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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Do you think UT can keep the score respectable against Bama?” – @volsfootball
Nathanael: Depends on what your definition of “respectable” is. Can they cover the spread, which has now moved up to -29 in Alabama’s favor? We’ll see. To me, that would be somewhat respectable, and I think it’s possible the Vols could do that. But if you’re asking if Tennessee can keep it to a two-score game, I don’t think so. I would be very surprised if they did that. The closest any team has come against the Tide is a 22-point loss that Texas A&M suffered, and the Aggies are now the No. 17 team in the country. I don’t expect UT to keep it all that close, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see some growth from the Vols in the game.
Ben: To me, respectable is losing by 10 or less and that’s not happening. Barely covering the 29-point spread isn’t even respectable in my opinion. There are things that Tennessee can do to walk away not feeling down, but I would be stunned if its a one-to-two score ball game when its all said and done. Alabama just presents too many nightmares for Tennessee.
“Can Kongbo get a medical redshirt?” – @Jitts2220
Nathanael: Nope, not from my understanding. In order to get a medical redshirt, I think a player has to have played in 30% or fewer of a team’s games, and Kongbo has played in half of UT’s 12 regular season games. So unless they can find some sort of loophole, it looks like Kongbo’s career is over at UT.
“My analysis of JG was inaccurate last week, the issue was play calling. Do you think Helton is in jeopardy of losing his job? Pruitt seemed very unhappy when asked about who asked Helton to be on the sidelines, and also when asked if Helton would stay there, very curt response.” – Clint
Nathanael: You know, I noticed that too but wondered if I was looking too much into it. You make me think I wasn’t, Clint. Maybe Pruitt just acted that way because he’s tired of fielding questions about Helton, I don’t know. But I would be surprised if Helton loses his job at the end of this season. Could he leave of his own accord? That seems more likely. But the Vols’ offense hasn’t been horrible this year even with some questionable play-calling for most of the year. They’re still doing better than last season, though they have a lot they can improve on. I would be pretty surprised if Helton was fired unless the offense just really tanks it over the last half of this season.
Ben: I know for a fact Helton and Pruitt are having a hard time working together. Pruitt has taken strong reigns of the offense and it has rubbed Helton the wrong way. For that reason, yes, I think there is a solid chance Helton won’t be here next year. And not because he got fired. But there’s still a long way to go this season. A lot can change from now until the end of the bowl season. The Auburn game was a step in the right direction for Helton and the offense.
“What are your expectations for the rest of the season?” – Dawson
Nathanael: I really think Tennessee can make a bowl game after getting that win. Will I be surprised if they don’t? No. But I expect the Vols to at least keep it close in the other four SEC games they have outside of this weekend’s game against Alabama. The Vols should win against Charlotte, and I don’t see why they can’t get two wins out of their other four games against South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri, and Vandy.
Ben: To compete for a bowl game. I’ll be very disappointed if Tennessee is swept in the four remaining SEC games after Alabama. As of today, I think the Vols beat Charlotte and Vanderbilt, needing just one win over South Carolina, Missouri, or Kentucky to reach a bowl game. With the way this team is progressing and two of those games being at home, I expect Tennessee to win one of those three and become bowl eligible.
“What is Tennessee’s biggest need recruiting next year? Lots of seniors in the D-line. Also other than the O-line what position group needs to improve the most?” – Dewey
Nathanael: Well, since the Vols have already addressed the offensive line really well in recruiting and have some good defensive linemen in the class as well, I think the biggest remaining need is at linebacker. The Vols need to bring in at least one or two more linebackers in this class in my opinion. Getting another receiver is a big objective too.
As for your second question, I think the one group that still needs to improve the most outside of the offensive line is the secondary. They’re gradually been improving, but they still miss too many tackles and get beat in coverage too much. They’ve shown promise and have made some big plays, but they’ve also made a lot of big mistakes as well.
Ben: Offensive line and defensive line are without a doubt the position groups that need to be addressed the most in recruiting. In order to win in the SEC, you have to win in the trenches. You’ve seen Jeremy Pruitt target quite a few linemen, and he’s been successful. The Vols are on the verge of bringing in quite a bit of talent there.
Outside of the offensive line, the outside linebackers need to improve the most for me. Really, Tennessee’s pass-rush in general. Darrell Taylor had a breakout game against Georgia, but has been rather quiet in the other games. With the injury to Jonathan Kongbo, Deandre Johnson is going to receive a chance to step up and provide pressure off the edge. Tennessee really needs him to.
“What newcomer or reserve on the basketball team who might have played some last year makes the biggest impact this year?” – Rick
Nathanael: Very good question, Rick. My money would be on Yves Pons or John Fulkerson. I think Fulkerson is finally getting healthy and could be back to his old form, and he looked really good two years ago before he suffered that season-ending injury. He just was never back to 100% healthy last season, and it showed. For Pons, I think he’s worked on honing his offensive skills this offseason and could be a big factor on the defensive end of the court too. I think both those guys could be in store for a bigger impact this season.
Ben: Yves Pons or Jalen Johnson for me. As productive as Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, Jordan Bowden, Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, and Kyle Alexander are, Pons and Johnson are the best athletes on the team. They’re athletic freaks and have the potential to be a nightmare match-up for opponents. Pons should be a lockdown defender this season and will have plenty of highlight dunks. For Johnson, he’s been working on his perimeter shot and defense. He has the frame to defend and get to the basket. I expect those two to take the biggest steps forward.