Whoever wins the quarterback battle this spring/fall will ultimately be the leader of the Tennessee Vols‘ offense.
But a great offense has more than one leader. More than one player to lean on when things get tough late in a game.
So who will those other offensive leaders be for the Vols under new head coach Josh Heupel?
That can be a tough question to answer for a team that lost key players like wide receiver Josh Palmer, running back Eric Gray, and running back Ty Chandler.
But fortunately for Tennessee, it appears that one player is already viewed by the new coaching staff as someone the program can “lean on”.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Velus Jones Jr, who transferred to Tennessee from USC, didn’t have an extremely fruitful first season as a Vol in 2020.
Jones caught 22 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games.
Those numbers may not seem impressive, but it’s important to look at the context of Jones’ statistics.
Tennessee’s offense was terribly inefficient last season. Jones put up the bulk of his numbers in the final games of the season. Jones caught seven passes for 125 yards against Vanderbilt. He also caught four passes for 70 yards against Florida (both of those games were started by true freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey, by the way).
Those two games show what Jones is capable of doing in an efficient offense (which Tennessee should have under Heupel).
As a result, the Vols’ new coaching staff is high on Jones.
“Velus looks like a guy that’s played a bunch of football,” said Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh recently.
“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,” added Golesh.
The Vols have some nice young talent on offense. Wide receiver Jalin Hyatt looks like a future star.
But it’s clear that the focus of the passing game — at least early in the season — is going to be on Jones.
Is Jones ready to be a leader for Tennesee?
It certainly appears so. Jones was one of the players chosen by UT to speak to the media for the first time under Heupel. And he sounded like a player who is ready to lead by example.
“You can never learn enough, still learning new stuff each and every day on how to get better,” said Jones last week. “I’m working my tail off to make sure that I’m definitely a top guy this upcoming season.”
“They’re saying to me, just buy-in, and I’m bought all the way in, I’m excited,” added Jones.
Those are the kinds of comments you want to hear from a potential offensive leader.
I’d say the Vols are in good shape on offense from a leadership standpoint.
Featured image via Andrew Ferguson, Tennessee Athletic Communications