We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Please explain why the Vols are predicted to have such a rough season. Two 4* QB’s, experienced Oline, a badass at WR and sound D.” – @SolidVolFan
Nathanael: I think it has more to do with the way the Vols disappointed last season than how they actually look on paper this season. When a team disappoints the way the Vols did last season, it’s easy to rag on them and expect similar if not worse results in the following season. I personally think the Vols could be a bit of a surprise team this year, but they’re going to have to have a few things come together on offense for that to happen. I don’t think they’ll win the division still, but I don’t think they’ll finish fourth like some seem to think either.
Will: I appreciate your outlook, but a lot of people simply don’t see things the same way. Especially the part about a sound D. That’s the biggest leap you’re making here. All of these predictions are possible, but they aren’t givens right now. Plenty of four-star quarterbacks have flopped once they hit the field. And with a new quarterback, it makes things harder on young wide receivers to develop rhythm and timing. The ceiling for this team is just as high as it was last year, but predictions aren’t as optimistic because the floor is much lower.
“Would it be worth it for Tennessee (as a program) to beat Bama if it meant they had to lose to Indiana St, UMass, and Southern Miss?” – Bryan
Nathanael: Absolutely not. Any good grace and progress you’d make from defeating Bama would be tarnished by losing to all three of those schools. Tennessee doesn’t lose to programs like Indiana State or UMass. That just doesn’t happen and them still be taken seriously.
Will: This is an impossible question. I think a lot of Tennessee fans wouldn’t mind that, but there’s one major problem here. Tennessee would be Vandy. That’s the mentality the Commodores have had for years. The Tennessee game is their bowl game, and UT is too big a program to fall into that mentality. Even if it is Alabama.
“Is Aaron Medley saving his best season for his sr year or will Butch waste no time going to his replacement once the inconsistency sets in?” – @rbprat10
Nathanael: If there’s one area Butch Jones has shown stubborness and high confidence factor throughout his time at Tennessee, it’s been on special teams. Barring Medley just looking terrible through the first few games or during a stretch of the season, I would be surprised if Jones pulls him in favor of a completely unproven kicker behind him.
Will: I don’t think Medley has been as bad as people think. He was about six inches away from becoming a Tennessee legend with a walk-off winner in the Swamp two years ago. I think things would have to get really bad for Butch to turn to the freshman Brent Cimaglia.
“Who ya think gets the starting nod opposite to Jennings? Byrd, Murphy, Palmer, Smith or Callaway?” – @KingDobbie
Nathanael: I think it’s going to be Tyler Byrd. If not for the first game, at least by the time the Vols are in SEC play. Byrd will technically be the slot receiver I think, but he has a high chance of being the No. 2 pass catcher for the Vols, which I assume matters more than the amount of starts. I think behind Byrd could be Josh Smith if he actually stays healthy. But if not, I think Callaway is your next most productive receiver this year.
Will: To start the season, it will be Josh Smith. But I certainly don’t think that will be the case by the end of the year. Byrd is a slot receiver, so don’t expect him to play out wide very often. By the Alabama game, I expect Marquez Callaway to be opposite Jennings, but I’ll give Brandon Johnson a chance there as well.
“Why does Coach BJ get a free pass? People get mad if you criticize him & Fulmer was fired for going 8-4 but CBJ gets a raise 4 doing so???” – Nathan
Nathanael: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say Butch Jones “gets a free pass.” Maybe by some, but certainly not by everyone. But I get what you’re saying here. I think the reason you see that, though, is because Jones has never won a national championship and never took Tennessee to new heights like Fulmer did. Fulmer’s bar was set much higher than Jones’ is. And you can be upset with how far the bar has fallen for the Vols at this point, and that’s understandable. I don’t think it’s fallen nearly as far as some would proclaim, but I get it.
Anyway, I think the reason is because when Jones took over, the Vols were at their lowest point in arguably their entire history. Fulmer never experienced anything close to that type of low, but his fall was pretty drastic considering how high he took the Vols at points. Jones has improved every year while at Tennessee with the exception of last year. He still has a lot to prove, and I don’t think he’s earned a raise just yet. But that all would explain some of it I think.
Will: Because you have to remember where the Vols were five years ago. Jones has made significant progress with a roster that didn’t remotely live up to Tennessee’s standards when he came to Knoxville. This is the first time in maybe a decade that Tennessee has had an elite offensive line from top to bottom, including backups. You can’t overestimate how important that is. Fulmer never had that problem, even in his worst years. The expectations haven’t changed at Tennessee, and they never will. But the circumstances were unique, so Butch gets more leeway.
“Over/under: 9.5 wins for Titans?” – Danny
Nathanael: I’ve been thinking anywhere between 9-10 wins for them, so that’s a really fair over/under for them. I’m going to say slightly over with 10 wins, though.
Will: I have the Titans winning 11 games. I think we’ll learn a lot in their Week One matchup against Oakland. But there’s no reason why this team shouldn’t cruise through the AFC South. Andrew Luck can’t stay healthy behind a terrible offensive line in Indy. Tom Savage is very beatable in Houston, and reports are he’ll at least start the season ahead of Deshaun Watson. And Jacksonville hasn’t made enough moves to contend. The players are there for the Titans to go 11-5 or 12-4. But is the winning culture in place? Is Mike Mularkey the guy to final lead this team over the hump? That’s the only major question mark for me.
“Which current Vol would survive longest in a Hunger Games style deathmatch?” – Andrew
Nathanael: Not many people would think of him, but I’m actually going with John Kelly on this one. That dude is smart and extremely tough. I’d take him over some of the more obvious choices on the team because I think he has some good survival instincts.
Will: I’d say this is a tie between Jauan Jennings and Jonathan Kongbo. Jennings because he is just a mean dude who would find a way to stay alive, and Kongbo because, well you’ve seen pictures of the guy. He’s an absolute freak of nature. I’d give him the edge.