For all the misery Tennessee Volunteers Football has endured during the past 10 seasons, it was the Vols’ biggest victory in 2017 that Jimmy Hyams pointed to when blasting the defensive scheme under Butch Jones’ head-coaching reign.
“I thought the scheme that Tennessee ran against Georgia Tech’s triple option was one of the dumbest I’ve ever seen. … They gave up 535 yards rushing (but won 42-41),” said Hyams, a Tennessee Sports Writers Hall
of Fame journalist and popular radio talk-show co-host on the Vol Network flagship station, WNML-FM 99.1, as featured speaker during Rotary Club of Farragut’s Wednesday, Aug. 22, meeting in Fox Den Country Club.
“I guarantee this team is going to be better coached on defense than it was the last couple of years,” he added about new UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt — defensive coordinator for 2017 national champ Alabama and 2013 national champ Florida State — and his staff. “(The Vols) were the worst rushing defense in school history last year, and they weren’t much better the year before.”
Moreover, “I don’t think the defensive staff last year related that well to the players,” Hyams said. “I don’t think the players always played as hard as they could or should have.
“I think this staff will get the most out of them in that regard.”
As for reversing a program with five losing seasons during the past eight years, “Can they get out of it with Jeremy Pruitt? I don’t know,” Hyams said. “But I do like some of the things I’ve seen. … I like their ability to recruit. … I like the intensity in the brief amount we’ve been able to watch in practice.
“I like the fact that they’re going to ask the offensive line to fire out and hit somebody, instead of hitting in front of them and shoving and pushing and all of that, like you do in a zone-read scheme,” he added.
However, while saying the offensive line “is a bit of a concern,” Hyams added, “I like the idea that they’re going to try and be more physical, but I don’t know how difficult it’s going to be to change the scheme and go to a more physical offensive line.”
As for the defensive scheme, “I like the fact that this staff is flexible: they’re talking about running a 3-4 defense; well, they’re also going to run out of the 4-3,” Hyams said. “They’re going to mix this thing up. And when they do, I think it’s going to make it more difficult for opponents.”
As for units where Hyams said the Volunteers would be good, “if healthy,” he pointed to running backs, linebackers and at tight end.
“I like the receiving corps,” Hyams added.
However, in addition to concerns on the offensive line, “I think they’ve got some holes in the secondary. … The defensive line is another concern,” he said. “There are only four defensive linemen on that roster that I would look at and say, ‘I think that’s a good player.’”
At quarterback, Hyams said he expects redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano to be the starter ahead of Stanford transfer Keller Chryst, who he added “has not performed very well” in Vol practices and scrimmages. “He completed about 55 percent of his passes at Stanford … that’s not very good.”
Among the 14 SEC starting quarterbacks, Hyams said, “Right now I can’t rank Guarantano any higher than ninth.”
Although Hyams said Tennessee was ranked No. 11 nationally in recruiting — based on verbal commitments from Class of 2019 student-athletes — and fifth in the SEC, “the negative I see out of that: they have got two kids in-state, and that’s it,” he added. “… They’ve not done a good job recruiting in-state. My concern about that is long-term: you need to build relationships with your (high school) coaches in Tennessee.”