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INSIDER MAILING: The Vols are 1-0 Edition

Justin Worley-1-6

“What is Matt Darr’s status for Saturday? Do we have a tight end who can slip to OT or OG?” – Phillip Bell

Daniel: According to Butch Jones, Matt Darr will be fine. That being said, we didn’t see him during the open period of practice on Tuesday and Jones is somewhat notorious for his – we’ll say “inexact” – injury estimates. So ultimately we’ll have to wait until Saturday to know on that one. I’d put him somewhere in the probable-to-questionable range. If he can’t go, my best guess would be that walk-on true freshman Troy Waites would get the call. In terms of a tight end moving to the offensive line, I don’t see anybody on the roster that fits that mold at this point. When he first got to campus, Ethan Wolf was looking pretty large and I thought there was a chance he could grow into a tackle, but he trimmed down some over the summer and is obviously settling in well at tight end.

“When are we going to get a kicker who can kick it to or through the end zone?” – Brock Landers

Houston: Aaron Medley “did it consistently” on his recruiting visits (if you believe the folklore), but didn’t have a single touchback in the home opener which I found somewhat surprising. In listening to Butch Jones yesterday, it was obvious that he was extremely disappointed with all of his special teams units, including kickoffs. He said that the kickers (Medley was the only one on kickoffs) sprayed the football and didn’t kick it to the proper part of the field to help out their coverage units. This leads me to believe that maybe they were intentionally working on their coverages and maybe, MAYBE, asked Medley to put the ball in play. I’ll need a larger sample size this year before I flat-out label Medley as a guy who can’t kick it through the end zone. Arkansas State has some dynamic returners that they’ll be bringing to Knoxville this weekend and my guess is that the coaches will want to keep the ball out of their hands if possible. So we should know by Saturday afternoon whether or not Medley has the leg to do it.

“Who wins a survivor reality show of SEC head coaches?” – @VolTitan

Daniel: Easy. Les Miles. Not sure if we’re talking true survivor – like Hunger Games stuff  – or more like the actual TV show Survivor that has been on for at least 42 years, but either way Les wins. He’d have everybody confused. He’d do crazy things like try to vote himself off and get in everybody’s head, but, ultimately, it would all work out for him. And if this were a true Hunger Games type of deal, it would be no contest. He’d have an alliance of the most gullible head coaches such as Will Muschamp and Bret Bielema, and then he’d stab them in the back for the win. The twist would be that they never were really in an alliance – they just misunderstood what Les told them at the beginning because he phrased it so awkwardly: “The want to not have quality alliances and opposition is imperative for this contest.” Plus, Les can live on the land, or, more specifically, the grass, if need be.

Reed: Les Miles because no one can outfox him and no one can hate the ways of The Mad Hatter.

Houston: Leslie Edwin Miles.

John: Interesting question. Let’s do this. First step, dividing the coaches into two tribes, East and West. Let’s start with the West.

Saban? Out early. Because in the wilderness, there’s no way to get a hair dryer to work. And try as he may, Saban ain’t one to rock the do-rag. Mullen and Freeze would both get a good look at it, but would ultimately cancel each other out. Les Miles would have success early, thanks largely to his willingness to eat grass, but Daniel, Houston and Reed are wrong. No way he’d win because he’d eventually get voted out when his tribe-mates grew weary of him asking “Wanna trade loin cloths?” Bielema? I don’t see it. Dude has bad karma. So that leaves Malzahn and Sumlin —  a wizard and a badass. And, Sumlin wins because badassery trumps wizardry all day long.

In the East, Pinkel would be voted out immediately because advertisers would drop like flies otherwise. (What? You wanna attach your brand to a name that conjures up images of weak trickles of urine?) Stoops? Please. That clown couldn’t even make it out of his own family. Mason would get voted out because his tribemates would get sick and tired of his incessant bitching each and every time he got his ass kicked. Richt would eventually have to leave the island because, hey, you can only put off your players’ parole officers for so long. Spurrier? Maybe 20 years ago, but have you seen that guy without a shirt? Which leaves Will Muschamp and Butch Jones. And the nod goes to Butch because badassery trumps douche-baggery all day long. Which leaves a final of two badasses, Kevin Sumlin and Butch Jones? Who wins?

