Homecoming help? 5 Vols who could see increased roles vs. Charlotte
Tennessee is a three-touchdown favorite against Charlotte on Saturday.
Despite a couple tough losses the last two weeks, the Vols should dispatch the 49ers rather handedly on homecoming.
With a banged up roster, Tennessee will turn to a few backups who could ultimately become contributors on a team aiming for postseason play.
Jeremy Pruitt’s roster badly needs the extra bowl practices, but Tennessee won’t win three more games unless a handful of individuals step up. Many of those players are known commodities, but Saturday is also an opportunity for these five guys to carve out a bigger role over the next month.
1. Jeremy Banks
In truth, the original thesis of this piece revolved around Banks’ move to linebacker. Folks at Tennessee swore up he’d see key snaps against the 49ers … and then the freshman was back with the tailback at practice this week. Minor injuries to Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler prompted the move, so Banks could prove the whole experiment moot for the rest of the season if he goes out Saturday and runs all over the 49ers. The Memphis native has obvious talent but fumble problems curbed his confidence. But what if he fixes that issue? Banks has a palpable energy that resonates with his teammates and is a jackhammer in the backfield. He needs a role on this football team and Saturday is a prime opportunity for him to grab one.
2. John Mincey
It’s no secret that Tennessee needs defensive line help. The Vols have been gashed on the ground in SEC play and are set to face a couple of really talented tailbacks over the final month of the season. Mincey would’ve been in the rotation the whole year, but a pregame elbow injury stunted his freshman season. The Peach State native is back in action now though, and Tennessee needs to use him. Mincey played 11 snaps against South Carolina, his first game since UTEP. The three senior linemen have been steady yet unspectacular. They’ve also played a ton of snaps. Mincey isn’t going to leapfrog Kyle Phillips or Alexis Johnson on the depth chart, but the Vols would be well-served for him to emerge as a capable rotation member the next four weeks.
3. Marcus Tatum
At first glance, Tatum might seem like an odd choice for this list considering he played every snap last weekend.
But Tatum was a forgotten man until last weekend. The redshirt sophomore was at late-week addition to the starting lineup Saturday, replacing Trey Smith at left tackle. He didn’t take a rep at left tackle until Thursday.
Even so, he preformed fairly well at South Carolina. Against the same front that gave him fits a year ago, Tatum finished with the team’s top pass blocking grade, per PFF.
It was notable that the Vols didn’t even consider spelling him with Chance Hall, Drew Richmond or Nathan Niehaus. Tatum had only seen spot duty at left tackle before Saturday, but this week he got five practices and another game to grow more comfortable at the position.
Tennessee needs Tatum to get acclimated quickly, especially with strong fronts (UK, Mizzou) looming.
4. Jordan Murphy
The sophomore missed the Alabama game after taking a hard hit in the win over Auburn, but Murphy saw spot snaps last weekend. With Jauan Jennings limited with an ankle injury, Murphy could see an increase in playing time Saturday. The Vols need to see what he can do, too. If Tennessee is going to continue with a similar South Carolina gameplan (short throws, mesh routes, screens), Murphy is the ideal wideout on the roster to compliment those plays with some deep shots. He has speed to burn, whether on quick slants, deep posts or nine-routes when defenses start to squat on all the underneath throws.
5. Carlin Fils-Aime
The junior asked to be moved back to tailback last week and he made his mark immediately on just three touches against South Carolina. Fils-Aime scored on a reverse pitch from 14 yards out, even telling reporters that they’d only tried the play “2-3 times” in practice. So can Tennessee find a way to use his speed as he learns more of the playbook? The South Florida native doesn’t have great hands, but he can still be a threat on jet sweeps, reverses and power tosses. Again, if Jordan and Chandler are limited, CFA should see some touches. Tennessee is lacking team speed, and even if he’s not a reliable weapon in the passing game, it makes sense to figure out a few ways to get him the football.