With spring practice just around the corner, this week we’ll look at the strongest and most uncertain positions at six of the SEC’s leading contenders for 2016.
These are the six teams -- Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida -- that ESPN’s Mark Schlabach ranked in his “Way-Too-Early Top 25” after national signing day.
We started with Alabama and LSU on Wednesday. This morning we move to a Tennessee team that seems to be loaded to challenge for the SEC East title this fall:
Position of weakness: Wide receiver is not a weakness for Tennessee so much as the talented players the Volunteers have at the position have yet to develop into stars.
Josh Malone (31 catches, 405 yards, 2 TDs) is the top returning receiver, but it would be fair to say that he and position mates Josh Smith, Jason Croom, Jauan Jennings and Preston Williams are capable of more than we have seen from them thus far.
Tennessee ranked 92nd nationally in passing offense last season with 198.6 yards per game and was 74th in yards per pass attempt (6.96). Certainly quarterback Joshua Dobbs needs to throw the ball more effectively, but Dobbs would benefit from more consistent play on the outside.
Perhaps junior college transfer Jeff George, the No. 27 overall prospect on ESPN’s JC 50, can help in that regard. The 6-foot-5 wideout is already on campus and will participate in spring practice. The Vols also added a trio of four-star wideouts in Corey Henderson, Brandon Johnson and Latrell Williams in the 2016 signing class.
Position of strength: As tempting as it might be to choose a secondary that is stacked with talent, running back feels like the obvious choice.
Junior Jalen Hurd is one of the SEC’s top running backs after having rushed for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Senior Alvin Kamara (698 rushing yards, 7 TDs plus 34 catches for 291 yards and three more scores) can do a bit of everything. Together they form perhaps the top 1-2 backfield combination in the conference.
The Vols don’t have a ton of proven depth behind the two stars -- John Kelly was third among Tennessee running backs with 165 yards last season -- but they’re awfully good at the top of the depth chart. Plus they signed one of the nation’s better running back prospects in Carlin Fils-Aime, a multi-talented player whose skillset is highly similar to Kamara’s.