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Insider Mailing: One Week Edition

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I have seen several tweets and commentary say that Oklahoma is a must win game. Has the hype train completely derailed? What are the must wins in your opinion? – Chad Young

Daniel: I don’t agree at all with people that say Oklahoma is a must-win for the Vols. Big for excitement, momentum and confidence – sure. But lose that one (especially if it’s relatively close) and then regroup against Western Carolina and then go down to Gainesville and win and almost all is forgiven, in my opinion. I think Georgia and Florida are as close to must-win as they have on the schedule. Lose to Florida, and confidence is down, fans are angry at Butch and being competitive in the East – which I think should be the biggest goal for this team – gets much, much tougher. Lose to Georgia and then UT loses that potential East tiebreaker, which I think will be crucial because I see the SEC East champ having at least two or three conference losses. So I think there could be two or three teams in the 6-2/5-3 SEC range in the East and having a win over UGA in the back pocket would really help UT’s chances of getting to Atlanta.

Houston: Preseason “must win” games don’t really exist, but “really want to win” and “need to win to compete for the SEC East” games do. Oklahoma is a “really want to win” game, and all of the SEC Games are “need to win to compete in the SEC East” games. Obviously, you want to win your division, so beating the better teams in your division give you tie-breakers, so that’s important and gives them an advantage. But the season will play out and the extremely important games will reveal themselves as it unfolds. Until then, it’s just for fun.

Except Florida. Florida is a must win for Tennessee.

Reed: I don’t think there are any real “must wins” this season – this team is good enough to improve on last season’s win total. That said, Georgia is the most important game – if the Vols can get over the hump and get the W against the Bulldogs, they’ll be in the driver’s seat in the SEC East race. But I don’t think anyone will be in panic mode if the Vols drop a game to a preseason top-10 team. I do think, for the sake of progress, fan morale and SEC East aspirations, the Vols need to a least knock off either Florida or Georgia this year. A loss to Georgia will be forgiven if the streak ends. If it doesn’t, a win over Georgia will atone for another loss to the Gators.

John: It’s a “would be really great if you could win” game, as it sets the table nicely for the big games to come. Last thing you want is a deflating loss early in the season, particularly as you prepare for SEC play. That said, give me FL all day long over OU, though ideally it’d be nice to have both. Because if you get them both, confidence would be high and one would probably get the sense the sky’s the limit for this team.

So Preston Williams is back, is he in pads catching passes? Will he be red shirted? – @rockytop513 

Bigger on-the-field impact this season: Preston Williams or Khalil McKenzie? – Cody Derrick

Daniel: Williams is expected to play some this week, Butch Jones confirmed at his Monday press conference. I didn’t think he’d be a redshirt, but I’m a little surprised to see him out there Week 1. I assume that means he’s back in practice this week, but we’ll be able to confirm that on Tuesday which is the next practice partially open to the media.

And I’ll go with Kahlil McKenzie having the bigger impact this year. He should be in the defensive tackle rotation Day 1, whereas I’m not sure when Preston will play. We’ve seen Kahlil’s ability to drive SEC linemen into the QB’s lap and, at the very least, his imposing presence is something offenses will have to account for.

Houston: What Daniel said. He summed it up perfectly.

Although I am I first time listener,I have been a lifetime VOL fan and I believe this year is going to be a hard but rewarding year for the boys in Orange.. What do you think is a realistic W-L record for this season? I love the hype this year, but I don’t want to have too high expectations for such a young team. Thanks for your time! – Mark

Reed: We’ll make our full season predictions next week, but I’ve been in the 8-4 camp since the end of last year. Obviously, injuries can significantly derail that prediction. Before the injury bug bit the Vols, I was leaning toward revising that prediction to 9-3…but think I’ll stay at 8-4… for now.

Daniel: I’m very much with Reed on this one. I’m not sure how it will play out exactly, but I’m leaning towards 8-4 as well. I think the Vols might have nine or 10-win talent at the skill spots and on defense, but I didn’t see enough from the offensive line in camp to alleviate my concerns about that unit.

