Insider Mailing: Atlanta or Bust? Edition

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    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

    Does Cam Sutton have enough time to raise his draft stock back to where it was before injuries? Do you think he will?” – Andrew Whiting 

    Daniel: It’ll be a big three or four games for him, no question. There was a time during his sophomore year where he was trending towards being a first-round pick. I’m not sure that’s realistic anymore. But if he plays well down the stretch, he can certainly calm any fears NFL teams have about this year’s injury and probably score some bonus points for battling back through this and playing again. He has a lot of good film at corner, he can help on special teams, he’ll test relatively well and get great recommendations from this staff. I think he’ll be a solid mid-round pick.

    Nathanael: Yes, I believe there’s plenty of time for him to raise it back. As long as Sutton stays healthy and looks even 80% like the player he was before he got hurt, he’ll for sure be in the 4th or 5th round at the latest in the 2017 draft. If he can be effective as a punt returner down the stretch as well, that will help immensely.

    “Too early for ‘Kelly for Heisman’ stickers?” – @neylandmafia

    Daniel: Never. I would feel a little bit better betting on somebody like Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold or Jalen Hurts in 2017, however. I do think a projection of 1,000-to-1,200 yards for Kelly next year is realistic though. I’ll be interested to see how the workload gets split between him, Ty Chandler, Carlin Fils-Aime and others.

    Nathanael: For a 2017 campaign? I’m all for it. I’m all aboard the John Kelly hype train for the remainder of this season and all of next year. He’s really, really impressed me this season. All this from a kid who was a three-star and an afterthought in his recruiting class.

    “What’s the status on the AD search? Can I go ahead and start sending my complaints/ hate mail to David Blackburn?” – @the7maxims 

    “Basketball in shambles, football in a huge year, where’s an AD? Where’s David Blackburn?” – @BigOrangeButch 

    Daniel: It’s still looking like this spring for an AD hire. Hart is set to retire on June 30, 2017, but Tennessee does have the option to hire somebody before then and put Hart on paid administrative leave, per his retirement agreement. Tennessee needs to get its new chancellor, which is down to three finalists. Then I think attention shifts more to the AD search. And yes, I believe David Blackburn remains the odds-on favorite at this point. He makes a ton of sense – there’s no reason to overthink this. I have, however, heard rumblings that Tennessee will evaluate some internal options such as Jon Gilbert. Phillip Fulmer, according to what I’ve heard, probably isn’t going to seriously throw his hat in the ring. John Currie at Kansas State is another option I think they should look at.

    Nathanael: Yeah, as Daniel said, this is unfortunately probably not anywhere close to being resolved. We’re still a few months out from Tennessee having an AD. They need a chancellor first, and then he/she will need to filter through their candidates before making a choice. Unless something forces them to make a move earlier than they want, it won’t be till March or so that we know who it will be.

    Ben Miller Loans

    “Is it fair to judge the success of our season based on whether we go to Atlanta or not?” – Bryan Shrader 

    Daniel: I think so. There were a few far-fetched scenarios I thought of before the season like Tennessee going to 11-1, but losing to an undefeated Florida team and not going to Atlanta, that could’ve made the year a success without an SEC East crown. But winning the East this year was, and still is, a fair expectation for this team. Tennessee’s been dealt a tough hand this year with injuries, but it hasn’t exactly been easy for many teams in the East either.

    Nathanael: Yes it is. Even though it’s now technically out of Tennessee’s control, they had that control and let it slip out of their grasp and should be in a much better position right now if they won that South Carolina game. But they didn’t, and that’s where we stand right now. But it’s very fair to judge the success of this season based on that. This team was the favorite to win the East coming into the season, and they should’ve been.

