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Insider Mailing: Waiting for a Bowl Edition

Jakob Johnson-1

“Who do you think starts at the linebacker spots next year? Bates? Bryant?” – Ryan Ward

Daniel: This is one of the most up-in-the-air positions going forward and a spot they can progress a lot over the course of bowl practices. If you made me make a 2015 4-3 depth chart at this moment, I’d go Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Jakob Johnson and Dillon Bates. But the biggest question to me is who the second linebacker (I’m assuming JRM would be one) in the nickel would be, since that’s the defensive formation they’ll be in the most. Johnson has really struggled in pass coverage the last two weeks, though he could make a big step in Year 2. Maybe they go with JRM and Bates, but how well could that tandem hold up against the run since both are more OLBs by nature? Perhaps Kenny Bynum is an option. There really isn’t a perfect combo.

Chris Weatherd, who has been more of a situational pass-rush specialist, should be in the conversation for playing time as well. Same for Curt Maggitt – though it’s too early to conclusively say if he’ll be back or how the Vols would use him if he is back. Personally, I think he’s best as a pure pass rusher off the edge. I haven’t seen enough of Gavin Bryant, Elliott Berry or Cortez McDowell in significant game action to get a great read on those guys yet, though all seem to have potential. And don’t forget newcomers like Austin Smith or maybe a Darrin Kirkland if they can land him. A lot of moving parts still and it’ll be interesting to see how this spot shakes out.

“How many 2015 commits ended the year injured or suspended out of the 26 committed?” – Lee Crowe

Houston: By my count, there were four injured players and one serving a suspension. Chance Hall, Alvin Kamara, Darrell Taylor and Preston Williams suffered injuries during the season, while Kahlil McKenzie never saw the field all season after being ruled ineligible to play by the North Coast Section office of the California Interscholastic Federation. McKenzie transferred schools in the off-season and the federation claimed that Kahlil’s transfer would not allow him to play.

 “Any players we can take from UAB worth a (darn)?” – @mattgabel

Daniel: I would be surprised if any ended up at UT, honestly. Butch Jones really wants to sign a full recruiting class and the Vols are already going to be pushing that 85-scholarship limit, so it would have to be a perfect fit for UT to look into it. Sophomore running back Jordan Howard will be the hottest commodity after coming off a season with almost 1600 rushing yards. I would be lying if I said I could break down UAB’s offensive line, but if there’s a position the Vols wouldn’t mind some immediate help at, it would be that, especially offensive tackle. Just glancing at their depth chart, maybe somebody like sophomore starting left tackle Victor Salako (6-6, 324) is a guy they would want to talk to, but, again, probably a long shot that anything works out.

“Houston was a lot taller than I imagined, does he wear heels?” – @Buckethead

Houston: I would never wear lifts… I’m just a 5’11 and 1/2 inch human male with perfect form.

Reed: He’s a big fan of cowboy boots, or “man heels,” as I call them. So yes, they give him a good 1-2 inch boost.

“From your childhood, what’s the best gift you ever opened on Christmas morning?” – Samuel Chaffin

Reed: This one is tough for me, but three come to mind. When I was around five or six years old, I woke up before my parents and raided all the presents under the tree with my name on them. I got an epic G.I. Joe base with a truck and a few action figures. My parents weren’t all that happy that I opened gifts without them. Next Christmas, they installed a “you can’t open presents til 9 am” rule that was just brutal.

I think it was the following Christmas that I got a Super Nintendo – I fell in love with gaming shortly thereafter. I still have that system in my man cave. I got an acoustic/electric guitar one Christmas that is right up there as well.

Houston: One Christmas, all I wanted was a drum set. I had played at friends’ houses for years and really just wanted a set of my own. My parents had taken me to a couple of music shops to look at sets, so I just knew that on Christmas morning I’d come downstairs to a drum set in the living room.

Well, when I came down, there was no drum set. There was a single snare drum on a stand. My mom told me that they couldn’t afford to buy an entire drum set, so her and my dad decided that they’d start me off with one drum – since it was better than nothing – and if I could learn to play well enough with one and prove that I liked it, then they’d think about adding to it down the road. I was a little upset, but I understood. My parents then asked me if I wanted to keep the drum or take it back and use the money to start saving up for an entire set; I told them that I was willing to work hard and earn the money for the entire set. They said that was fine, and we went on with Christmas as usual.

After I opened all my gifts, it was my mom’s turn to open hers. My dad and I had built her a bookcase/kitchen rack that we hid in a big closet in the garage, and as mom is opening her cookbooks we snuck out to the closet to bring in the bookcase. Dad opens the door to the closet and then pushes me inside it and shuts the door. It was pitch-dark and he’s holding the door shut, so I feel around for the light switch until I find it. I flip the switch, and there in the closet sits an awesome Pearl Export Series drum set with burgundy wraps and Paiste symbols. I was floored. Best Christmas present ever.

