There’s perhaps no position group on Tennessee’s roster hurt more by the coronavirus and its subsequent shortened offseason then its receivers and tight ends.
Amongst an offense that returns every contributor at quarterback, running back and along the offensive line the Vols lose their starting tight end and three receivers. Gone are Tennessee’s go-to tandem of Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway.
They leave behind 89 catches over 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns. Departing senior Tyler Byrd hauled in five catches for 66 yards and a score.
The Big Orange’s wide receiver room won’t be short on talent in 2020 after bringing in perhaps the SEC’s best receiver signing class and a pair of transfers.
Senior Josh Palmer has played a supporting role in the Vols’ receiver room the past two years but the talented wide out is expected to become the Vols’ number one guy this season. The Florida native combined for 57 catches, 941 yards and three touchdowns.
Brandon Johnson, Cedric Tillman and Ramel Keyton are the only other receivers that had catches during the 2019 season. Johnson and Tillman combined for six catches for 91 yards while Keyton showed life in his freshman season recording 104 yards.
The Vols are short on proven talent at the receiver spot which makes the shortened offseason a big missed opportunity for the group.
Tennessee has the talent at receiver to compete, but they need newcomers to make steps towards contributing.
Deangelo Gibbs is eligible after sitting out the 2019 season after transferring from Georgia. Gibbs turned heads as a scout team receiver this past season but will have to show it on the field after struggling to find playing time on the defensive side of the ball at Georgia.
USC transfer Velus Jones is hoping a new home can jump start his college career. The former 5-star recruit contributed at Southern Cal but didn’t make the impact he was hoping for, catching just 36 passes for just over 200 yards in three seasons.
Tennessee also rejuvenated its talent bringing in some highly coveted receivers in its 2020 class including three 4-stars.
Tennessee earned a signing day flip from two-sport athlete and 247sports composite’s 116th ranked player Malachi Wideman. Vols’ head coach Jeremy Pruitt and receiver coach Tee Martin also signed top 210 prospects Jalil Hyatt and Jimmy Calloway.
All three have talent and the Vols need one to be ready to play as a freshman. How much the shortened offseason and inability to spend the summer learning the playbook affects their ability to contribute is yet to be seen.
Tennessee loses its reception and yards leader at tight end from last year due to Dominic Wood-Anderson’s graduation. Wood-Anderson had 21 catches for 268 yards in his senior season while improving as a blocker, allowing Tennessee to run two tight end personnel.
Austin Pope is back for his senior season and will look to make a bigger impact catching the football in 2020. The Knoxville native was a linchpin of the Vols’ running game a year ago but he only hauled in four passes.
Pope proved himself as a competent SEC player a year ago, but Tennessee needs him to take another step and replace some of Wood-Anderson’s lost production catching the ball.
Tennessee’s second tight end spot provides an abundance of unclarity heading into the season. There are plenty of bodies at the position but whether Andrew Craig, Jackson Lowe, Sean Brown, Princeton Fant, Jacob Warren or even 3-star freshman Dee Beckwith can turn into solid contributors remains to be seen.