Insider Mailing: 2015 Hype Edition

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    Joshua Dobbs-1-4

    Looking back, how big was that last 3 minutes at South Carolina? – @BlevinsHeath

    Daniel: I’ve thought about that over and over again. How different is the narrative and the mood in Knoxville if that low-percentage comeback hadn’t occurred? Maybe Tennessee plays with a higher level of urgency against Missouri if the Vols lost at SC, but it’s hard to see that outcome changing. It truly is a game that can be decided by a couple given plays in a game, and some of the clutch ones late in the SC game certainly changed Tennessee’s season.

    Houston: It completely changed the outcome of this season and quite possibly the trajectory of the program for the next few years. Belief and confidence have a funny way of showing up, and I think that this team developed a lot of both on that cold night in Columbia. A loss that night would have led to a long, negativity-laced off season with a lot of talk about firing coordinators, Butch Jones being on the hot seat, the staff’s ability to evaluate players…etc. Now, because of that win and the ones that followed it, this is shaping up to be one of the most exciting offseasons in the last decade.

    Thank goodness for Joshua Dobbs.

    Reed: You nailed how thin the margin between success and failure is as a major college football coach, Heath. The Vols were, simply, a few seconds away from this season being considered a failure. If Tennessee continues its upward trajectory the next few years, that South Carolina game, not the bowl victory, will go down in Vol history as THE turning point for the Vols.

    What’s your outlook on the Vols O-line becoming one of the best in the SEC in 2015? – @UT_BOGUSS 

    Daniel: I just can’t see that at this point. It had its moments, but the reality is that if you evaluated all the offensive lines from the course of the 2014 season, Tennessee’s would be near the bottom of the SEC. I think it would be tough to make a jump from there to one of the best. The good news for UT is that we saw down the stretch that the O-line doesn’t have to be dominant in this offense. If the players know their assignments, cover guys up and get a touch of push, guys like Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd can make this offense tick. So I think a more realistic goal is to move kind of the in the middle of the pack in the conference on the offensive line, and if they do that, I still think UT will have a chance to win a lot of games.

    How many recruits can we still add within NCAA regs based upon those currently verbally committed? How can the scholarships be used for those that have transferred? – @christy37663

    Houston: From what I understand, Tennessee will be able to put 27-28 players on scholarship from this recruiting class. The limit is 25 per SEC rules, and it looks like Tennessee will be able to add a couple extra due to back-counting from last year.

    All of the transfers out of the program don’t impact the 27-28 number, only the overall 85 scholarship number. Which means that even though the coaches may only be allowed to sign 27-28 players, they would be able to add transfers – who don’t count against the signing class number – until the overall scholarship number reached 85. Based on what we’ve heard, there is a chance that Tennessee may look to add a transfer or two at a couple positions if things work out.

    What is the one player/recruit who didn’t start one game in 2014 that will make the most important impact to team 119? – @EricQuiz2096 

    Daniel: Great question – I can think of a lot of potential answers, but I’m going to go with RaShaan Gaulden in the secondary. I think he has a good chance to land the starting nickel job, but if not, there are a lot of ways they can use him in the secondary and on special teams. I think he could be a guy, similar to Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who makes a big jump from part-time player to impact player from freshman to sophomore year.

    Houston: I agree with Daniel in that I think Gaulden has the opportunity to be a very special player here and should have a big impact on next year’s team. Another name to keep an eye on is Neiko Creamer. Creamer came in as a receiver and then switched to linebacker, but appears to have found a home at tight end. Creamer runs extremely well, is very physical and has terrific hands. He made quite a few plays on the scout team during bowl practice and just looks the part of an SEC tight end. If he can learn the scheme and get a little bit stronger and better at his blocking technique, I think he could be in for a sneaky-good year in 2015.

    Cortez McDowell, Gavin Bryant and Dillon Bates will all have an opportunity to play a lot of snaps at linebacker next year as well.

