ATLANTA — Tennessee football kicked off the unofficial start of its 2022 season on Thursday at SEC Media Days.
Head coach Josh Heupel, quarterback Hendon Hooker, wide receiver Cedric Tillman and safety Trevon Flowers all represented the Vols in Atlanta.
Heupel is entering his second season as Tennessee head coach and has the fortune of returning many players from last year's team. The Vols return 76% of their offense from last season and 69% of total experience.
Tennessee ranked second in the FBS last year in points per game, averaging 39.3 points. The Vols averaged 475 total yards of offense and 275 of those yards came off passing.
Hendon Hooker will return as the Vols' starting quarterback this year. Hooker threw for 31 touchdowns in 2021 with only three interceptions.
"Hendon Hooker competed so consistently throughout the year," Heupel said on his QB1. "He grew throughout the year. Has taken great strides in off-season. A young man that had an opportunity to declare for the draft, came back to our program I believe because of the culture we have, the improvements he knew he could make in coming back in helping his career as he steps to that next level after the season is over. Hendon is a pure winner. He is a great leader inside of our program. I think from year one to year two, that's one of the things that he's really been able to gravitate to and grab ahold of, is that leadership component. Everybody inside of our building feels his energy and focus every single day."
Heupel also fielded a question on Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin signing mustard bottles during SEC Media Days.
"I didn't sign any mustard bottles or golf balls... maybe wish I would have had a golf ball that night. You know what I mean? I am only kidding," Heupel laughed in response to Kiffin signing mustard bottles.
Tennessee returns one of its top wide receivers in redshirt senior Cedric Tillman. Tillman had a breakout season in 2021, becoming the first Vol receiver to total 1,000 receiving yards in a single season since Justin Hunter in 2012.
"Cedric Tillman, who a year ago nobody had really heard of. Now he's regarded as one of the best at his position at wide receiver in the entire country," Heupel on Tillman's progression. "His work habits a year ago parlayed into him playing the way that he did. Certainly, as we look forward, expect great things from him. But I think it's a great story about college football. As we embark on this part of the year, the work that guys have put in since January, giving themselves a chance to make that next step as a player when we get on the football field this fall. Really excited about his future here this year and in the future."
Under Josh Heupel, Tennessee is now known for its high-tempo offense. Heupel said he hopes to continue to establish four-minute offensive possessions.
"Tempo is one of the tools that we use to apply pressure to a defense," Heupel said. "There's a lot of things that we use. That's one of our best and greatest tools, for sure. When we've been playing from ahead, that four-minute offense is something that we have used different places that I've been. We've been extremely successful in it. A lot of that stems from the fact that we're able to rush the football. Guys get caught up in quarterback numbers and wide receivers numbers. At the end of the day it all starts for us in the ability to run the football, control the line of scrimmage."
Players report for preseason camp on Sunday, July 31 and the Vols begin camp on Monday, August 1.