Butch. Please.

“How long do you think 3rd down for what will last at Neyland? Even though it’s a great crowd pumper. How do you think the old timers (millennium ticket holders) are taking the 3rd down hip-hop?” – BLT Vols

John: I don’t wanna come off like some old fool who’s totally out of touch. Because you can ask anyone who knows me — I flat-out love hip-hop, from the golden era of the 90s to what’s coming out today. (Listening to some Tribe as I type this.) As such, I’m in on 3rd Down for What. I think it’s cool as hell. And I loved it Sunday night… the first few times I heard it. But, I did grow a bit tired of it.

I don’t think that the older crowd has a problem with it, per se. I sit in U and that’s not exactly the student section, and folks there seemed to embrace it just fine. But I still think 3rd Down for What has a chance to become a parody of itself.

Because if they plan on playing it every single third down for the entire year, there will be a “boy who cried wolf” element to it. Which is why I hope they’ll save it for big third downs. Because it’s an awesome thing, and I’d hate to see it get worn out.

Houston: Glad you asked, because I spent some time observing the crowd on Sunday night during third downs. I specifically targeted the west side of the stadium where the ‘millennium ticket holders’ (MTH’s) sit and I was very surprised by what I saw. Obviously, the students knew exactly what to do when the song came on – get loud, bounce up and down slightly and wave your hands in the air like you’re fanning a big fire. At first, the MTH’s didn’t know what to do and sort of seemed to thumb their nose at the idea, but as the game went on their demeanor changed. Once they saw the students dancing and waving their arms in the air, they fell right in and began doing it themselves and actually seemed to really enjoy themselves during the process. Plus, the players are trained to play with added intensity when they here it thanks to Butch Jones piping it in during third down situations at practice.

All that to say…I think ‘3rd Down for What?’ is here to stay.

“The offensive line had some struggles, but was it more because of lack of experience or facing an experienced USU front-seven?” – Tony Geist

Daniel: I just don’t think Tennessee’s offensive line is very good yet and obviously lack of experience plays a part in that. Yes, Utah State did have some talent in its front seven – specifically at linebacker. But especially once their best player, Kyler Fackrell, went down, any SEC team should be able to block them. I thought it was disappointing that Tennessee couldn’t find a little more space in the run game and that the Vols allowed a fair amount of pressure to make it to Justin Worley. But the good news? Tennessee beat a decent opponent 38-7 and still can clearly get better in several facets of the game.

Reed: While USU’s front-seven was the strength of their defense, they were without three of their top six linemen and two of their top four linebackers (once Fackrell went down) from last season. What does that mean? The Vol offensive line just isn’t very good right now. Tennessee averaged 4.9 yards per carry last year and put up the most prolific season on the ground since 1998. As you know, they averaged just 2.8 yards per carry against an outmatched Utah State team Saturday. Losing Gilliam hurts but they’ll get better as the season progresses as long as they can stay relatively healthy; however, they don’t have the talent to just line it up and run over people this year.

“After week one, which Vols opponent looks most beatable?” – Ryan Reed

John: Easy. Vanderbilt. They lost to a team that went 2-10 last year. At home. By 30.

Reed: Vanderbilt. They won’t win an SEC game this year and may not win one for a couple years. Behind them I’d put South Carolina. Their secondary was a big question mark headed into the season and their opening week performance was laughable. Tennessee has the weapons on the outside to put up some points on that Gamecock defense.

