Amidst a busy weekend for the university’s various spring sports, the Tennessee football team will take the field in front of the public for the first time this spring, participating in the annual Orange and White Game.
For many, this is the first look at the Vols on the field since the conclusion of last season in November. With many offseason moves made and some new additions to the program, here are some things to watch for in Tennessee’s spring game.
First look at new staff
Tennessee rode the coaching carousel as much as any other program did this past offseason, adding three new coaches to the staff, including some familiar faces.
Tyson Helton, who served as the offensive coordinator last year, left Knoxville to take on the head coaching gig at one of his former stops, Western Kentucky. This left the Vols with a major void to fill.
They turned to an SEC rival for their answer, hiring Jim Chaney from Georgia. For Chaney, it marks a return to a program that he spent three years with and holds a 1-0 record as interim head coach with.
“Coach Pruitt called me and my wife, and I have always enjoyed Knoxville,” Chaney said. “It is a place that we can see ourselves living for a long time. … After talking to him (Pruitt) and getting to know him, it was an easy decision to come back to the place that I have always enjoyed coaching at and living (in).”
The Vols will have another new coordinator on the other side of the ball as former defensive backs coach from the Oakland Raiders Derrick Ansley was hired to assume the defensive coordinator role at Tennessee.
Kevin Sherrer, the former defensive coordinator, was moved to special teams coordinator as well as coaching the inside linebackers.
Ansley served as Tennessee’s cornerbacks coach in 2012. He also has familiarity with Pruitt, having coached with him at Alabama in 2010 and again in 2016.
Tee Martin, former quarterback and national champion-winner for the Vols, will assume the role of passing game coordinator, formerly held by Helton, and wide receivers coach.
“It’s not just a job for me,” Martin said. “It means more to me since I’ve done it here at this place and had the opportunity to come back and get it back to what I know it can be.”
Ansley’s first year likely won’t be an easy one, as he will be tasked with coaching a defense that must replace five starters, including the entire defensive line and other veteran players.
With both Micah Abernathy and Todd Kelly Jr. graduating, there’s an opening on the back-end of the secondary for some younger players to make an impression. While Nigel Warrior will likely resume the starting duties he held last season, any number of players on the current roster could line up beside him.
Junior Theo Jackson and sophomore Trevon Flowers are two that are likely to get an early look. Jaylen McCollough, an early enrollee freshman, will also likely see a lot of run in the spring game.
Elsewhere in the secondary, Ansley is confident in the cornerback position with Alontae Taylor, Bryce Thompson and Baylen Buchanan all returning.
“Coach Pruitt did a really good job of developing those guys last year,” Ansley said on Taylor and Thompson. “Both of those guys played a ton of ball as freshmen. … Both of those guys are competitive, have a unique skill set and play corner very different but effective.”
Tennessee lost all three starters along the defensive line to graduation, leaving the largest gap to fill on the entire team. The only returning senior is Emmitt Gooden, who transferred in last season from junior college.
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker has identified an early standout; however, that could be one to watch on Saturday.
“I think the guy that’s stood out most to me in (that) group that I felt like got better to me was probably Matt Butler,” Rocker said. “He’s older, he’s been here and I just think ... every day (he's) trying to do it consistently.”
Kick off is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday evening for the first nighttime edition of the Orange and White game.