KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee believes it still has plenty of explosiveness on offense despite losing last year's top big-play threats to the NFL.
But much of that talent remains unproven.
Tennessee must replace plenty of firepower because quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Josh Malone all were drafted in the first four rounds. Running back John Kelly says the Volunteers have quality candidates to fill the void.
"I feel like we've got a lot of playmakers on our team," Kelly said. "We lost a lot of good guys, especially Dobbs and Alvin, but I feel we've got a lot of guys that bring a lot to the table just as well as those guys did. It's a matter of time for everybody to show off with the opportunities we get."
Tennessee's most obvious concern is at quarterback.
Junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano are the leading candidates to replace Dobbs , who started 35 games over the last four seasons before going to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round.
Malone and Kamara also leave big shoes to fill.
Kamara scored 13 touchdowns last season. Malone had 50 catches for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns. Kamara was drafted in the third round by New Orleans, while Cincinnati took Malone in the fourth round.
Tennessee had 36 plays from scrimmage of 30-plus yards last season. Three-quarters of those gains were produced by players no longer on the roster.
"We have lost some very, very talented players and some very explosive players, but I'm excited about the players we have on this football team," coach Butch Jones said. "You have a lot of individuals who have paid their dues, (but) they're still relatively young in our football program."
They also still have much to learn. Jones said after Tuesday night's practice that the offense had "way too many turnovers, way too many balls on the ground."
Tennessee needs big seasons from Kelly and receiver Jauan Jennings.
Kelly averaged 6.4 yards per carry last year and rushed for 630 yards, including 515 over the final six games. Jennings had 40 catches for 580 yards and seven touchdowns while producing two of Tennessee's most memorable plays - the go-ahead touchdown in a victory over Florida and a Hail Mary reception to beat Georgia .
There's not much experience behind them.
Kelly's the only Vol who had more than 14 carries last season. The only current Tennessee players who caught more than 15 passes last year were Jennings and tight end Ethan Wolf.
That's why Kelly is spending much of training camp assisting younger running backs such as freshmen Ty Chandler and Trey Coleman. Tennessee's developing receivers are learning from Jennings and fifth-year senior Josh Smith.
"The young guys, they're out there ready to go, that's definitely something I can say," Kelly said. "Everybody's taking a lot of good coaching. I feel we've got something special here."
Tennessee has plenty of contenders for featured receiving roles.
Tyler Byrd is a speedy sophomore who caught 15 passes last year. Marquez Callaway earned plenty of praise this spring, though he had just one reception as a freshman last season. Fifth-year senior Jeff George is attempting to rebound after also catching just one pass a year ago.
Other possibilities include sophomore Brandon Johnson, redshirt freshman Latrell Williams and true freshmen Princeton Fant, Jacquez Jones, Jordan Murphy and Josh Palmer.
"There's a lot of talent on the offense," Callaway said. "The big plays are just going to come. They're going to be there. We just have to work, study the playbook more and get stronger in the weight room with (strength coach) Rock (Gullickson) so we can make them happen."
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