Which of Tennessee football's post-spring transfers will make impact for Vols? | Roundtable

Mike Wilson Blake Toppmeyer
Knoxville News Sentinel

A roster in shambles is too harsh of a description to apply to what Josh Heupel inherited when he became Tennessee's football coach in late January.

A depleted roster in need of more talent and depth certainly applies, though.

Heupel has tried to address that through reinforcements by way of the NCAA transfer portal. Since April, the Vols have added five transfers, all of whom should be eligible to play this season.

They are quarterback Joe Milton of Michigan, linebacker Juwan Mitchell of Texas, defensive linemen Caleb Tremblay of Southern California and DaJon Terry of Kansas as well as wide receiver JaVonta Payton of Mississippi State.

Here's a closer look at the situation.

Blake Toppmeyer: Of the five transfers Heupel added, Mitchell addressed the biggest need because he’s a veteran starter at a position that is thin on talent and depth. And Milton supplies intrigue as a fifth scholarship quarterback who should be viewed as a candidate for the starting job. Of the other three additions (Tremblay, Payton and Terry), who has the best chance to make an instant impact?

Mike Wilson: It has to be either Terry or Tremblay. Payton is a talented wide receiver, but wide receiver also might be Tennessee's best position group entering the season with guys like Jalin Hyatt, Velus Jones Jr. and Cedric Tillman. But the defensive line remains a question mark. The Vols essentially have the same group of players for the third straight season. It just has never been an overly impressive group of players or one that has produced well.

Toppmeyer: Of course, Tremblay and Terry weren't exactly prolific producers at their previous schools. Considering these five additions as a whole, do they do much to infuse talent into the program, or is this more a case of adding necessary depth?

Wilson: That is so true, which I think speaks to how Heupel feels about the depth and talent on the defensive line. The Vols went out at linebacker and got a talented player who can make a splashy impact. Terry and Tremblay? Contributors, but not key players at Kansas and USC, respectively. I do think Payton is a different addition, as he has proven he can play and produce in the SEC. But in the case of the defensive linemen, I think we are seeing Heupel's true feelings about the defensive line group he currently has. As for Milton, I think he fits somewhere in the middle. He is certainly the most interesting addition given his position and skill-set. But he also seems like an addition to have more options at QB as much as anything.

Toppmeyer: Given the NCAA's rule shift to allow first-time undergraduate transfers immediate eligibility, it's almost as if college football now has three signing periods. There's the two official signing periods – one in December, and one in February – but I think we'll now see more transfer movement than ever in this window between when spring practice ends and when players reconvene for summer workouts. If we consider this window where Tennessee has added five transfer periods as its own mini-signing period, what sort of grade would you assign for how the Vols have fared?

Wilson: I'd give it a B-plus, and Mitchell is the reason why. Tennessee's most glaring need was inside linebacker. The Vols went out and got a talented, experienced player to plug a major gap. I also think the intrigue with Milton is a key factor. We can safely assume the QB room will see some attrition, it seems. So adding Milton, who has starting experience and is someone Heupel is familiar with, is interesting. But going back to the defensive line, Heupel's comments after the spring game were telling. He clearly saw it necessary to do something to change the makeup of that group.

Toppmeyer: In other transfer news last week, former Vols linebacker Henry To'o To'o committed to rival Alabama. Coaches like to say that you worry about the players you get, not the ones you don't, but let's consider this hypothetical anyway: If you're Tennessee, what would you rather have: To'o To'o still with the program, or this collection of five transfers?

Wilson: To'o To'o still with the program. It's a multi-faceted choice. To'o To'o was Tennessee's best defensive player last season. He was one of its best as a freshman in 2019 as well. But I think the attitude To'o To'o showed around the program was important. He was a well-respected person and player. New coaches need players like that to build around. So while the Vols certainly addressed some needs, keeping To'o To'o would have been more valuable yet.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.