The Tennessee football team hopes to return to prominence sooner rather than later under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt and his staff.

As important as coaching staffs are to a football program, though, players ultimately have to make plays on the field — or get exposed in the process.

It’s often said that a player’s biggest improvement comes between his first and second year on campus. One full year’s worth of experience on campus, whether a player redshirts or contributes, tends to make most players much more comfortable with their surroundings and much more ready to help their team.

With those previous few paragraphs in mind, GoVols247‘s eighth annual Second-Year Surge series will examine Tennessee’s group of second-year scholarship players, dissecting reasons for optimism and hesitation about each player’s immediate and long-term future in the Pruitt era.

The Vols need significant improvement from players in their 2017 signing class if they hope to start climbing back toward their traditional place near the top of the Southeastern Conference.

Will that happen, though?

Let’s start that conversation now.

Second-Year Surge continues with a look at sophomore linebacker Shanon Reid.?

SHANON REID

Position: Linebacker
Size: 6-foot, 220 pounds
Hometown/Previous school: Lehigh Acres, Fla./Dunbar High School
Recruiting ranking: No. 603 overall prospect in the nation according to the industry-generated 247Sports Composite, No. 240 overall prospect in the nation according to 247Sports. No. 41 outside linebacker prospect in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite, No. 14 outside linebacker prospect in the nation according to 247Sports. No. 80 overall prospect in Florida according to the 247Sports Composite, No. 30 overall prospect in Florida according to 247Sports.
2017 stats: 7 games, 0 starts; 1 tackle.

STRENGTHS SHOWN: There are reasons to worry at least a bit about Reid’s fit in Tennessee’s new defense, but let’s not ignore the fact that he’s a good-looking athlete who’s capable of finding a way to make himself fit into the picture. Reid looks much more like a safety from a physical standpoint, but he’s gotten a bit bigger during his first 18 months on campus after skipping the final semester of his high school career and enrolling in January 2017 to participate in spring practice with the Vols. A player in Reid’s situation — a sophomore heading into his second spring camp — should be in better position than most to show improvement and take a step forward, and Reid seemed to take at least some baby steps in that direction after getting off to an understandably slow start while learning a new defense. Reid’s athletic interception in annual Tennessee’s Orange & White Game at Neyland Stadium isn’t a play every linebacker can make, but he made it comfortably. Coaches never disregard an ability to make plays like that. Reid’s athleticism could make him a really good special teams player and perhaps even a sub-package linebacker, and he’s a majority of his career is still ahead of him.

STEP-UP NEEDED: The most obvious area Reid needs to step up is obvious, but it’s also tough to change. He’s not the biggest linebacker, and Tennessee is looking for bigger linebackers now that Pruitt and his defensive staff are in town. In an ideal situation, there’s really only one spot — the weakside (Will) spot — for a linebacker Reid’s size in the base package of Pruitt’s defense. Tennessee’s situation obviously isn’t an ideal one, but the Vols actually do have some bigger linebackers, and unfortunately for Reid, one of those players is junior Quart’e Sapp, who was one of the team’s better players at any position in spring camp. Redshirt freshman Solon Page III also is competing with Reid for that spot, and things could get even more complicated if elite prospect JJ Peterson enrolls later this summer. A player like Darrin Kirkland Jr., Daniel Bituli or even Dillon Bates could play that Will spot, too, so there will be plenty of competition in that spot. Of course, if you want to have a good football team, you’re going to have to compete hard for a spot anywhere on the field.

SYNOPSIS (TL;DR): Reid is a good athlete who’s working hard and getting bigger and seems likely to be a big part of Tennessee’s special-teams units this season, but how much he’ll play on defense remains to be seen. There’s plenty of competition at that Will spot, and more competition is on the way, so earning a sub-package spot might be more realistic for Reid this season unless some players take themselves out of the equation one way or the other.