With a bowl game appearance growing increasingly out of reach, the goal for the Tennessee Vols in 2019 needs to be adjusted.
Winning games is still important (for recruiting purposes). But at the end of the season, it won’t really matter if the Vols won four games or five games. They’ll be sitting at home in December either way.
Tennessee needs to approach the rest of the season the way a baseball team does when it’s been eliminated from playoff contention.
Essentially, the Vols need to look ahead to 2020 and do their best to determine what kind of personnel issues they’ll have next season. And then they need to start addressing those issues now by trying to develop players at those positions.
One potential big area of need for the Volunteers next season is at wide receiver.
It’s no secret that 2020 UT quarterback commit Harrison Bailey is expected to be Tennessee’s savior.
But he won’t be much of a savior if he doesn’t have anyone on the receiving end of his passes.
Tennessee will be losing their top two pass catchers at the end of the season in Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings.
Callaway and Jennings are by far the best two receivers on UT’s roster right now. Through four games, Jennings has been the most reliable target for the Vols, catching 19 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns. Callaway has caught 10 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Tennessee will also be losing tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson, who has been better than his numbers suggest (5 receptions for 90 yards). Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s inability to accurately throw down the field has had a negative effect on Wood-Anderson’s production this season.
Jarrett Guarantano….. WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!???? pic.twitter.com/MHSD0gQpII
— Abdul Memon (@abdulamemon) September 21, 2019
Brandon Johnson, who has only caught two passes for 31 yards this season (but caught 37 passes for 482 yards in 2017), will also be moving on after this season.
That will leave Josh Palmer (10 receptions for 115 yards) as the Vols’ top returning wide receiver in 2020.
Palmer is a talented player who is capable of being a top option in the passing game, but he’ll have a lot of inexperience behind him.
True freshman Ramel Keyton and redshirt freshman Cedric Tillman are expected to be key contributors for the Vols at some point, but so far this season they’ve combined for just three receptions for 41 yards (all by Tillman, Keyton has one rush for 10 yards).
In order to combat the inexperience that Tennessee will face at the wide receiver position next season, I think the Vols need to get Keyton and Tillman some more playing time in important moments.
And I think Tennessee’s upcoming matchup against Georgia is the perfect opportunity to do this (it’s also a great time to give quarterbacks Brian Maurer and JT Shrout some action).
Look, the Vols aren’t beating Georgia. Everyone under the sun knows that.
So if it’s going to be a loss, then Pruitt needs to make sure it’s a productive loss. And I think that means getting some guys some experience that will be key players in 2020.
Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t think Jennings and Callaway should play. Of course they should play. And in “winnable games” they should be on the field as often as possible. But there’s no reason to get Jennings and Callaway beat up in a game that Tennessee isn’t winning.
Pruitt should limit their snaps and roll with the young guys. The final score might end up being uglier than it would’ve been, but the development of the young players will be invaluable.
Featured image via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports