🏈 The dramatic difference in Tennessee Football

Why Josh Heupel is so pumped about his team

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • The difference in Tennessee Football compared to Josh Heupel’s arrival

  • Takeaways from the first few days of the Vols’ camp

  • A Jayson Swain story UT fans will enjoy

  • The next big-time prospect on the Vols’ recruiting board


There was something different about Tennessee's football team when the Vols opened fall camp on Wednesday.

Was it the vibe of the facility after Tennessee won 11 games last season?

Maybe that was part of it.

But the big difference was the look.

Tennessee looks like a different team on the practice field.

That’s because the Vols have more depth — which really means more talent — across the roster.

How different is Tennessee’s depth of talent now compared to the team Josh Heupel coached in 2021?

“It’s dramatically different than we were Year One,” Heupel said on Wednesday.

He put some emphasis on the dramatic part. And explained what he meant.

“You just look through the depth of our roster — the length, size, ability to bend up front in particular, the athleticism, the ability to move out in space with our skill guys and big skill. It’s dramatically different.”

Heupel is excited to have a roster he believes will give the coaching staff more flexibility.

Tennessee’s group of linebackers might offer the greatest difference from the last two years.

Transfer Keenan Pili is a grown man. (Seriously, he’s 25 and married. And he’s played a lot of football.)

Pili and Aaron Beasley have created confidence for Tennessee’s linebackers.

Sophomores Elijah Herring and Kalib Perry and freshmen Arion Carter, Jeremiah Telander, and Jalen Smith all have big-time upside at the position.

The secondary has legit competition thanks to the combination of returning players and newcomers (transfer senior Gabe Jeudy-Lally + several freshmen).

What does this mean for the season?

It’s way too early to tell.

But it’s easy to see why Heupel is excited to coach this team.

The Vols have a lot of potential to combine with a new winning attitude.

Tennessee has several questions to answer, too.

1️⃣ How does this offensive line replace Darnell Wright and Jerome Carvin?
2️⃣ Will the defense have enough playmakers on the edge and in the secondary?
3️⃣ Is Joe Milton III ready to lead the offense in a tight late-game situation?

Early August is funny.

The start of camp offers a bunch of reasons to be excited while also reminding us to pump the breaks.

But this Tennessee camp feels different than most from the last 10-15 years.

Dramatically different.


No. 6 Aaron Beasley: Another player looking the part

Because there’s so much happening at the start of fall camp, this section will offer some quick takeaways from the first week few days of action.

Here are a few items that stood out, some from the practice field and some from the podium during media availabilities.

➡️ Dont’e Thornton looks the part

Remember the off-season hype around the 6-5 wide receiver with high-level speed in Heupel’s offense?

It makes sense after seeing Thornton in person.

He’s another example of the Vols’ roster being different.

CFB writer Phil Steele and ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic both said to watch out for Thornton during the summer.

And then came offensive coordinator Joey Halzle’s comments on Tuesday.

“He has freaky talent. A guy that size that can run like that is rare. There’s good players and then there’s guys that have rare traits. That guy is extremely rare in what he can do on a football field.”

Hang tight. That’s not even the most glowing endorsement of a player’s athleticism from this week.

➡️ Keyton looks ready for a big year

Senior receiver Ramel Keyton was on last week’s list of players who deserve more attention entering camp.

The first two days of practice backed up that opinion.

Keyton (now wearing No. 9) will play an important role in Tennessee’s offense.

Jayson Swain mentioned on the show this summer that he’s watched Keyton put in extra work at UT’s facility.

Halzle said the same on Tuesday.

Keyton already put up big numbers last season.

He could do more this year.

➡️ Is Crawford the guy at RT?

The summer expectation focused on Gerald Mincey as Darnell Wright’s replacement at right tackle.

But during the media viewing of the first two days of camp, Jeremiah Crawford worked at right tackle while Mincey appeared to be on the second unit at left tackle.

This is early August and things could change. The media also sees only a portion of practice.

But perhaps Crawford will hold onto the right tackle job and Mincey, the guy NFL teams are interested in, will serve as the backup.

➡️ The secondary is fascinating

The depth at the position is legit, at least in terms of available athletes.

There are 7-8 guys fighting for playing time at cornerback.

At safety, senior Jaylen McCollough is back trying to hold onto a starting position.

Wesley Walker, who looks like he had a good off-season, is trying to take that position.

Christian Charles and Andre Turrentine are players who received little off-season talk but will compete for time at safety, too.

Expect to hear about A LOT of defensive backs over the next few weeks.

➡️ Watch out for Emmanuel Okoye… some day

Check out this comment from tight ends coach Alec Abeln on the potential of Okoye, a freshman from Nigeria.

“He’s got a chance to be the most athletic guy to ever play the position. I truly believe that. He’s as physically gifted as anybody I’ve ever been around. He’s got to continue to make steps every day. But just from a raw athletic standpoint, the ceiling is unlimited.”


Okoye has a lot to learn, and we’ll see if he ends up playing tight end or defensive end in the long run.

But his physical talent was obvious seeing him on Day No. 1.


🏈 Arizona appears headed to the Big 12 while Big Ten presidents and chancellors have given the conference commish the go-ahead to explore adding Oregon and Washington in the next round of expansion.

🏈 Tennessee will compete for a national title this season if these things happen for the Vols, according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly.

🏈 Alabama has a three-man race for the starting quarterback job. And Nick Saban made it clear he’ll give no hints as to which way he’s leaning.

🏈 What would be the best result of fall camp for Tennessee? Here’s a wish list for the Vols during the month of August.

🏈 Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and CB Trevon Diggs exchange some unfriendly words at practice. That was “just competitiveness,” according to the teammates.

🏀 As Tennessee is preparing to play exhibition games in Italy, see where the Vols rank in ESPN’s updated way-too-early top 25 for the upcoming season.

Can we expect better play from the USWNT ahead of their upcoming game against Sweden?

⚾ Look out: the Chicago Cubs have vaulted themselves back into playoff contention.


Do you remember Tennessee’s 2006 season opener against California?

The Vols were coming off a disappointing 5-6 season in 2005.

There were questions about the future of Tennessee’s program.

And there was some trash talk coming from the West Coast.

The result of the game: Tennessee 35, Cal 18.

Swain told the story recently about bulletin board material provided by Marshawn Lynch, who played running back for Cal at the time.

An already angry Tennessee team received all the extra motivation it needed.

Hear the rest from Swain below. ⬇️⬇️


Tennessee’s heavy lifting on the recruiting trail took place in July.

The Vols landed six commitments from late June through July 31.

The latest commitment came from offensive lineman Bennett Warren.

The four-star prospect from Sugar Land, Texas, chose Tennessee over Michigan.

Warren’s commitment helps solidify the Vols’ offensive line class for 2024.

Next on the agenda: find more defensive linemen.

Five-star defensive lineman Williams Nwaneri is close to a decision, and Tennessee is in the mix.

The On3 Industry Ranking has Nwaneri as the No. 3 overall player in the nation — and the top defensive lineman.

Tennessee will need players like Nwaneri to catch up with schools like Georgia in the big-picture race of college football.

Catch up on the latest with Nwaneri and Tennessee’s recruiting efforts in this week’s chat with Austin Price of Volquest. ⬇️⬇️

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