There’s no such thing as a quiet week when it comes to the Tennessee Vols.
So why should we expect the few days before the 2019 season opener to be any different?
Game week got off to a bad start for the Tennessee with the announcement that starting cornerback Bryce Thompson was suspended indefinitely after his arrest over the weekend.
Thompson was a key part of the Vols’ defense in 2018, performing well above expectations as a true freshman.
But with Thompson’s indefinite suspension, it means that Tennessee will need to rely on another true freshman at cornerback — 2019 signee Warren Burrell.
This obviously isn’t the kind of news the Vols were hoping for just before the start of the season.
Which begs the question — why in the world would UT’s stock be on the rise?
Well, despite the loss of Thompson (for however long that might be), Tennessee received more good news than bad news this week.
On Tuesday evening, the Vols learned that Michigan defensive line transfer Aubrey Solomon has been granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. This is terrific news for a defensive line unit that was thin at best. Tennessee lost their most experienced defensive lineman, Emmitt Gooden, earlier this fall to a torn ACL.
Jeremy Pruitt: We found out yesterday that Aubrey Solomon will be eligible yesterday, it’s been tough on him… I’m glad he’s getting the opportunity to play.
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) August 28, 2019
Solomon, a former five-star recruit who played two seasons at Michigan, will provide the Vols with some much needed experience along their defensive line. Even if Solomon doesn’t play at an All-SEC level, his presence will help solidify a mostly inexperienced unit.
The Solomon news was huge for Tennessee, but it wasn’t the biggest news of the week.
That came on Wednesday, when UT announced that offensive lineman Trey Smith has been cleared to play against Georgia State.
Smith, who has been battling blood clots, said in a statement released by Tennessee “My family and I consulted with several of the best doctors in the country, and a plan has been developed that allows me to compete with my teammates on gameday”.
The junior from Jackson, TN added “The coaches and staff here at Tennessee have always had my best interests at heart and I can’t thank them enough”.
Getting Smith back is major deal for the Vols. When healthy, he’s one of the best offensive linemen in the country.
Playing Smith will give Jeremy Pruitt and offensive line coach Will Friend the ability to play their best five offensive linemen in their best five positions, instead of shuffling the line around to account for the absence of Smith.
Tennessee’s offensive and defensive lines, arguably their two biggest questions marks entering the 2019 season, got much better this week.
Sure, the secondary suffered a pretty big loss. But Pruitt has proved he can work wonders when it comes to defensive backs. So has secondary coach Derrick Ansley.
Look, there’s no way around it — losing Thompson indefinitely weakens the Vols’ secondary. But I fully believe Pruitt and Ansley can make up for his loss with the way they’re able to develop young players. I think Burrell can step up and do a fine job if Thompson is out for an extended period of time.
Tennessee still looks like a seven win team to me, but with Solomon and Smith now in the mix, there’s no reason they can’t knock on the door of eight wins.
Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports