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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“True or False: Starting O Line of Richmond, Smith, Kennedy, Hall, and Johnson has potential to be one of the best in the conference?” – @htcook1999
Nathanael: Firstly, I’m not so sure that’s your starting five (I assume you mean Jahmir Johnson and not Ryan Johnson by the way). But even if that is, I don’t think it’s one of the best in the conference, no. You have an injury-prone Hall as a starter, and as big of an addition as Kennedy is, he’s also suffered his fair share of injuries in his career too. I trust that as long as Trey Smith is fully healthy, he’ll be great again, but I’ve never liked Drew Richmond at tackle. I think Jahmir Johnson could be good, but is he All-SEC good? I think the line will be better than last year, but there are far too many question marks for me to say UT will have one of the better offensive lines in the SEC this year regardless of who starts.
Will: False. They’re more likely to be one of the worst in the conference. Hall has potential, but let’s see if he can stay healthy. Kennedy is unproven, despite spending three years with Nick Saban. He still didn’t play very much. Richmond may improve if he moves inside to guard, but that’s not a guarantee. And Smith should be one of the best tackles in the league. This group’s ceiling is in the middle of the pack, but nowhere near the top.
“What kind of impact can Kennedy have? Seems like he’s very injury prone.” – Dave
Nathanael: I touched on it in the previous answer, but yes, he does have a little bit of an injury history. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but it’s worth noting for sure. If he stays healthy, I think he’s a starter for the Vols at either center or guard. I think center is more likely, but I do think he starts all 12 games for Tennessee if he stays healthy.
Will: The experience just playing college football is vital in such a young group of linemen. But he doesn’t have a ton of playing experience. He’ll likely start just based off of reps in the past. If he stays healthy, he’ll be a solid addition.
“What are the chances CJP is special and turns this year’s team into a 9 win team?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: I’d say still pretty slim, but that could certainly happen. The way I look at it, Tennessee has three almost surefire losses on their schedule this upcoming season. They aren’t going to beat Alabama or Georgia, and I highly doubt they’ll beat Auburn either. I’m not counting the West Virginia game as a loss just yet, and I think Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt will all be close to toss-ups by the time Tennessee plays them all. So if you go by all that I’ve just laid out, the Vols would have to win all of their toss-up games or beat one of their three toughest opponents and lose to either WVU and another SEC team or lose to two SEC teams to get to that nine win mark. I just don’t see it happening. I think 9-3 is the absolute ceiling for this team, but I don’t think it’s likely they get there at all.
Will: I’ll give that a .01% chance. You do realize this team was 0-8 in the SEC last year, right? That would be an absolute miracle, especially given the lack of experience on offense. And you also have to remember that Jeremy Pruitt has never been a college head coach. We have no idea what he’ll be like in game. Let’s pump the brakes.
“Why switch Byrd and A.Taylor to their 2nd best positions? Don’t you think their best potential would be Byrd at DB and Taylor at WR instead of vice versa? Or is Pruitt going to play both or one of them at both positions?” – Cole
Nathanael: Well, Pruitt tried out Byrd at corner in the spring and made the decision to move him back, so I wouldn’t assume DB is his best position at this point. Taylor is intriguing to me because they might play him on both sides of the ball. I do think that wherever he ends up will tell where fellow four-star athlete Bryce Thompson goes, and vice versa. If Taylor plays DB, I think Thompson plays WR. But if Thompson plays DB, I think Taylor moves to WR. I don’t see both playing on the same side of the ball.
Will: They both have plenty of skill at both spots. Taylor can play either one. I think Byrd is a better fit at wide receiver at this point. But I have no clue what Jeremy Pruitt thinks. We’ll see.
“Do you think another 0-8 season under Coach Pruitt is a possibility? As in like a good chance it could happen again, obviously anything is possible.” – @wild_bill_cosby
Nathanael: It’s certainly possible, but I think it’s very unlikely to happen. I would be shocked if the Vols went 0-8 in SEC play again this season unless they suffered another rash of injuries like they have the last two years, and I don’t think that’s going to happen this year.
Will: I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t shock me. Vanderbilt and Missouri are bad enough for Tennessee to at least win one or two games at home.
“Should we as a fan base really buy into the BasketVols being a top five team?” – @neylandmafia
Nathanael: I’m very hesitant to buy in to them being one of the five best teams in the country. Top 10? Absolutely. But I think the reason why so many people are putting them in the top 5 is because they know so much about this team and know so little about a lot of other schools. Duke, Kentucky, Villanova, and several others will probably have more overall talent on their rosters than Tennessee, but all those schools had a lot of turnover on their rosters too. Tennessee arguably brings back more talent and experience than any other team in Division I next season. The only other team I can think of that comes close is Nevada (who should be in the top 10 too). They’re getting the benefit of the doubt because they return nearly everyone and all the analysts assume they’re going to improve this offseason. I’m just being cautious, but I do expect them to make it to at least the Elite Eight.
Will: Definitely. They’ve got depth, size and experience. And they’re ticked off at how last season ended. That’s a good recipe for success. Barring injury, and they got lucky in that department until the very end of the season last year, I think they’ll live up to the hype.
“What are your thoughts on the idea that Solo tanked? Does this effect future Star Wars Anthology movies? Should we care until there is an actual bad movie?” – @EdgeofSunset
Nathanael: Ah, a Star Wars question. Bless you. I think Solo was doomed from the beginning from a mass viewer standpoint because they dealt with so much change and “turmoil” behind the scenes. They changed directors and had tons of rewrites and even had to recast the main villain all after the filming and production had already begun. A lot of casual fans wrote it off before even seeing it. I went in with low expectations myself and was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked the movie. I wouldn’t worry about it, though. We’re still going to get an Obi-Wan movie, a Boba Fett movie, and potentially a Yoda one too.