We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“What position through the first week of camp surprised you from a talent/chemistry/coaching aspect positively & negatively?” – Eric
Nathanael: I don’t think I’ve seen one that’s surprised me negatively yet, but we’re also still barely a week in to fall camp and they haven’t put on pads yet (they will on Friday for the first time). But as far as one that’s surprised me positively? I’d have to go with the wide receivers/tight ends. They’ve looked really solid so far, and some of the younger guys in both groups are already starting to step up. And that bodes well for Tennessee. Receivers like Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer have stood out, as have tight ends Ethan and Eli Wolf and Austin Pope.
Will: The linebacker position is going to feature an interesting rotation. It seems like Tennessee expects to start Colton Jumper in most of its games this season. At least until someone else wins that job, which I expect to happen when the Vols face off with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. It’s easy to forget this, but linebacker is the one defensive position with the same coach as last year. How does Tommy Thigpen continue to work with Bob Shoop in year two? Shoop’s glowing comments about Jumper surprise me, given the depth of young talent in that linebacker room.
“Why isn’t Evan Berry our punt returner? Talk has been about 5 or 6 other guys. He’s proven himself on special teams in my opinion.” – Clint
Nathanael: I’ve wondered this myself. And I think it’s just because returning punts is such a different ball game and takes a different skill set than returning kicks. You have to be able to start immediately rather than building up momentum like a player does returning kicks. I think he deserves a shot back there, but I also like what Callaway and others bring to the position as well.
Will: Punt returns are so mental to me. You have to be much more patient. Berry has the pure speed to hit the hole and break away from defenders on kickoffs. But that doesn’t matter as much on punts. The defense is more complex. When or when not to fair catch is a big factor. Knowing when to let the ball roll or when to catch it is also huge. It’s a lot different than you might think. Cam Sutton and Alvin Kamara weren’t just quick, but they knew where to find holes in coverage. Those soft spots in the defense are much different on a kickoff return.
“What’s the story behind the Tim Jordan buzz?” – Tim
Nathanael: Have you seen pictures of him? That’s why. Now, you can look the part and still not be able to produce. That’s certainly happened before. But right now he looks like a physical back who can contribute even as a freshman. But we haven’t seen a whole lot of actual game-like situations just yet, so I don’t know how he will perform in those circumstances. I still think Carlin Fils-Aime and Ty Chandler are ahead of him on the depth chart.
Will: He passes the “eye test,” which is all we have to go off of this time of year. He looks like a back who is ready for the wear and tear of SEC play. You can’t say that a lot about an incoming freshman. Plus, I talked to a former SEC assistant coach this week who told me that running back is by far the easiest position for a college freshman to play. I think Jordan is physically ready to contribute. The only question is how he handles the mental side of the game in his first season.
“Best guess on which game will be checker Neyland?” – Nicholas
Nathanael: I would assume it would be the Georgia game. I don’t think they would want to break it out for the LSU game in November, and there aren’t any other marquee home match-ups for them to do it this year other than those two.
Will: It will almost definitely be the Georgia game. Especially if Tennessee is still undefeated at that point.
“Will the Preds spend their extra $5 million this offseason?” – @dannyfromsmash
Nathanael: I would like to see them toss it around this offseason, but I think they hold on to it. They have some players who rare due for raises in the future, so they need to keep that money just in case. Plus, you never know what next offseason might bring. Better to be safe than sorry right now, especially with the roster in good shape like it is right now.
Will: Absolutely not. For starters, David Poile is far more dangerous when he has money to throw around. But also, you have to save that money for the top four defensemen. Because money already looks tight when those guys start looking for a new deal. You can’t break up that quartet of star d-men, which means they’ll all receive hefty raises once their contracts expire.