Who leads 6 Tennessee football position battles at practice Day 1, including transfers on first team

Every position battle must start somewhere, and Tennessee football opened some key competitions when preseason practice kicked off Wednesday.
The Vols have a month to nail down starting spots before their season opener against Virginia in Nashville on Sept. 2.
Key players from last season’s team left for the NFL. Now their positions must be filled by a combination of experienced backups, transfers and budding youngsters.
Much of the first practice was open to media, at least enough to see who got first-team reps. They could change throughout the preseason. But here’s how those key position competitions started off.
First-day shakeup at offensive tackle
There was a shakeup and some side-swapping at offensive tackle, where UT must replace first-round NFL draft pick Darnell Wright.
Miami transfer John Campbell was at left tackle with the first team. Gerald Mincey, last season’s starter at left tackle, was Campbell's backup in the scrimmage session.
Jeremiah Crawford was at right tackle with the first team. He started six games at left tackle last season when Mincey was injured.
Campbell and Mincey are viewed as NFL prospects, so it seems like they’d both start. Campbell could stay at left tackle, and Mincey could move to right tackle. Crawford is a capable backup at either spot.
Whether Mincey slides to the other side or remains as a backup will be something to watch. Coach Josh Heupel said all three tackles will play, but he's looking for “consistent and championship level” play from the starters.
Dont’e Thornton finds spot in slot
UT returns three proven wide receivers in Bru McCoy, Ramel Keyton and Squirrel White. That was the starting trio in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson.
But where does Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton fit into the mix? He can play on the outside or in the slot.
On day one, Thornton played at slot receiver behind White. The contrast of their size was notable. Thornton is 6-foot-5, 214 pounds. White is 5-10, 165 pounds.
Their different body types and skillsets could give the passing game some variety. But Heupel will have to divert from his usual rotation that utilizes only three wide receivers.
No surprises yet at defensive end
The rotation at LEO − what UT calls its weakside defensive end − followed a predictable pattern based on game experience.
Roman Harrison, a fifth-year senior and experienced backup, was at LEO on the first team. Sophomore Joshua Josephs, who played 243 snaps on defense last season, was on the second team.
Sophomore James Pearce was on the third team. Coaches believe he has a tremendous upside, but he played sparingly as a freshman.
Freshman Caleb Herring, a former Riverdale standout, was fourth in the rotation. He could climb if the sophomores struggle.
LEO is an important position in UT’s scheme. That’s where Bryon Young played to earn All-SEC honors and get picked in the third round of the draft.
BYU transfer begins camp as starter
Aaron Beasley, a two-year starter and 2022 leading tackler, is back at one of the linebacker spots. His partner in the starting lineup in the first practice was BYU transfer Keenan Pili.
Tennessee linebacker Keenan Pili is seen during Tennessee Football Media Day, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.
Pili was a two-time team captain and standout linebacker at BYU. UT snagged him in the transfer portal to fill the spot vacated by Jeremy Banks, who left to pursue a pro career.
Elijah Herring, another former Riverdale standout, was Beasley’s backup. And Kalib Perry was Pili’s backup.
Beasley has played both linebacker positions, but he started preseason at weakside.
He said he prefers weakside linebacker because it allows him to run freely and make dynamic plays. Weakside linebacker is also where Beasley played in the Orange Bowl, when he had a dominant performance with four tackles for loss and two sacks.
Transfer and Knox County native compete at guard
There’s a hole at left guard after the graduation of Jerome Carvin.
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Fifth-year senior Ollie Lane, a former Gibbs standout, was the starter to open practice. Texas transfer Andrej Karic was his backup.
Backup center Addison Nichols and backup right guard Jackson Lampley eventually could factor in at left guard. But, for now, it appears to be a two-man competition.
Cornerback could be a turnstile early on
The starters don’t matter much in the secondary because numerous players will be in the rotation.
Tennessee defensive back Gabe Jeudy-Lally (10) during spring football practice on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
But Doneiko Slaughter and Brandon Turnage got first-team reps at cornerback. BYU transfer Gabe Jeudy-Lally and Warren Burrell rotated in on the second team.
That leaves Kamal Hadden, who started six games last season, out of the top four. Of course, that could change on a daily basis.
Turnage and Slaughter started five games each last season. Burrell was a starter until suffering a season-ending injury in the second game of last season.
Jeudy-Lally was a part-time starter during three seasons at Vanderbilt and then a starter at BYU last season.
UT needs a revamped plan or better personnel in the secondary after ranking No. 127 in pass defense among 131 FBS teams.

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