Josh Heupel has a lot of work ahead of him if he’s going to turn the Tennessee Vols into a contender.
The situation that Heupel is taking over in Knoxville is far from ideal. That’s why Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott turned down the opportunity to replace Jeremy Pruitt as Tennessee’s head coach.
Multiple players hitting the transfer portal, looming NCAA sanctions, and a decade-plus of unfruitfulness. That’s what Heupel is inheriting at UT.
While it sounds like an impossible situation for Heupel, there are actually a few things for the new Vols head coach to be excited about.
There are several quality quarterbacks on the roster (Harrison Bailey, Hendon Hooker, Kaidon Salter, and Brian Maurer). There’s also some nice young talent at the skill positions.
And one of those skill position players could potentially be a big X-factor for Heupel and the Vols in 2021.
Dee Beckwith, an Alabama native, signed with Tennessee as a three-star athlete in the 2020 recruiting class.
Beckwith has bounced around at various positions during his time at UT.
The Alabama native signed with the Vols as a tight end/wide receiver. But he was eventually moved to running back, where he saw limited action as a true freshman in 2020.
Beckwith, 6-foot-5/220 lbs, seems unlikely to stick at running back under Heupel. The Vols have plenty of options at running back (albeit unproven options). And Beckwith projects better as a hybrid tight end/wide receiver.
Heupel has a history of using players similar to Beckwith in an effective manner, which is why I think the sophomore could be a potential X-factor for Tennessee’s offense in 2021.
At UCF, Heupel was able to utilize Jacob Harris, 6-foot-5/210 lbs, as a key part of the Knight’s offense.
Harris, who found his way to UCF after originally signing with Florida Atlantic to play soccer (and also took a brief detour to Western Kentucky), only played one year of high school football. Yet he made an impact in Heupel’s offense as a “hybrid guy”.
“He’s going to be a great hybrid guy for us,” said UCF teammate Adrian Killins when Harris initially enrolled. “When a lot of people see him step on the field at whatever position that coaches put him at on the offensive side of the ball, they are honestly not going to know what to do to him.”
Harris ended up playing 21 games for UCF over the last two seasons, catching 49 passes for 987 yards and nine touchdowns. He declared for the 2021 NFL Draft after the 2020 season.
There are plenty of similarities between Harris and Beckwith. They’re similarly sized, both played multiple sports in high school (Beckwith also ran track and played basketball), and neither had a definite role when they first started playing under Heupel.
Heupel and his offensive staff have made it clear that they plan to mold the offense to the strength of the players on the roster.
It’s clear from Heupel’s success with Harris that he knows how to use a player like Beckwith.
There’s a high probability that the days of high-ceiling offensive recruits being wasted at Tennessee are over now that Heupel is leading the charge.
Featured image via Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports/UTAD