Tennessee has experienced a lot of success under Josh Heupel during his first two years in Knoxville.
The Vols won big games against SEC rivals and saw players like Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt become Tennessee legends.
But they’re gone.
Heupel helped a large number of players that he inherited develop into high-level SEC and now NFL players.
And plenty of players Heupel inherited are still around to help for the 2023 season.
But with the departure of so many key players from the last two seasons, Heupel will look to new players to step into bigger roles.
Some of those players were signed by Heupel.
Which high school recruits signed by Heupel need to step up this year to help Tennessee continue its rise in the SEC?
Let’s take a look.
WR Squirrel White
White has been a popular pick to be the next standout receiver in Tennessee’s offense.
He has a good chance.
The slot position has been a dream spot in Heupel’s offense.
White showed off his speed last fall. And he already stepped up in the Orange Bowl when he caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Let’s see if White can carry over his early flashes into a full-time role as a sophomore.
Veteran receivers Ramel Keyton and Bru McCoy will catch their fair share of balls for Tennessee.
And Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton will compete for snaps and targets this fall.
If Tennessee wants to maximize its offensive potential, it will need White to take the next step in his development.
Edge Joshua Josephs and James Pearce
These two players will continue to be linked together.
We’re doing it again here.
Both Josephs and Pearce were highly-touted in the 2022 class.
With Byron Young off to the NFL, someone has to step up on the edge.
Veterans Tyler Baron and Roman Harrison will have a chance to do that.
But if we’re talking about Tennessee’s defense playing at a high level — and Heupel has called for “elite” defensive play moving forward — Josephs and Pearce need to be a factor.
The talent is there. Will the production be?
DL Tyre West
West is the other 2022 defensive lineman with all kinds of accolades.
He’s not expected to start or lead Tennessee’s defensive line.
But the Vols need to count on a bunch of guys up front. West is on that list.
West has pass-rush ability and showed it some as a freshman.
As much as we talk about the need for disrupters on the edge, interior pressure can make a big difference for Tennessee’s defense.
West needs to provide it this fall.
RB Dylan Sampson
Sampson was one of the most talked about players during the spring.
He looks like a perfect fit in Heupel’s offense.
Sampson has burst and home-run ability out of the backfield.
He drew rave reviews for his running ability as a freshman and showed it off at times.
See: the second half vs Missouri.
But like most freshman running backs, Tennessee’s coaches lacked confidence in Sampson’s ability to protect the quarterback.
If Sampson has improved his pass protection, he should be a new weapon to count on this fall.
LB Elijah Herring
Tennessee has to replace Jeremy Banks and his playmaking ability at linebacker.
Can Herring help fill that void?
Defensive leader Aaron Beasley will be the main player tasked with replacing Banks. And senior Keenan Pili, who transferred from BYU, will play an important role.
But Herring has an aggression that has shown up on special teams and could help on defense.
The future of the linebacker position is about to be handed over to “Heupel guys.”
Kalib Perry will have an opportunity.
And freshman Arion Carter showed during the spring he might be the first freshman ready to play for Tennessee.
It’s time for these players to step up. Heupel brought them in for a reason.