    “WTF is up with this Defense? Got punked by South Carolina, Shoop did more with less at Vandy. Why are giving up big plays?” – @BigOrangeButch

    “Are we out of position or not plugging gaps, our D is getting gashed for big gains. Why can’t we stop the run?” – Roger Dawson

    Daniel: It’s been a little bit of everything – poor tackling, bad gap discipline, alignment issues and, of course, missing Jalen Reeves-Maybin and essentially the entire group of defensive tackles, as well as others at other points in the season. Some of that is out of Bob Shoop’s hands. But there’s still no excuse for giving up over 400 yards on the ground to Kentucky. Shoop will get some time, and hopefully a healthier team, next year to figure it out. He’s earned that based on his past. There’s no question that it’s been a disappointing year overall for the defense in many different ways.

    Nathanael: This year has been a massive disappointment on defense, especially when you just look at the stats and outcomes at face value. We, the media and fans alike, were talking about this defense potentially being a top 3 SEC defense this year. They’ve been far from that, though. Injuries and personnel have played into the failure of the defense this season, and I, like Daniel, do think Shoop deserves another year before we really judge him.

    “Does Ed Orgeron speak words or incite ancient incantations against everyone around him, cause I really can’t tell” – @UmbrAndrew

    Daniel: A mix of all that and some Cajun profanities, I believe.

    Nathanael: I think Coach O speaks a language that the Ancients once spoke and has gone out of modern memory.

    “Will Butch ever understand this fan base (bowl eligibility rah-rah, clichés, etc) & allow even the non-wooly to like him? :)” – Mike Jehle 

    Daniel: I think Butch kind of is who he is at this point. He’s a good recruiter and a good football coach who is working to prove that he can be great at this level. He’s worked his way up, and I think the constant positivity/cliche-driven approach has served him well to this point. He’s faced some adversity, no question, but he just seems to mentally will himself forward with that mindset. I do think it would serve him well to have somebody who he listens tell him that sometimes his comments don’t come off well to some portions of the fan base. There’s a middle ground between being positive and upbeat, and also understanding that UT fans are incredibly demanding – sometimes to a fault.

    Nathanael: At this point? No, I don’t think he’ll ever stop spouting off the same coach speak he does week in and week out. I don’t think we should expect him to change either. He is who he is at this point. If he hasn’t cracked yet, I don’t think he’s going to. Would I like to see a little more self-awareness out of him? Absolutely. I like Daniel’s idea of him having someone there to whisper in his ear about things he should or shouldn’t say. But I don’t expect he will change of his own accord. It would take a new voice (maybe like a new AD) to make him change even a little in that regard.

    “See any possible coaching changes coming this offseason?” – Tyler Wright 

    Daniel: If Tennessee finishes strong, I just don’t see Butch cleaning house on either side of the ball. I think he would view a 10-3 or 10-4 type of season with the injuries that they had as a nice step and a reason for continuity. There would certainly be some turnover just because of the law of averages. Somebody will poach an assistant or two, Butch might want to make one or two positions coach changes, and it wouldn’t stun me if, with Butch heading into his fifth year and a new AD coming in, some assistants might be more inclined to listen to other offers.

    Nathanael: I see the coaching carousel going CRAZY this offseason.

    If you meant specifically with Tennessee, in that case, yes, I do see just a few changes being made, but nothing wholesale. I think we see 3-4 changes overall, and not all of them will be Butch wanting/needing to move on. I think a guy or two will be offered a position elsewhere and he’ll take it. But I do think we’ll get to see Bob Shoop go out and get one or two guys on his side of the ball that he thinks will better fit his system. And I think we see some shifting of the offensive assistants too. But I don’t expect either coordinator to change unless they themselves initiate the move to leave.

    “WGWTFA?” – @NeylandMafia

    Daniel: We’ll have predictions up Saturday morning, but I think so. Will LSU? That might be the better question.

    Nathanael: In short, yes. I’d be shocked if Missouri beat Tennessee. I said that with South Carolina, but Mizzou is even worse than them. And this game will be played in Neyland, a place the Vols have only lost in once this season.