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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Where is J.J. Peterson?” – about a thousand of you
Nathanael: Not on campus yet. Trust me, you’ll know when there’s real news about him. Your Twitter and Facebook timelines will be filled with the news when it comes out. Message boards will be flooded with the news, and you’ll likely get tons of push notifications and texts about it. Right now, I would assume if he makes it he’s going to have to redshirt.
“JT Shrout had a very impressive practice on fan day. Do you think he has a legit shot to compete for the starting job? What’s your thoughts on the whole QB situation?” – Nathan
Nathanael: For this year, I don’t think he’s a legit competitor for the starting job. He’s made some good throws during fall camp and has a great arm, but he can also be a little wild and has to work on his technique still. I think he has a high ceiling, but he’s behind the eight ball as a true freshman right now. I look for him to truly compete next year and 2020, but this year he still needs to develop. As for the whole quarterback battle: I think right now Guarantano has the edge. I don’t think it’s as big of an edge as some would make you think, but I would bet money on him being the starter right now. Chryst would be a good backup if that’s the case.
Charley: I mean, Coach Pruitt has said several times that all four quarterbacks are competing for the starting job, but realistically it is a two man race. Shrout has loads of potential and will certainly be a factor in the future, just not right now. In order to win the starting job this year he would have to be overwhelmingly excellent, coupled with struggles from the other three quarterbacks. As for my thoughts on the competition as a whole, I think Guarantano still has the lead, but it is neck and neck. As camp progresses and there are more padded practices as well as more intense team periods, the starter will become more evident.
“Are we going to be able to line up and run the ball at WVU? So we can shorten the game and limit the amount of snaps Grier gets?” – Tony
Nathanael: I think that’s the plan heading into the game, yes. West Virginia’s run defense was really bad last year (almost as bad as Tennessee’s), and the Vols are putting a renewed focus on running the ball. The more they can run the ball and eat up the clock, the less WVU’s potent offense is on the field. But the Vols also need to score when they have the ball in order to keep up with WVU, so I don’t expect them to always run. They’ll sprinkle in some passing, but all in all I think clock control is the name of the game for UT in this game.
Charley: I certainly hope the Vols can run the ball against West Virginia, and it’s bad news for the rest of the season if they can’t. I expect them to have a rather successful day on the ground, as the Mountaineers run defense was not very good last season. I like what the Vols have on the offensive line with Trey Smith, Drew Richmond, Brandon Kennedy and Chance Hall. They may not have very much depth, but the five they’ll have on the field will be a pretty decent unit. Running the ball successfully will be the key to beating West Virginia, because they’ll want to keep Will Grier and their elite offense off the field as much as possible.
“What is the biggest difference with this years team? Attitude, size, enthusiasm?” – David
Nathanael: I think the attitude and size are the two biggest things that stand out. That and they’re actually being coached up and developed from what I can see. And the players seem more receptive to it with this staff than the previous staff.
Charley: This team seems to just be much happier and confident. There is a positive relationship between the coaches and the players, something we weren’t exactly always accustomed to under Butch Jones. This team also seems to be in better shape from a conditioning perspective.
“At the beginning of the season most were expecting and somewhat happy with a 5-6 win season, now a lot more are saying 8-4. Do you think this is feasible for our team? And what has the fan base seen that has given them more confidence in more wins?” – Benny
Nathanael: I think a lot of it just has to do with the optimism everyone always starts experiencing around this time of year. People start hearing the reports trickling out from fall camp, and they get excited about the season and start talking themselves into Tennessee being better than they probably are and convinced they can pull of a couple big upsets. But I do understand the optimism this time; the new coaching staff seems like they actually coach (crazy concept, I know), and the players seem like they’re being developed and look bigger and stronger. As for 8-4 being feasible, I wouldn’t count on it. It’s certainly possible, but that’s about the ceiling for this year’s team. Something between 5-7 and 7-5 is far more likely.
Charley: I agree with Nathanael. As we get to the final weeks before football season, that excitement for the season turns into expectations that could be a tad unreasonable. That as well as the excitement of having a new coach are two of the main reasons. When you have a new coach, the vast majority of reports that come out of fall camp are going to be positive, and that can oftentimes be misconstrued. The Vols could win eight games this year, but they’re going to need all the breaks they can get. Six or seven wins is a lot more reasonable.
“Are we losing 5 games in a row this season?” – @volsby90
Nathanael: It’s definitely a possibility, but I’m not predicting that. The place on the schedule where it looks most likely is the five-game stretch where the Vols play Florida, at Georgia, at Auburn, Alabama, and at South Carolina. I think the Vols lose four straight in that stretch, but I think they start it out with a win against Florida in Knoxville. But I think they lose the next four.
Charley: The Vols have the hardest five-game stretch in the country in the five games listed above, but they aren’t going to lose all five. Tennessee will win at least one of South Carolina and Florida, and they could possibly win both. I have them beating Florida. South Carolina will be harder as it is a road game against an improved South Carolina team, and it’s the final game of that stretch, so the team could be worn out.
“We are getting lots of good news filtering out from camp (It’s REALLY refreshing – no orange dogs, wrecked cars, goofy sayings, ALL CAPS TWEETS, etc) What are the top 2 things that are concerning at this point?” – Sam
Nathanael: Good question, Sam. Right now, the wide receivers have been concerning me honestly. A lot of people (myself included) thought the receivers would be the strength for the Vols’ offense this season, but they’ve looked inconsistent in camp this season. Can they improve over the next few weeks and find some consistency? I’m also still concerned about the secondary, specifically at cornerback. Any time you have to start a true freshman at a unit, even if they’re as talented as Alontae Taylor seems to be, that’s reason for concern. He’s not guaranteed a starting spot yet, but he looks like he’s playing his way into one. And the depth at cornerback is still concerning to me.
Charley: The two biggest concerns for me right now are offensive line depth and the absence of J.J. Peterson. Tennessee doesn’t have a lot of SEC-ready offensive lineman, so if there are any injuries, that group could really struggle, and it is pretty rare to make it through an entire season without an injury to an offensive lineman. As for J.J Peterson, it’s looking more and more like he may not be around for the start of the season, which is very disappointing. He was someone that I expected to play a significant role and maybe even start for the Vols.
“Out of these guys, Zion Puckett, Kris Bogle, Jaydon Hill, Quavarius Crouch, Darnell Wright, how many does Tennessee get and how do ya feel about each? Also, who do you think will commit to Tennessee next??” – Josh
Nathanael: Very good question. I think Tennessee gets at least three of those five, if not four. I feel good about their chances for Bogle, Crouch, and Wright, and they’re in a decent spot with Hill. I still feel like Hill may end up at an in-state school if they offer, but we’ll see. Right now, Puckett is almost assuredly committing to Auburn when he announces his commitment on the 17th of this month, but the Vols have some momentum there and will continue to recruit him even if he commits elsewhere right now. As far as who commits next? I have no idea honestly. It doesn’t seem like any of the Vols’ main targets are set to announce any time soon, so unless someone has a surprise announcement lined up, it might be a little while.
Charley: I’m gonna play this one safe and say Tennessee gets at least two of these guys, but could easily get four. Puckett is as good as gone, as he is almost definitely going to Auburn. Bogle has a very good chance ending up as Vol, and he would be a huge get. They are also in a good place with Crouch, Wright and Hill. As for who commits next, my guess is as good as yours. But if I’m gonna throw a name out there, I’ll go with Devin Bush.