to hit adversity, but that’s what defines a person, a man, a team, is how you respond from adversity. Everything’s not always going to be well, so I think the leaders may have to step up. Hendon’s gone – not playing on the field with us, he’s still there – but other people are going to have to raise their level of play and execution.”
Wide receiver
1. (4) Cedric Tillman (R-Sr., 6-3/215)
2. (80) Ramel Keyton (Sr., 6-3/195) OR (6) Jimmy Holiday (Jr., 6-0/205)
Wide receiver
1. (11) Jalin Hyatt (Jr., 6-0/185)
2. (9) Jimmy Calloway (R-Soph., 6-0/190) OR (10) Squirrel White (Fr., 5-10/165)
Wide receiver
1. (15) Bru McCoy (R-Jr., 6-3/220)
2. (19) Walker Merrill (Soph., 6-1/195)
The ESPN broadcast team expressed surprise that Tillman played at all against South Carolina, but he wound up playing all 84 snaps on offense and finished with nine catches (on 18 targets) for 81 yards and two touchdowns. Hyatt played all but three snaps, and White saw an uptick in playing time (33 snaps) as Tennessee opted for more four-wide receiver sets. McCoy caught three passes and a touchdown on five targets, but the banged-up starter played just 52 snaps and Keyton saw 32 snaps, most of them in the second half.
It’s unclear who will play for the Vols against Vanderbilt, but it’s notable that Keyton and White have been on the receiving end of most of the pass attempts from Joe Milton III this season, and that could be important in this game.
“Honestly, it was a real good practice (on Tuesday) with Joe out there,” said running back Jabari Small. “Full of energy, had a real good practice from the whole offense, the whole defense. You’ve got to wash last weekend away. That’s the only way you can get better and focus on Vandy, because they’re a problem of their own. They’re playing hot. They’re playing for a bowl game. They’re going to play hard, so it’s time to just focus on Vandy, and I thought today we responded well.”
1. (88) Princeton Fant (R-Sr.*, 6-2/245) OR (87) Jacob Warren (R-Sr., 6-6/250)
Tennessee’s tight end duo each saw slightly marginalized roles in the loss at South Carolina. Warren started and played 29 snaps and Fant played just 25 snaps as the Vols used more four-wide receiver sets than we’ve seen. Fant was still productive – his two targets produced a 16-yard reception to convert a third down and a 41-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Fant is up to 20 catches for 222 yards and three touchdowns (all in the past two games) this season, and Warren has 12 catches for 163 yards and is looking for his first score.
Left tackle
1. (54) Gerald Mincey (R-Soph., 6-6/337) OR (53) Jeremiah Crawford (Sr., 6-5/315)
Left guard
1. (75) Jerome Carvin (R-Sr.*, 6-5/321)
2. (78) Ollie Lane (R-Sr., 6-4/325)
Center
1. (63) Cooper Mays (Jr., 6-3/296)
2. (65) Parker Ball (R-Jr., 6-4/290) OR (72) Addison Nichols (Fr., 6-5/318)
Right guard
1. (76) Javontez Spraggins (Jr., 6-3/325)
2. (50) Jackson Lampley (R-Jr., 6-4/320)
Right tackle
1. (58) Darnell Wright (Sr., 6-6/335)
2. (66) Dayne Davis (R-Jr., 6-7/325)
Tennessee’s two-man platoon at left tackle continued at South Carolina with Mincey returning to the starting lineup and playing all but nine snaps as there wasn’t really a rotation. For the Florida transfer, it was his first start since the Florida game, and Crawford had started five of the past six games. Heading into the finale, Mincey has started six games this season and Crawford five.
Mays this week downplayed any notion of a rift in Tennessee’s locker room.
“I wouldn’t say (team chemistry) it was an issue. I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think it was an issue last week. I don’t think it’s an issue this week. I think they just came out and played better ball than us that night and it kind of showed in the score, but I can’t say it’s about team chemistry. I think it was just them playing better than us.”
Leo
1. (6) Byron Young (Sr., 6-3/245)
2. (30) Roman Harrison (Sr., 6-2/244)
3. (19) Joshua Josephs (Fr., 6-3/238) OR (27) James Pearce Jr. (Fr., 6-5/242)
Defensive tackle
1. (95) Da’Jon Terry (R-Jr., 6-4/321)
2. (99) Kurott Garland (R-Sr., 6-3/310) OR (20) Bryson Eason (R-Soph., 6-3/300) OR (51) Elijah Simmons (R-Jr., 6-2/340)
Defensive tackle
1. (21) Omari Thomas (Jr., 6-4/320)
2. (99) Kurott Garland (R-Sr., 6-3/310) OR (20) Bryson Eason (R-Soph., 6-3/300) OR (51) Elijah Simmons (R-Jr., 6-2/340)
Defensive end
1. (11) LaTrell Bumphus (R-Sr.*, 6-3/290)
2. (9) Tyler Baron (Jr., 6-5/260)
3. (90) Dominic Bailey (R-Soph., 6-3/270)
4. (42) Tyre West (Fr., 6-3/290)
Tennessee stuck with the same starting lineup (Young, Thomas, Terry, Bumphus) on the defensive line at South Carolina with the same second group (Harrison, Garland, Eason, Baron). The snap counts for the rotation went: Young (59), Baron (38), Bumphus (34), Eason (33), Harrison (29), Thomas (28), Josephs (23), Bailey (21), Terry (21), Garland (19) and West (14). Simmons played five snaps and Pearce got one late.
Thomas said the defense met earlier in the week and discussed what it needed to do to respond to last week’s debacle in Columbia.
