KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Five Vols have been named to the Athlon’s preseason All-SEC squad, as announced by the magazine on Tuesday.
Tennessee is also ranked 19th in Athlon’s preseason top 25 ranking. The Vols return 53 lettermen and 14 starters (seven on offense, seven on defense) from last year’s squad. UT opens its season against Georgia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game on Sept. 4 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.
Senior Evan Berry was named a first-team specialist as a kick returner. Junior receiver Jauan Jennings and senior offensive lineman Jashon Robertson were picked for the third-team offense. Junior linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. was named to the third-team defense. Redshirt senior punter Trevor Daniel was selected as a third-team specialist.
Berry was named to the 2016 All-SEC Coaches Second Team despite being limited to nine games due to injury. His 32.9-yard kickoff return average ranked first in the SEC and he had a 100-yard return for a touchdown against South Carolina on Oct. 29. He also posted 12 tackles and one tackle for loss. Berry’s 34.2-yard career kickoff return average ranks first in Tennessee history and his 1,677 career kickoff return yards are the third-most by a Vol. As a sophomore in 2015, he garnered Walter Camp, Sporting News and FWAA All-America honors and was SEC Special Teams Player of the Year as a kick returner.
Jennings had a breakout sophomore campaign, ranking second on the team with 40 receptions, 580 receiving yards, 14.5 yards per catch and seven receiving touchdowns. He played a major role in Tennessee’s 38-28 comeback win over Florida on Sept. 24, collecting three receptions for 111 yards and a sensational 67-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave the Vols the lead. Jennings’ signature catch of the season was in the Georgia game when he hauled in a 43-yard Hail Mary with time expiring to lift the Vols to an incredible 34-31 win over the Bulldogs.
Robertson is the Vols’ most-experienced offensive lineman with 35 career starts. He started 13 games at left guard in 2016, helping anchor a UT offensive line that paved the way for a school-record 473 points and 36.3 points per game (second-most in the SEC). Tennessee’s 5,768 yards of total offense were the second-most in program history.
Kirkland, who was a 2015 SEC All-Freshman team pick, battled back from a high ankle sprain he suffered early in the 2016 season and played in eight games, making seven starts. He finished the year with 45 tackles (30 solo), 1.0 sack and 5.0 tackles for loss.
In his second season as UT’s starting punter, Daniel posted a 44.6-yard average (third in the SEC) with 28 punts inside the 20, 29 fair catches and 21 punts of 50 or more yards. His 70-yard punt against South Carolina was the longest in the SEC in 2016. Daniel was a candidate for the Ray Guy Award last season.