    Reed: Dontavius Blair, without a doubt. He has all the tools plus the frame to be an SEC tackle and his redshirt year should help him have the necessary strength to play the position this fall. I watched him closely at the end of last season in practice and he looked like a very improved player to me. The Vols don’t have anyone on the offensive line with his raw ability. He’ll have every opportunity to win a starting job this offseason.

    Has Preston Williams become the forgotten recruit of this class because of his injury, or is there concern he may flip? – @Chuck_Des

    Houston: The injury was pretty severe, but he is still a player that the coaching staff would love to add to this class. With him making a late visit to Auburn, I don’t think that anyone should feel like he is a 100-percent lock to Tennessee – if you’ve followed Auburn vs. Tennessee battles over the last decade on the recruiting trail then you’ll know what I mean – but he has maintained all along that Tennessee is where he wants to be.

    His recruitment should make for a very interesting signing day.

    Based on what we’ve seen thus far this season, what is this basketball team’s ceiling? – @clinvillevfl16

    Reed: Before the injuries started piling up, my answer may have been different, but with nine scholarship players available, sneaking into the NCAA Tournament is their ceiling in my book. They have an 18-game league schedule before them plus at least one game in the SEC Tournament. They’ll be an exceedingly tough out at home this year even in the improved SEC. With their RPI hovering around the 60s headed into conference play, they’ll have a chance to be in bubble territory with around an 11-7 SEC record headed into the SEC Tournament. I never thought I’d say that about a team picked to finish 13th in the SEC before the season – that’s a testament to the job Tyndall and Co. have done this year.

    Any #Vols expected to leave early to your knowledge? I always like when I hear of other teams playmakers doing so! – @ToddMawyer 

    Daniel: Curt Maggitt is really the only one we’re monitoring, and all indications at this point are that he’ll come back unless he hears something from the NFL Draft Advisory Board that changes his mind. Sometimes surprises pop up (Darrington Sentimore, for example), but there’s a decent chance that the Vols won’t lose anybody early to the NFL Draft this year and it might the last time in quite some time that we can say that.

    What kind of an instant impact will Kamara bring to our run game next year? – @RobinKennedy5

    Houston: Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd will essentially give the Vols two starting caliber SEC running backs with differing styles. The biggest difference will be his ability to make big plays in the rushing AND passing game when he’s on the field. Marlin Lane was a good back, but Kamara is just much more talented, much more explosive and much more versatile from the position. He and Jalen could end up being one of  the best one-two punches at running back in the league next year. There was a noticeable dropoff in talent when Jalen Hurd wasn’t on the field in 2014. With Kamara, there may not be any dropoff whatsoever.

    Overall great game for Vols, but what did you think of calling designed QB runs with the game in hand late? – @therealcpeace 

    Daniel: I’d have to look back at the film to know exactly when these came, but if the game was 100% decided, I probably wouldn’t have done it – no reason to set Dobbs back or risk anything for next year with an injury at that point. But that being said, I understand Butch wanting to run his offense and keep getting Dobbs reps. A lot of people forget that he hasn’t even played a full season worth of football yet (11 career games), so he’s still learning and developing.

    Houston: It was the only issue I had with the coaching all game long. They wanted to add one more score to make sure Iowa was put away for good, but a serious injury to Dobbs is more damaging to your team than a loss to Iowa. It’s a moot point now, but I didn’t like it.

    After the ratings flop next year for having the semis on 12/31, will they mandate those games happen on New Years Day? – @DesertVol

    Reed: This is a great question. As it currently stands, the semifinals will only be played on January 1st when the Rose and Sugar Bowls host the semifinals. The rest of the time, the games will be on December 31st. As the CFB Playoff is currently constructed, the earliest the semifinals could return to January 1st is 2018. I’m not so sure the ratings will flop, though. The playoff was a blast this year and I suspect the vast majority of football fans will plan around them. If they do, perhaps they’ll permanently move to January 1st starting in 2018.