Insider Mailing: Pre-Christmas Edition

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    Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

    Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

    “Do you think we’ll ever come to a point where football has an early signing period?” – Heath Blevins

    Daniel: I think there is enough support that it could conceivably happen in 2016 or ’17. I’m not a huge fan of the idea. I actually am a proponent of elite prospects not signing NLIs. In an age where coaches sometimes leave shortly after National Signing Day with no repercussion, why should the top players – guys that any school would make room for – sign their freedom away in February (or earlier if an early signing period comes into effect)? That obviously only applies to a small percentage of the top guys, but for everybody else, I think February makes sense. But we’ll see – It almost got through for this year, so it could be coming soon.

    Nathanael: I have to agree with Daniel on this one. Not sure how I feel about it, but it looks like it’s coming. But I also don’t think the elite prospects should sign NLIs and the like. They shouldn’t be tied to a school if half the reason they decided to go there is no longer there when it’s time to enroll.

    “Silent commit? ? Fact or Fiction?” – @GoVolsBallard

    Daniel: Fact, but it’s an overused phrase on message boards, social media, etc. Doesn’t happen a ton, but it does happen.

    Nathanael: I hate that it’s a thing that exists, but it does. We saw a recruit earlier this season tweet out that he had actually decommitted from his silent commitment and was opening things up again. Recruiting is ridiculous.

    “Name the breakout players of the year for next season both O and D.” – Denny Collins 

    Daniel: Offensively, I’ll say Preston Williams. The glimpses were there in 2015, he just has to stay healthy and focused. If he does, I think he’s the most talented receiver the Vols have on the roster and can be the vertical threat that’s been lacking. There are a ton of candidates on defense, but I’ll say cornerback Justin Martin. He got so much better from Aug. 1 to the final game of the season, and I think he can be a shutdown corner in the SEC. Kyle Phillips, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie and Evan Berry are some other names you could easily make a case for.

    Nathanael: I think it’s easier to pick this on defense because the offense already has its established running back duo and a senior QB, and I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the receiving corps to name one of them. But I’ll go ahead and say it’s either Jack Jones or Chance Hall. Both got some action this year, but I think one ends up making an All-SEC team by season’s end. And on defense I’ll say Darrin Kirkland Jr. because he will have ample opportunity to show off his skills next year at middle linebacker.

    What would have to happen for you to pick Tennessee to beat Florida in 2016?” – Jordan Curtis

    Daniel: We’ll see if I cave next fall, but I just don’t think I can do it, regardless how promising it looks for Tennessee. Doesn’t mean I don’t think it could or maybe even will happen deep down, just not sure I can go on air and say it or put it on the site. Maybe if Florida lost something like two of their first three games (UMass, Kentucky, North Texas) and UT was rolling early, I would consider it.

    Nathanael: It would take Casey Clausen being in the stadium, possibly coaching quarterbacks, and Florida losing two of their first three games and losing a handful of defensive players to injury for me to even consider it. Yes, the Vols should be the better team and should probably win. But we’ve said that for two straight years and look what’s happened: Two one-point losses. So I won’t be picking the Vols to win unless something miraculous happens.

    “Is Tennessee ready to handle the expectations as the clear favorite to win the East in 2016?  Is Butch Jones?” – Michael W. Bratton 

    Daniel: Those are the huge questions for 2016. I think my answers will be “yes” on both accounts, but that will also be a reflection of what I think about the rest of the East right now as much as it is a vote of confidence for Tennessee. I feel pretty safe saying UT should win the East next year as things stand now, and I’ve never said that in my career covering the team since 2011, but we’ll see. I think Georgia could be the somewhat sneaky team to watch in the East next year, and, of course, the Vols will have to get by the Gators. I have a hard time putting any confidence in anybody else.

    Nathanael: Has Butch Jones proven he can win big in the SEC? Not yet, no. But he has won division and conference titles at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, and while those two programs pale in comparison to the Vols, it gives me enough hope that Jones and his staff know how to get there. I’m still in “wait and see” mode for them and handling pressure. I think the players are more ready for it than the coaching staff. And take from that what you will.

    “What should make fans think this staff learned how to finish games for the 2016 season? A fumble away from losing to SC.” – @jimmer_fliss

    Daniel: I’m not sure a majority of fans do have a ton of confidence in this staff in finishing games against top opponents, but those who do would probably point to Georgia, South Carolina and finding a way to finally get a win against Missouri in what could’ve been a buzzsaw-type game. Those are all solid steps in the right direction, but I’m more in the camp of thinking the onus will be on the staff this year to prove that it can regularly get results in the clutch against contending teams.

    Nathanael: I don’t agree with Daniel here, actually. I think those games were good, but those were games where the Vols had the talent edge (yes, even against Georgia) and shouldn’t have let the game be that close as late as they were. Once again, I’m in “wait and see” mode. The Vols will be favored to win the East next year, and I think they should. But this staff has to prove themselves early next year or risk serious consequences.

    “With how butch recruits such formidable classes then botches it in crunch time…is it possible he and Dave are Sith Lords….#2 if Dave hart and butch are Sith Lords should they’ve fired or do we need CPF to return and kill them?”  – @ROcky_TOp

    Nathanael: I think the only Sith lord in the SEC is Nick Saban. He’s manipulative, commands his underlings with unquestionable authority, and is too successful not to be. I know I said Dave Hart compares to the Emperor in my Star Wars article two weeks ago, but he reminds me a bit more of a Jabba the Hutt character personally, someone who is slimy and not always forward about his intentions. Jones, however, typically has good intentions and would use The Force for good. I believe he’s a good man regardless of how you feel about his coaching. If it turns out Hart is a Sith lord, however, then he needs to be ousted so the light side can rule again.