Tennessee Football’s Forgotten Man Entering 2023 Season

Tennessee Football's Forgotten Man Entering 2023 Season

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

It took five games until defensive back Dee Williams made his Volunteer debut after transferring from junior college to Tennessee ahead of the 2022 season.

Williams made his mark during his first play, returning a punt against LSU 58 yards to set the Vols up in a prime scoring position.

It was the first of many strong punt returns in Williams’ junior season. The Forsyth, Georgia native made little impact at cornerback during the 2022 season, but his impact as a punt returner changed Tennessee’s special teams.

In nine games, Williams returned 15 punts for 281 yards and a touchdown in Tennessee’s regular season finale win against Vanderbilt. Averaging 18.7 yards per return, Williams was one of the SEC’s best return men last season.

The East Mississippi Community College transfer turned in long returns against LSU and Kentucky setting up short fields for Hendon Hooker and the Vols’ offense.

“I mean, Dee [Williams] is special, man,” Tennessee special teams coach Mike Ekeler said during spring practice. “The guy is what you want. I stood up here two years ago and you asked me what we wanted [out of a return man] and I said a fart in a skillet, right? That guy is a fart in a skillet. That’s what you want. And so every time that ball is punted and with No. 3, you give him a chance to get that thing started, everybody in Neyland should be holding their breath.”

While Williams was really good returning punts as a junior, Tennessee didn’t fully feel the impact of his electricity. The Vols boasted the nation’s best offense and frequently scored touchdowns regardless of good field or poor field position.

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Tennessee’s offense will be good again this fall, but it will likely take a step back of some degree with Hendon Hooker, Darnell Wright and Jalin Hyatt off to the NFL.

If Tennessee’s offense isn’t as good as it was last season or has games where it struggles to move the ball, Williams ability to spark a big play in the return game will be incredibly beneficial.

Williams didn’t return kicks for Tennessee last season and there’s no telling whether he will this season. The Vols have a handful of possible options there and the shiftiness that makes Williams’ elite as a punt returner isn’t as beneficial for kick returners.

Still, Williams could step into a larger special teams role this season by returning kicks in addition to punts.

With the Vols’ season opener against Virginia less than two months away, there will be plenty of conversation about Tennessee football. Few will revolve around Williams. The senior is Tennessee’s forgotten man entering the 2023 season.

Williams’ return ability might make him unforgettable while recapping the Vols’ 2023 season.

Author: Ethan Moore