“We just really talked about how we’ve got to learn from this,” he said, “and it just can’t be talking and saying, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to learn from it.’ ‘It’s a lesson.’ Like we’ve got to actually sit down and look at what we did, what we need to do better. We need to actually learn from it as a defense so that we don’t go out there and make the mistakes that we made last week this week. A thing we always say, if we lose a game, we can’t lose twice. We have to let that go. We have to come back this week ready to work, ready to get better as the week goes on, and we’ve just got to be ready to play on Saturday.”
Mike linebacker
1. (10) Juwan Mitchell (R-Sr., 6-1/235) OR (24) Aaron Beasley (Sr., 6-1/225)
2. (15) Kwauze Garland (R-Jr., 6-1/225)
3. (44) Elijah Herring (Fr., 6-2/227)
Will linebacker
1. (33) Jeremy Banks (R-Sr., 6-1/224)
2. (38) Solon Page III (R-Sr.*, 6-2/228)
3. (40) Kalib Perry (Fr., 6-3/228)
The absence of Banks from the travel roster added an element of drama to Tennessee’s stunning loss. Josh Heupel didn’t shut down the speculation when asked about a potential altercation between Banks and a teammate, but any such incident was only part of the reason as Banks hadn’t been handling some of his own business like he needed to. Heupel indicated earlier this week that Banks would be back against Vanderbilt.
Tennessee’s linebacker corps definitely felt his absence. In addition to the defense lacking one of its best blitzers and tacklers, Beasley (73 snaps) and Mitchell (72 snaps) were forced into two of the three highest snap counts on the defense and much higher snap counts that they had played most of the season. The only rotation was Page getting 15 snaps, and Herring saw a trio of situation snaps.
“I feel like we’ve just got to come together as a team, man,” Beasley said. “We’ve got to really love on each other, man, really encourage each other. Not really worry about what happened last week, just come together – because at the end of the day, we’re all we’ve got in that family over there, so we’ve just got to lean on each other.”
Cornerback
1. (14) Christian Charles (Soph., 6-1/186) OR (0) Doneiko Slaughter (Jr., 6-0/190)
2. (3) Dee Williams (Jr., 5-11/190)
Cornerback
1. (5) Kamal Hadden (R-Jr., 6-1/190)
2. (8) Brandon Turnage (R-Jr.,6-1/186)
3. (28) De’Shawn Rucker (Soph., 6-0/190)
Star
1. (12) Tamarion McDonald (Jr., 6-2/200)
2. (13) Wesley Walker (R-Jr., 6-1/204)
Slaughter and Turnage finally had brought a measure of stability to Tennessee’s cornerback situation by starting their fourth game in a row at South Carolina, and the Vols also had both Hadden and Charles available after both had been in and out of the lineup over the past several games. The game didn’t go well for any of them. South Carolina hit all of them for big plays and/or touchdowns and/or third-down conversions, and Turnage and Slaughter both left the game with injuries, leaving their statuses up in the air for Vanderbilt (Turnage is much more unlikely to play of the two).
Rucker didn’t make the trip for the game, and his availability for the Vanderbilt game now looks worth monitoring given the two starters just got hurt, the two reserves have been dealing with injuries and the performance being what it was. Tennessee clearly doesn’t trust Williams at this point (no defensive snaps since UT Martin) and the only other cornerback options are walk-on William Wright and freshman Christian Harrison.
At Star, McDonald played 67 of 81 defensive snaps against South Carolina.
Safety
1. (1) Trevon Flowers (Sr.*, 5-11/200)
2. (0) Doneiko Slaughter (Jr., 6-0/190)
Safety
1. (2) Jaylen McCollough (Sr., 6-0/205)
2. (17) Andre Turrentine (R-Fr., 5-11/195) OR (25) Jourdan Thomas (Fr., 6-2/200)
The veteran duo of McCollough and Flowers combined to play all but 11 defensive snaps against South Carolina. The former played all 81 and the latter played 70. Wesley Walker continues to get some snaps at safety in addition to Star. The Georgia Tech played just 24 snaps, his third-lowest total of the season behind the Georgia (20) and Florida (12) games, which were also two of Tennessee’s worst defensive performances of the season.
What alternative options to the starting duo does Tennessee have at safety? There’s Walker and not much else. Slaughter is at cornerback (he started the Alabama and UT Martin games at safety before switching), Thomas appears to be working more at Star and Turrentine has played just 13 of his 108 defensive snaps against SEC opponents.
Placekicker
1. (40) Chase McGrath (R-Sr., 6-0/198)
2. (39) Toby Wilson (R-Sr., 5-10/190)
Punter
1. (37) Paxton Brooks (Sr.*, 6-6/201)
2. (93) Kolby Morgan (R-Fr., 5-11/200)
Kickoff specialist
1. (37) Paxton Brooks (Sr.*, 6-6/201)
2. (39) Toby Wilson (R-Sr., 5-10/190)
Holder
1. (37) Paxton Brooks (Sr.*, 6-6/201)
Long snapper
1. (47) Matthew Salansky (R-Jr., 5-11/245)
Kickoff returner
1. (6) Jimmy Holiday (Jr., 6-0/205)
Punt returner
1. (3) Dee Williams (Jr., 5-11/190)
2. (1) Trevon Flowers (Sr.*, 5-11/200)
McGrath is 15-of-19 on field goals for the season after making his lone attempt against South Carolina, and Brooks is averaging just 40 yards on his 26 punts, though nine of those have pinned opponents inside the 20. Holiday’s three kickoff returns against South Carolina were his first since the UT Martin game – the Vols are mostly settling for touchbacks and fair-catches to start at the 25. Williams also has seen his impact minimized this month – just 13 yards on three returns over the past three games, though he had a big one against Missouri and his 9-yarder against South Carolina was a positive.
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