“What would UT’s record be if they played FSU or OSU’s schedule this season?” – Caleb Chapman

Daniel: I think the Vols could get eight wins against OSU’s schedule. I feel pretty good saying they’d be favored against Navy, Cincinnati, Kent State, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois and I think the Vols would win at least five of those, maybe all six. That away game at Michigan State is really the only game I think UT would be a pretty substantial underdog in. Then the rest are pretty much toss-ups where the line would just be a few points in either direction: Penn State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Rutgers and Minnesota. So let’s say UT gets five of the six it probably should get and then wins three of the five toss-up type games, that, pretty conservatively, puts UT at eight wins.

Different story for FSU’s schedule. The ‘Noles didn’t have many gimmes – really only The Citadel, Wake Forest and Syracuse are the only teams I think UT would feel pretty good about. I think the Vols would get to six or seven wins with teams like Virginia, Miami, Oklahoma State and Boston College on the schedule. But it would probably play out like UT’s SEC schedule this year where the Vols could’ve won anywhere from four to nine games with a few more plays here or there going either direction.

Reed: I think they’d go somewhere between 9-3 and 8-4 playing Ohio State’s schedule – with losses to Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin and possibly another in there. Florida State’s slate is a bit tougher to project. Clemson, with their defensive line, is a tough matchup for the Vols. FSU hasn’t played any great teams, but they’ve played a ton of solid teams that would give Tennessee fits at this point. Hard to see the Vols winning at Miami or Louisville, so that’s two losses. Notre Dame is tough to project, like Clemson. I’m with Daniel, I think Tennessee wins anywhere from five to nine games depending on several factors, with every game being close. If you asked me that before Tennessee struggled with Vanderbilt, I would have probably said at least eight.

John: 10-2.

Houston: I think they go roughly 6-6 with Florida State’s schedule – maybe a game better – but with Ohio State’s schedule they’d be somewhere between 7-5 and and 10-2. Probably 9-3 by the looks of it, but there would be a lot o factors to take into account. How Ohio State continues to get so much love in the media with these horrid schedules is beyond me.

“This offensive line appears to be struggling even worse than I first realized as they even struggled against Vandy. How much improvement can we expect this line to make in a year? I had high hopes for next year but unless there is major improvement, next year probably won’t be much better.” – Matt Rayburn 

The good news is that it has to get better, right? My concern for next year continues to be the offensive tackle position in particular. I think Jashon Robertson, Mack Crowder, Dylan Wiesman and Marcus Jackson give UT some decent, experienced options in the interior offensive line. I presume they’ll keep Kyler Kerbyson at tackle, even though he’s struggled playing a position that isn’t a good natural fit for him. They really need Kerbyson to progress at that spot and then hope that Coleman Thomas, Brett Kendrick or Dontavius Blair steps up at the other. In a perfect world, two tackles would emerge and they could move Kerbyson inside somewhere, but not sure if that will materialize.
I like some of the incoming offensive linemen, but I don’t see them as immediate-impact type of guys. That’s why flipping somebody like Drew Richmond would be so big for this class. All-in-all, I think you’ll see a somewhat improved offensive line that should be helped by more strength, better understanding of the offense, better skill players and a mobile quarterback. But it very well still could be the thing that keeps the Vols from reaching the levels they’d like next year as a team.

“Now that Dobbs has came back down to earth the last 2 games, will UT fans have to suffer through another Spring of QB competitions with Dormady and Jennings coming in as early enrollees? Also, I see Vandy beating only Austin Peay next season. Your thoughts?” – Scott Compton (from Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico)

Reed: I don’t think Butch Jones will name anyone the starter headed into spring practice since he hasn’t done that to this point in his Tennessee career. Look for him use UT’s influx of young quarterback talent to push Joshua Dobbs. Bowl practice will be big for Dobbs’ stock headed into spring practice. He needs to work on his accuracy, especially down the field. I imagine you’ll hear QB competition talk all spring and perhaps into fall camp. Don’t rule out Tennessee adding a 5th year grad transfer from somewhere to add depth.
As far as Vanderbilt goes, I don’t think they win an SEC game next year, that’s for sure. MTSU and Western Kentucky are both games Vanderbilt should* win, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they drop at least one of those. Look for the Dores to win somewhere between one and three games next year…again. Their descent from a top-25 team to a dumpster fire has been historically impressive. I guess it’s good to be good at something?

“What ever happened to Alden Hill?” – Candy Henson

Daniel: He transferred to (FCS) James Madison, where he appeared in three games and had 24 carries for 108 yards this season. Tennessee actually wouldn’t have minded having him on the roster at a few points in this season with the issues at RB depth.

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