Johnny Majors rebuilt Tennessee football in the 1970s and 1980s by turning the program into Wide Receiver U. Could that be the formula for Josh Heupel as he tries to turn around the Vols his first year on the job? One outlet is making that case.
In his article citing every SEC team’s reason for optimism in 2021, Brad Crawford of 247Sports mentioned receivers for the Vols heading into Heupel’s first season. This mention was made despite them losing their top performer, Josh Palmer, to the NFL and another one of their top wideouts, Brandon Johnson, to transfer.
A big reason for Crawford bringing up Tennessee football’s receivers was Heupel’s track record of utilizing playmakers in his offense, particularly in the passing game. Here’s a bit of what he said about the Vols’ skill players.
"Cycling back to Josh Heupel’s history on offense at UCF, he always found creative ways to get his playmakers the football — especially at the wide receiver position. Guys lined up in different spots and routes were creative, giving UCF’s quarterback an opportunity to find targets in space. With Jalin Hyatt back and other potential stars at the position, Tennessee’s production at wide receiver could surprise this season. Heupel may not product the win-loss record he wants in his first campaign, but the Vols’ offense will be able to move the football as long as quarterback play is dependable."
It is true that the Vols have options at receiver, even with Malachi Wideman leaving the program earlier this week. Crawford specifically mentioned Jalin Hyatt, but he may not even be one of the top two guys in the rotation.
Velus Jones Jr. is the veteran of the group. The USC Trojans transfer from 2019 became the Vols’ top receiver down the stretch of 2020. He figures to continue that role and is a perfect fit for the type of offense Heupel likes to run.
Beyond Jones and Hyatt, Cedric Tillman stood out as a wideout in spring practice, and the Vols still have Ramel Keyton, Jimmy Calloway and Jimmy Holiday. They also added Walker Merrill, Julian Nixon and Andison Coby in their 2021 recruiting class.
Simply put, Heupel has a lot of options to work with, and that’s reason enough to believe he’ll be able to get his offense going, even if nothing else works. A high-scoring offense will at least make things entertaining, even if it comes with losses, and that seems to be Crawford’s implication here. Either way, Tennessee football does have some weapons early, and that’s an encouraging sign.