“Do you guys think there have been too many shoulder injuries and surgeries in Coach Jones’s tenure? Not that there’s definitely something wrong with their philosophy, but is it high enough yet to wonder if he should at least evaluate the strength and conditioning program? Maybe see if he can add more focus on flexibility? I’m by no means an expert, but it seems high over the course of 3+ years.” – Weston Demonbreun
Daniel: There’s little doubt in my mind that Tennessee’s had among the highest rate of all injuries and surgeries around all of college football over the past 12-18 months or so, and, yes, it does seem like there have been a lot of shoulder issues. I do think Jones, who is big on sports science and charting everything, has and is continuing to evaluate that, and the fact that Dave Lawson is no longer overseeing daily football workouts very well might play into that. Based on recent Pro Day numbers, the strength and speed levels seem to be pretty solid overall, but figuring out ways to reduce some of these injuries has to be an ongoing discussion.
Nathanael: I do think it’s a weird sign that the Vols have had so many, but I agree with Daniel; I think Butch Jones and the staff are evaluating their current practices and are looking for ways to improve what they’re doing. Jones said as much after practice this week when he said they’re looking at ways to help their injury prevention in their training.
“What group will be our biggest bright spot next year….. d-line, linebackers, special teams, etc.?” – @bmclaughlin
Daniel: Offensively, I’ll go with the running backs – there aren’t many duos in the nation better than Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, and it appears that John Kelly is emerging as a real third option as well. Defensively, the line has so much upside – it can roll 8-10 deep with Derek Barnett, Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie, Corey Vereen, Kendal Vickers, Danny O’Brien, Kyle Phillips, Jonathan Kongbo and several others. That’s going to be tough to consistently block if that group stays healthy and consistent. The return game should be elite again as well.
Nathanael: Gosh, can I name a couple here or do I have to just pick one? If I have to just pick one for the entire team, I’ll go defensive line. That unit looks so deep and has so many proven and potential play-makers on the depth chart. I do think, however, that special teams is the most complete unit of them all. There’s no weak spot there. You may point to Aaron Medley, but I think he worked out the kinks in the second half of the season. I have confidence in that kid.
“How will the secondary (safeties mainly) be able to fill in the roles of Randolph and McNeil?” – Maxwell England
Daniel: My guess at this point is that Todd Kelly Jr. remains penciled in at one starting spot, while there’s a lot of competition at the other. When everybody is healthy and on campus, Evan Berry, Nigel Warrior and Micah Abernathy are three guys to watch at the other spot. Rashaan Gaulden is also versatile enough to play virtually any position in the secondary.
Nathanael: Todd Kelly Jr. is definitely going to take one of those spots barring injury. And I think right now Evan Berry is the favorite for the other spot, but I want to see what Nigel Warrior can do when he comes in here in the fall. He has the potential to steal the starting job. At the very least, someone of his caliber will push Berry more and bump up his play even more because of the competition.
“Biggest fear going into the football season is that 4 game stretch that ends with Bama at home. We make it out undefeated?” – @nposey23
Daniel: The stretch is vs. Florida (9/24), at Georgia (10/1), at Texas A&M (10/8) and vs. Alabama (10/15) – if UT is still undefeated after that, I think it not only has the East all but locked up, but would probably be among the favorites to win the national championship. I think taking three of those four is a tough, but realistic goal, and would likely set UT up with a trip to Atlanta and a chance to make the playoffs. Two out of four would probably leave the Vols with at least somewhat of a realistic shot at Atlanta, and one of four or a goose egg probably means it’s going to be a season that falls short of expectations.
Nathanael: I think it would be tough to come out of there undefeated. I think honestly the Vols get two of the four, three at the most. The Vols schedule looks favorable as a whole, but this is definitely a gauntlet. The two toughest road games of the year come back-to-back with Georgia and Texas A&M, and losing one of those is likely. Losing to Florida is, of course, likely despite the Vols looking better on paper yet again. And even though Bama is at home, that doesn’t mean the Vols will even be favored in that one. No, I don’t think they go undefeated in that stretch.
“Does Dobbs really look like he’s improving?” – @volsalltheway
Daniel: I think he’s having a good spring overall, and I’ve seen him make some nice throws of all ranges, but even Butch Jones himself said over the weekend that the vertical passing game still needs some progress, so I would take it with a grain of salt if you hear that Dobbs has completely turned the corner in that facet of his game.
Nathanael: Yes, he is. He definitely has a ceiling when it comes to his abilities as a passer, but he’s looking more consistent than he did at this point last year. Downfield passes are looking better, but there’s still work to be done. Dobbs will never be able to complete passes with the precision of some of Tennessee’s better quarterbacks from the past, but he makes up for that with his running ability. He is looking better, though.