Kevin: Tennessee finally has an enviable roster but unfortunately it still has an unenviable schedule. I think this current roster is good enough to win 9 games in the regular season. 7 regular season wins is maybe just as likely, but i’ll choose the glass half full.

John: I think there are a lot of games the Vols have a 55-60% chance of winning this year. Rattling them right off the top of my head: OU, FL, AR, GA, SC (yes, I’m including SC on the list — the list of coaches who have beaten Spurrier three straight times, which Butch Jones would accomplish should UT win, is very short and I’m sure Spurrier will be all kinds of fired up to keep it at its current length) and Mizzou. So, obviously, how the Vols fare in these games will tell the tale of how the season goes. You get four of those, and avoid stubbing your toe, you’re at nine wins. Still, four would be beating the odds, which is why my total is at eight.

Do you think all these fall camp injuries have to do with the coaches potentially overworking the players, or is this just a freak offseason? – Cameron Ramsey

Houston: Football is a rough game, so you’re going to get guys banged up from time to time. I don’t think this staff does anything different that most staffs across the country,  and I don’t think that overworking the team caused any of the injuries. The bicep tears for the offensive linemen is probably something that the strength staff is looking into, but it just looks like bad luck at this point. The Gaulden injury was a non-contact fluke injury.

Reed: The injuries to Gaulden, Jackson and Sanders all appear to be of the freak, non-contact variety. Camp is always a grind and injuries happen, but I don’t think there’s anything Tennessee could have done to prevent those.

How many games will it take for Vandy’s gross attendance to reach 102,455? – @richmond_325 

Reed: I’m fundamentally opposed to math most of the time, but let’s give this a shot. Vanderbilt averaged 34,258 fans in attendance for home games last season – a 4% drop from 2013. If the rate of decline stays the same (a reasonable assumption, especially given that those attendance numbers won’t be boosted by an influx of Vol fans for one game this season), they’ll average 32,887 fans at home games this season. Accordingly, it’d take the Dores four games to reach the 102,455 mark that should fill Neyland on September 12th.

Daniel: Good math by Reed there. I’d also pose the question of how many open practices it would take for Vandy to match the 40k (ok, probably more like 30-35k) that Tennessee had this year.

Houston: While Reed’s math is sound, it will take Vandy at least 5 games to hit Neyland’s sellout mark due to who their visiting teams are and what the lack of hype will do to ticket sales.

Kevin: It’s incredible that a three year peak under James Franklin and a few lingering haters on twitter has created so much vitriol towards Vanderbilt from the Tennessee fan base. I don’t think that team will be anywhere close to good enough to pay attention to again for a while.

With Hurd and Kamara at RB, will we have sets where both will be on the field for the same down? – @dobbseyebrow 

Daniel: That’s a wrinkle that both Butch Jones and Kamara have both said you could see. I’m always skeptical when Butch talks strategy because I think he uses media to throw out some misinformation sometimes, but these two are so talented that I think they’ll want to pick some spots to get them both out there and mess with defenses a little bit. I wouldn’t expect it to be the norm though. It’s kind of like how you want to keep the president and vice-president out of the same room as much as possible – the Vols can’t afford to lose these guys.

What will the level of special teams be compared to last year? Better, worse, or same? – @seanwalsh21 

Reed: The losses of Gaulden and Swafford will definitely affect those units, but Tennessee’s overall increase in talent level should lead to similar production. The Vols were amongst the top teams in the conference in punt and kick coverage. I don’t expect that to change. Aaron Medley looks primed for a big season. Evan Berry will, once again, be one of the top kick returners in the nation. And whoever the Vols put at punt returner will have a chance to change the game. Last year was the first time in ages the special teams game was an asset, not a liability. Look for that to continue to be the case this year.

Who do we run behind when it’s 4th and 1 or 4th and 2? – @804UTfan 

Daniel: Good question. We’ll have to see how the line finally shakes out, but I like a combo block from Kyler Kerbyson and Ethan Wolf with Jashon Robertson pulling around to knock out the end man, with, of course, Hurd carrying the ball.

Houston: Well, I was hoping that Kahlil would be the lead-blocker at fullback for Jalen in those situations….but since they both wear #1, I suppose that dream will have to die.

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