“How come McNeil played so much safety Sunday? Thought he lost that job.” – Matt Magee

Houston: I was also surprised at how many snaps he played Sunday – and also how well he played while he was in. I believe it was early in the second quarter when Devaun Swofford missed a tackle in the middle of the field that he had no business missing; after that it was almost exclusively #33 back there. At that point in the game I think the coaches realized that the Aggie receivers weren’t fast enough across the board to consistently challenge Tennessee deep and that the only way they would get beat for big plays would be if they missed tackles. LaDarrell McNeil is not as good in coverage as Swafford and he isn’t as fast, but if he gets his hands on someone he is a typically a solid tackler. Based on the personnel that Utah State had in the game and Swafford’s early mistake, I think the coaches just felt better about what they would get out of McNeil on Sunday and it seemed to be the right call to leave him out there.

“Can the fans really be optimistic if the running game doesn’t improve? Do you think it will improve?” – Ryan Reed

Daniel: I do think it will get better. What you saw on Sunday was basically the run game starting from scratch. Every aspect of it – the offensive line, tight ends and running backs have all basically been rebuilt since last season. I don’t know that the run game will be the strength of this team, but I think it’ll find its rhythm and be able to compliment the passing game. In terms of fans being optimistic if it doesn’t improve, there’s no doubt that it will be tough to win in the SEC without much of a run game. But keeping in mind what I think are realistic expectations at this point (6 or 7 wins, tops), I think Tennessee can still get to that even if the run game never takes off, as long as the defense continues to step up and they can make plays in the passing game.

Reed: It will definitely improve but I’m not sure by how much. Lane averaged just 3.7 yards per carry Saturday after averaging 5 yards per carry for his career. That 3.7 yards per carry average would have ranked 32nd in the SEC last year. That’s just not good enough. As Daniel said, it won’t be the strength of the team this year and probably won’t be next year either. Tennessee simply needs more talent up front to field a dominant run game. They finished 7th in the SEC in yards per carry last year and will almost assuredly rank near the bottom of the conference in that area this season.

“Worley looked sharp, his deep ball wasn’t. What should the Vols worry more about, the run or the deep ball?” – Carter Moles

Houston: Without question, they need be worried about the running game more than the deep ball. The deep balls are there to be had, and for the first time in his career Worley was overthrowing the route instead of leaving them short and up for grabs. Also, the only player they consistently tried to hit on the vertical was Josh Malone – who was playing in his first game and was probably a bit jittery.

The loss of Gilliam and the fact that the longest run of the night hovered around five yards is much more concerning, in my opinion. This was never going to be a dominant rushing team, but they need to make the plays that are available to make and they didn’t do that on Sunday. There were some missed cuts by the running backs on plays that could have gone for big gains and a few plays were only one block away from going the distance. So, while they maybe weren’t as far off as the stats may have indicated, they’ll certainly have to get better there moving forward.

Reed: The running game and it’s not even close. Tennessee finally has some weapons at receiver but they need at least an OK rushing attack to keep defenses honest. If they can’t manage a more consistent running game, the passing attack will really start to suffer once the Vols play an SEC foe. That’s not to say the passing game doesn’t need to improve, though. The Vols averaged just 6.8 yards per pass attempt, good for 9th out of the 13 SEC teams that played last week. That number should have been higher considering Tennessee’s massive talent advantage at receiver – with the exception of UTC, that was the worst secondary the Vols will face this season. Pay attention to yards per carry and yards per pass attempt this Saturday – they both need to take a big jump as the Vols get ready for the meat of their schedule.

“As a former POTS member, how was the new Circle of Life received before the game?” – Todd Mawyer

Daniel: It looked good to me. I think some people were kind of scrambling at that moment with the rain coming in, but it seemed to be pretty well received overall by the crowd. I heard some positive feedback from people who weren’t at the game, but saw a clip of it as well, so all-in-all, seemed to be a good addition.

Houston: It was one of my favorite things of the entire night. Tennessee has been looking for something to get fans into the stadium early and I really think that this “Circle of Life” or “Call to Battle” drill – whatever you want to call it – could be the thing that gets that done. As more and more people hear about it, I could see it getting some national publicity because no one else does anything quite like that – just a really neat addition by the band and team.

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