We continue our SEC season preview with the Tennessee Vols.
Key question heading into Week 1: The offensive line is still in flux. The injury to Chance Hall has forced center Coleman Thomas to work more at tackle with Drew Richmond and Brett Kendrick. Guard Dylan Wiesman has worked at center as well this camp. Venzell Boulware has also received snaps at center. Richmond probably will start at left tackle in Week 1 but keeping the job and being consistent there will be key. Concern surrounded the offensive line as injuries piled up this spring, and while this could end up being a solid group, another injury and inexperience at left tackle could be an issue.
Make-or-break stretch: From Sept. 24 to Oct. 15, the Vols host Florida before trips to Georgia and Texas A&M lead into that highly anticipated game with Alabama. The road to Atlanta goes through there this stretch, as the Vols must beat the Gators for the first time since 2004, and will have to at least split Georgia and Texas A&M before hosting Bama.
Position battle to watch: The Vols had to replace two starting safeties this year. Todd Kelly Jr. has locked up one spot, but the other could go to sophomore Micah Abernathy, who has been very impressive this fall. Evan Berry has been out because of an injury this fall, allowing Stephen Griffin and Nigel Warrior to get more work here.
Instant impact freshman: Tyler Byrd could very well have a career on both sides of the ball, but he'll start at receiver for the Vols. Tennessee doesn't have a lot of proven talent there, so Byrd will have every opportunity to make a major impact. He has been called a special talent in Knoxville and is pushing veteran Josh Smith for playing time in the slot.
Best case: The offensive line gels and Joshua Dobbs becomes a more efficient passer down the field. Dobbs gets comfortable with a relatively new look at receiver and opens up even more for Jalen Hurd and the running game. Bob Shoop makes Tennessee's defense more aggressive and more sound, as the Vols sweep the East and make it to Atlanta for the first time since 2007.
Worst case: There's just not enough consistency along the offensive line and Dobbs continues to be too much of a runner. Defenses pounce on that and take away the Vols' chance at being a passing threat. While the defense is more aggressive, it leaves that new safety duo susceptible to big plays. Tennessee loses its 12th straight to Florida and misses out on an East title with four losses.