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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“What’s the deal with the offense? I can see improvement in the defense, the offense, not so much. Am I missing something?” – Sam
Nathanael: I think there are a lot of issues with the offense right now. And I’ve seen improvement from them, just not as much with the defense. The Vols can and have made some big plays on offense, but they’ve also given up far too many negative plays there as well. Honestly, the biggest issue with the offense is the offensive line. I think that’s limiting what UT can call quite a bit. Still, I think there are things they can call even with the issues the line is having, but overall I think it’s just a matter of the line figuring things out.
Ben: I’ve seen improvement from the offense, it just isn’t enough improvement to produce winning football. Jarrett Guarantano has taken a positive step forward, the running back room is better than it was last year, Dominick Wood-Anderson is an upgrade at tight end, and the wide receiver room has been good this season. But the offensive line has been dreadful, and that’s prevented the rest of the offense from doing its job. I do think the play-calling has been far too conservative, though, but it’s not been as bad as some want to make it out to be.
“Why is Helton not giving JT a chance? He’s got a bigger arm than anyone on the roster. Why not give him a series or two and see what he can do?” – Clint
Nathanael: Because he’s a true freshman who still needs to develop a lot. Guarantano has a strong arm too, but he hasn’t been able to show it off a lot because of poor protection. Shrout isn’t extremely mobile either, so he would be having the same issues JG is right now. You don’t need to throw out a true freshman to the wolves just to do it. Shrout isn’t ready yet. He has a high ceiling in my opinion, but he isn’t ready to be the QB yet.
Ben: Two reasons – Shrout is a freshman, but more importantly, Jarrett Guarantano is the best quarterback on the roster. I’m truly dumbfounded by the amount of shade Guarantano receives. He’s good enough to win football games with, but he hasn’t been able to display that because of conservative play-calling and horrid offensive line play. Shrout may have a huge arm, but that doesn’t lead to automatic success.
“How do you feel about Tennessee winning 4+ games at this point in the season?” – Roy
Nathanael: I feel pretty good about it honestly. I think they can get to four wins as long as what we saw against Georgia continues to happen this year and they continue to improve. UT should easily beat Charlotte, and right now I think they beat Vanderbilt. I think they can find a fifth win in there somewhere too.
Ben: I would be shocked if Tennessee doesn’t win four games, and frankly, disappointed. Charlotte is an automatic win, putting the Vols at three victories on the season. They would then need to beat one of South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri or Vanderbilt. I don’t know which one it’ll win, but Tennessee will pick one of those schools off. My bet would be on Vanderbilt, though I don’t think it’s a guarantee at all. In terms of making a bowl game, I have zero confidence at this point.
“Is Kelly Bryant a viable option for a transfer here? Odds on Jalen McClesky? What are your feelings on this “free agent deadline at week 4”? Good or bad for College football?” – Scott
Nathanael: I don’t think Kelly Bryant is a viable option, no. If you’re looking for a potential transfer option at QB, Alabama’s Jalen Hurts is a much more likely option assuming he does end up transferring after this season. I think UT does have a good shot at getting Oklahoma State transfer receiver Jalen McClescky, though. I think he’ll end up either at Tennessee or at Tulane since his dad (a former Vol) coaches there now. And I honestly don’t think the Week 4 “free agency/trade deadline” thing is nearly as big of an issue as people are making it seem. How many people did we actually see transfer after Week 4 this year besides the two guys you mentioned in your question? I think it’s being overblown and is just something all the talking heads want to make a big deal about. I don’t advocate for quitting on your team mid-season, but I do think it’s overall a good thing for players to have.
Ben: I could see Tennessee targeting Kelly Bryant, but I don’t believe he’s an upgrade over Jarrett Guarantano. Bryant is the better athlete, but Guarantano is the much better passer. If Jeremy Pruitt wants to target a dual-threat grad transfer quarterback to mask some of the offensive line’s deficiencies, Jalen Hurts should be the one he targets.
As far as Jalen McClesky, I really like Tennessee’s chances. If he turns down playing for his dad, former Vol J.J. McClesky who is the defensive backs coach at Tulane, I would be shocked if he attends a school for his final season outside of Knoxville. McClesky would be a huge get for the offense, as he would provide a dynamic option to the receiver room that the current group does not possess.
I have a love-hate relationship with the new transfer rule. It’s an awesome rule for the players, as they can preserve a year of playing time while also tallying some playing experience. That will prove to be huge in terms of the development of players. But I despise the fact that some players are quitting on their team after one or two games. I understand Kelly Bryant’s decision, and I personally support his decision, but a second-team guy who is an underclassmen shouldn’t be transferring mid-season in my opinion. Particularly if that player is just one injury away from playing. I do understand circumstances are different for each player, though.
“Do we not have another right tackle? Richmond have made so many mistakes and missed a lot of blocks.” – William
Nathanael: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If Chance Hall ever gets fully healthy or at least good enough to play most of a game, I think he unseats Drew Richmond. At least Richmond looked okay for the most part against Georgia, but he’s still not performing where he needs to be. Chance Hall would be an upgrade, in my opinion, if he’s healthy. But otherwise? UT doesn’t have a better option behind Richmond. I think he’s better than Marcus Tatum or any of the other younger guys right now who could play right tackle.
Ben: No, not really. Marcus Tatum isn’t ready to play over Drew Richmond, and it appears this staff views Chance Hall more as a right guard. Jerome Carvin has struggled mightily the last two games, and Hall has been inserted in his place at times. Richmond hasn’t played winning football this season, but unfortunately help won’t be here until this year’s recruiting class arrives on campus.
I will say this about Richmond: the Georgia game was the first game this season where it was absolutely noticeable he played with effort. For instance, Jeremy Banks took a late hit in the third quarter, and Richmond sprinted from a couple of yards away and shoved the Georgia player. That’s something we haven’t seen from not only Richmond, but the entire team, and that’s a step in the right direction.
“Why do we continue to have problems with basics – like the penalties on punting formations, etc…Is this a coaching issue, or what?” – @RockyTop10EC
Nathanael: I think it’s just players not focusing and not executing. I don’t think a lot of it falls on coaching. Now, if this continues to be an issue this season and carries over to next year, then I think you can really start to question if it’s coaching. But right now I think it’s on the players for not focusing and not being as crisp as they should be. Although the three penalties on special teams were definitely on the coaching staff. Outside of that, most of the issues with fundamentals are on the players.
Ben: It’s both. It’s players not executing, and it’s on the coaches as well, particularly the three illegal punt formations. Being a first-year head coach, Jeremy Pruitt is learning on the job. There are going to be small mishaps, and I don’t think it’s something to absolutely ridicule Pruitt for. Those are mistakes that I don’t expect to happen again.