WHAT THEY RETURN: Quarterback Tyler Bray returns for his sophomore season after starting the final five games for the Volunteers last season. Running back Tauren Poole returns after rushing for 1,034 yards last season.
The offensive line will be the most improved position on offense. After getting beat often last season with young players, they now have experience. Ja'Waun James, James Stone and Zach Fulton all saw extended playing time during their freshmen seasons, and all three are expected to start this season. Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard opened eyes in the spring and will get in the mix, too. The young players that struggled to protect the quarterback last season now have a full offseason under their belt and should create a solid offensive line for the Volunteers.
Malik Jackson, Marlon Walls and Joseph Ayres will anchor the interior of the defensive line while Corey Miller and Jacques Smith will be trusted as sophomores to get a pass rush off the edge. Herman Lathers is the only returning linebacker with much experience. The key to the defense is free safety Janzen Jackson, who was recently reinstated last week after missing time because of "personal issues." Jackson has started 22 of 23 games in his Tennessee career and serves as one of the best safeties in the conference.
WHAT THEY LOST: The senior leadership of Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore at wide receiver will be missed. Tight end Luke Stocker was one of the more talented tight ends in the SEC, but he caught only 39 passes for 407 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Gerald Williams and Chris Walker are both gone from the defensive end position. The biggest hit came at linebacker where starters LaMarcus Thompson and Nick Reveiz, Tennessee's leading tackler last season, are both gone.
BREAKOUT POSITION: The wide receiver position for the Volunteers is loaded with potential. Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers showed some of their ability last season. Hunter caught 16 passes as a freshman for 415 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. He averaged 26 yards per catch and served as the team's red zone target because of his high-jump abilities and 6-4 frame.
Rogers caught 11 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns last season, but the former five-star recruit will get more consistent playing time this year and is expected to be a go-to target.
On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive end position could see a big breakout. With Williams and Walker gone, sophomores Corey Miller and Jacques Smith will be given the chance to start. Each was heavily recruited out of high school and has plenty of potential. Smith, a 6-2, 255-pounder, and Miller, a 6-3 265-pound athlete, are built well enough to play the run and pass equally.
PLAYER/POSITION THAT NEEDS TO STEP UP: For the offense, it's Bray. The Volunteers went 4-1 when he started at quarterback last season, with the only loss coming in a double overtime bowl game against North Carolina. However, his four wins weren't against the best competition, coming over Memphis, Mississippi, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
In those five starts, Bray went 100-for-168 (59.5%), throwing for 1,546 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Reports out of spring practice were positive about Bray, but he went 5-for-30 in the team's spring game. If he can play consistently this fall, the Volunteers will have a much-improved offense.
On defense, it's the linebackers that need to step up. It's not often a team sweats losing a 5-10, 224-pound linebacker, but Nick Reveiz was the glue of Tennessee's defense. He was always in position and made big plays in his career. With Thompson also gone, Herman Lathers is the only returning starter at linebacker. Austin Johnson, John Propst and Daryl Vereen are expected to fill the other two linebacker positions.