The Tennessee offense is pretty much a wide open race across the board this spring. Openings at quarterback, running back, offensive line and receiver make this a fascinating period, not to mention an entirely new, offensive-focused coaching staff is now pulling the strings.
Particularly at receiver, Tennessee holds a lot of pieces that haven’t seen much playing time to this point. However, the talent is there. Multiple former blue-chip prospects make up this room, each working to be ready to step into the spotlight this fall.
Maybe the one certain thing here is Velus Jones, who returns for a sixth season of college football in 2021. Jones transferred from USC to Tennessee last year, giving the Vols another veteran option. This year he’s the only veteran option, and it sounds like this staff is set to lean on him.
“Velus looks like a guy that’s played a bunch of football,” offensive coordinator Alex Golesh said. “I think he has to continue to fine-tune the fundamentals of the position — releases, top of routes — just fine-tune himself into being a really good every-down receiver.”
Though Jones has five years of experience, he’s never put up huge numbers or really even been the guy of an offense. That might change this year, as he tries to make the most out of his best opportunity yet.
Elsewhere behind him, it’s pretty open, but the conversation begins with speedster Jalin Hyatt. The former four-star receiver played the most among a crowded group of freshmen last season, showcasing his elite speed. He’s an exciting piece moving forward, and as Golesh mentions, there are more options behind him.
“Jalin Hyatt has played a bunch,” Golesh said. “He looks like a young pup that’s really still feeling his way out in a lot of ways. Jimmy Calloway was really impressive through two days. He’s a guy that’s got a really good skill set, can really run. You’ve got (Jimmy) Holiday is still working his way back. What he’s shown in non-contact has been really impressive. We’re still kind of digging through what group to see what those guys are.”
Calloway is a former four-star recruit who signed with Tennessee as an athlete. Holiday is a former quarterback prospect who has moved to the receiver position in hopes of utilizing his elite speed. Malachi Wideman is another young option, bringing a bigger frame and a different style to the table.
Tennessee still has a couple of veteran option in Ramel Keyton and Cedric Tillman, who will also factor into this equation.
“We had a couple guys out, had a couple guys with some Covid things,” Golesh said. “I think probably unfair to evaluate those guys totally, but we are young in a lot of ways there, we really are. We need the Ramel Keytons of the world, those older guys that have been here, to really step up in a lot of ways. That’s one spot that Coach (Kodi) Burns is burning midnight oil right now trying to make sure that those guys are ready to roll. I think we’re kind of leaning on Velus in a lot of ways, because he is the old vet, he’s played a ton of football.”
It’s unclear how Heupel will format the Orange and White Game, but the receiver position will be among the most interesting to follow.