Insider Mailing: Championship Hunt Edition

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    We answer your questions about the Vols or anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing. If you have questions about anything in the mortgage process, go to

    “Do you think Butch will utilize younger, highly touted players in light of injuries? (I.e. Fils-Aime)” – @TheAnxiousBoy

    Daniel: I think some young, less experienced guys will get opportunities down the stretch, but not just because of injuries. This is the point in the year where they’ve adjusted to college life, the speed of the game and some of them should get more opportunities. Daniel Bituli, Nigel Warrior, John Kelly, Carlin Fils-Aime, Tyler Byrd, Quay Picou and Jonathan Kongbo are all names who haven’t played a ton that could get some more reps down the stretch.

    Nathanael: Yes, I think he will too. He said as much earlier this week during his press conference. Al the guys Daniel mentioned should probably get more play down the stretch, and I especially expect Daniel Bituli and John Kelly to get more snaps.

    “Chances Auburn and LSU both beat Bama and then A&M loses to UT in CG, all this leads to UT playoff?” – @MaxTE34

    Daniel: I’ve put UT’s chances at making the playoffs at about 5% at this point. I don’t think it’s impossible, but it’s not something you should count on for sure. I actually think the best hope for UT is to have Alabama win out, and then UT, after winning out in the regular season, needs to upset the Tide in the title game. Avenging the loss is the only real way that you can justify letting a team in that lost by 39 in the regular season. Outside of the SEC, cheer for mayhem. Cheer against Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, West Virginia, Baylor and Clemson. You want as few undefeated teams as possible, and getting second losses on teams like Louisville would help too.

    Nathanael: Yeah, I mean it’s possible, but that’s very unlikely. I agree with Daniel’s analysis, however. The Vols would need Alabama to win out and then the Vols would have to beat them (and not on a last minute play either) to even be considered. Then they’d need an upset or two in other conference championship games, and you’d need the winner of the Big 12 to have at least one loss as well. The odds are stacked severely against Tennessee, but they’re still alive.

    Ben Miller Loans“Does Mike DeBord get his contract extended after it runs out this year?” – @Danksoup

    Daniel: I need to see how the rest of the season plays out. I wouldn’t argue with anybody who says that DeBord doesn’t always get the most out of this offense. But he also engineered a historically-potent rushing attack last season, and has had some really good moments this year as well. Jones clearly has a great comfort level with him. If I had to bet, I’d say he’d back unless the wheels fall off down the stretch.

    Nathanael: Unless the Vols just bomb the remaining five games of the season and look dreadful on offense, I don’t see a way DeBord isn’t back for the 2017 season. DeBord is the definition of “Butch’s guy,” and he didn’t bring him in here just to boot him after two seasons. The roster will look extremely different on offense in 2017, and I highly doubt Butch will want to create more instability and uncertainty by bringing in a new offense. I’d be shocked if DeBord weren’t back next year.

    “If every team played a season with their greatest players at every position ever how would UT end the year?” – Blake McLaughlin 

    Daniel: Tennessee could stack up to just about anybody in that scenario. I’ll say 11-1. Imagine a defense with Reggie White, Leonard Little, Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, John Henderson, Derek Barnett and others rotating up front, Al Wilson in the middle at linebacker and Eric Berry playing centerfield behind them. Not to mention Peyton running the offense with plenty of protection and weapons. Nasty.

    Nathanael: Daniel mentioned the defense, so I’ll give some of the offensive weapons the Vols would have. Imagine an offense with Peyton, either Jamal Lewis, Chuck Webb, or Travis Henry, Jason Witten, Peerless Price, Kelly Washington, Joey Kent, Marcus Nash, and any number of other receivers and running backs you think are the best. Not to mention an offensive line that would have guys like Chad Clifton and Scott Wells playing.

    “Where would UT finish this season if they played in the West?” – Tom Williamson 

    Daniel: Alabama is clearly superior to UT at this point. Behind the Tide, I think UT is a similar caliber to A&M, LSU and Auburn right now. Arkansas and Ole Miss are down a bit at this moment, but depending on when UT caught them in the season, those could be toss-up games as well. I’ll split the middle a bit and say maybe third – though it could realistically be anywhere between second and sixth.

    Nathanael: Not very high. The West is just so much better and deeper than the East at this point, and it would depend on how Tennessee’s injury situation would’ve played out too. I think the Vols would be fourth and that’s about as optimistic as I’d go. You could maybe persuade me for third, but that’s it. They could easily be fifth or sixth too, though.

    “What does punt return game look like now?” – Jeff Cook 

    Daniel: Josh Smith would be my best guess for the South Carolina game. We’ll see if they trust any of the young guys, like Tyler Byrd, enough to give them an opportunity. They regularly have 5+ guys fielding punts in practice, so they won’t be completely caught off guard without Kamara.

    Nathanael: Josh Smith will be your starter, but I truly think you need to give Evan Berry or Tyler Byrd a shot there. Smith should be consistent and take care of the ball, but Berry is so explosive on kick returns that you almost have to try him there. And Byrd is the fastest player on the team. By default, I think he should get a chance.

    “Does the DOB (Danny O’Brien) still have a shot at the league? Definitely UDFA most likely but would a team even give a chance?” – @yaboydoc

    Daniel: Most likely an undrafted free agent at best, like you said. Probably was that way anyhow, and recent events won’t help. If you can help a team out in the trenches, you’ll get a shot, so it wouldn’t stun me if he at least got in a camp. He has some good film from early this year. I salute him for taking responsibility for his mistakes, and hopefully he’s getting the help he needs right now. That’s what comes first.

    Nathanael: I’m going to just say no. I don’t think he does. Too many off the field issues, and he already wasn’t a huge contributor for the Vols. I hope he can because that would be great for him, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen. I agree with Daniel in saying I hope he gets the help he needs more than anything.