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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“I like Jeremy Banks as a runner. Why the move to ILB? I thought that was one position with decent depth.” – Andrew
Nathanael: The move wasn’t made because depth is lacking at ILB right now; the move was made because Banks wanted to actually see the field, and long-term he looks like a potentially better fit at linebacker than running back. Banks wasn’t going to see much playing time moving forward at running back this season and maybe even in the future because of his fumbling issues, and he’s shown on special teams that he can hit really hard and has good pursuit. I think it’s a good move, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do there.
Ben: Because he can’t hold on to the football. If he didn’t have a fumbling issue, I think Banks would be one of the top two running backs this season. He still may find himself back on the offensive side of the ball, but I like the move to linebacker. Banks is tough, physical, and wants to have an impact on this program as soon as possible. That’s why he asked Jeremy Pruitt if he could make the switch to defense during the fourth quarter of the Georgia game. Banks loves to hit anything and everything on the football field. I think this is a move everyone will look back on in a couple of years and talk about how great of a decision it was.
“Even with knowing the OL needs help in Pass Pro….when are we going to start using our TEs in the passing game? DWA (healthy) should be a match up nightmare for every team & occupy a possible blitzer from time to time yes?” – Robbie
Nathanael: That’s a good question. I’m not sure if it will really happen this year to be honest. The Vols have had such an issue blocking on pass plays when it’s just the five linemen and not an extra blocker or two. UT is almost always having to keep a running back or tight end/fullback in to block on pass plays. I think Dominick Wood-Anderson is a huge threat in the passing game, but unfortunately they haven’t been able to use him much. He’s also missed a few opportunities himself to make a bigger impact as a pass catcher.
Ben: It’s an interesting conversation to have because on one hand, Dominick Wood-Anderson needs to be more of a threat in the passing game, but the offensive line needs as much help as possible. For right now, I think helping the O-line is far more important, especially since you already have great options to target in the passing game with Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, Josh Palmer, and Ty Chandler. If Tennessee lacked threats at receiver, I would definitely be on board with using the tight ends more in the passing game.
“Could we possibly see an offensive line with multiple true freshmen in starting positions next season? Would it be smart to instantly throw guys you just recruited into the fire of the SEC?” – Murphy
Nathanael: You definitely could, yes. It will depend on who all UT can land in the 2019 recruiting class between now and then, but I definitely see Wanya Morris being a threat to start, and if they land Darnell Wright or EJ Ndoma-Ogar, then I could see either of them vying for playing time as true freshmen. And it would be smart if they prove to be the best players at their positions, yes. It’s not ideal to have to start even one freshman on the offensive line, but if they’re true upgrades over what you have at the position currently, then you have to play them.
Ben: Absolutely. I would be surprised if we didn’t see it. I’ve said for a couple of weeks now that I think five-star offensive tackle Darnell Wright ends up at Tennessee along with fellow five-star tackle Wanya Morris. If that does happen, I think you could see a starting offensive line from left-to-right of Morris, Trey Smith (assuming he can play after his health issues), Brandon Kennedy, Drew Richmond, and Wright. And if Richmond doesn’t watch out, he could lose his job to Wright. Anything can happen, though. There’s a long way to go until signing day, but I do think if Tennessee can land Wright, we’ll see at least two freshmen starting along the offensive line in 2019.
“How many rushing yards does the team average for the next games?” – @RC4389117
Nathanael: The last three weeks, the Vols have faced three defenses that are inside the top 40 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game. Over the next five games UT will play, they face three more defenses currently in the top 40 (Charlotte, Kentucky, Missouri). South Carolina and Vandy both are pretty bad at stopping the run, so there’s some hope for a reprieve there. But overall, I don’t expect the Vols to average over 100 yards rushing over their last five games. They’ve averaged around 50 over the last three weeks.
Ben: I’ll say they’ll average around 137.0 yards per game. In terms of rush defense, Kentucky and Missouri both rank inside the top 40. South Carolina is 89th nationally and Vanderbilt is 102nd. Charlotte ranks 6th in the country, but that’s against lesser competition. Tennessee will have an opportunity to run wild against the Gamecocks and Commodores, but they will likely be held in check against the Wildcats and Tigers. It’ll all come down to if the offensive line can open up lanes. The running backs haven’t been the problem in the running game this season.
“When do you think the player leadership will step up and say ‘ENOUGH’ to those who are not doing it right?” – Sam
Nathanael: I think you’ve seen it happen over the last week. Pruitt didn’t call out anyone by name, but you saw some of Tennessee’s players who spoke to the media take it to heart this week. Nigel Warrior and Ryan Johnson both this week discussed that topic, and I think if they’re mentioning it in the media, they’ve probably said something to their teammates too.
Ben: We’ve already seen it happen. It’s been building for a couple of weeks and you really saw it come to fruition with Pruitt and Nigel Warrior’s comments after the Alabama game. On both sides of the ball, leaders have begun to emerge. Warrior, Daniel Bituli, and Kyle Phillips being the big ones on defense and Jauan Jennings being the alpha on offense. There are more players stepping up and leading, but those are the obvious ones.
“Zach Kent, Jalen Johnson and Yves Pons. Can you go into some detail on their development, strengths/weaknesses, roles and expected minutes?” – @fan_gbo
Nathanael: I’ll try not to make this reply too long, but I think Pons makes a big impact on defense this year and plays a decent amount of minutes. He’s an athletic freak and can fly down the court. I think he’ll be a good defensive sub, and if he can continue to work on his jump shot, he’ll be useful on the offensive end too. Jalen Johnson intrigues me as an offensive player, and I think they’re going to try and use him as more of a lengthy and athletic guard. He has the size to play forward, but I think he will be a match-up nightmare at guard if he can play with some more consistency. I’m not sure how much Zach Kent will play this season with guys like Derrick Walker and John Fulkerson looking potentially more capable as bigger forwards, but Kent has a better shooting ability and overall offensive game than either of those two.
Ben: I think Jalen Johnson and Yves Pons have the potential to be big time players for Tennessee in the future, and they will be important pieces for this year’s team. But either one likely won’t receive the amount of playing time they deserve because they’re sitting behind Admiral Schofield at the three. Johnson and Pons are long, athletic, and can be difference-makers on defense.
For Pons, it’s been all about overcoming the language barrier. Now that he’s had a full year to adapt to living in America, going to an American school, and playing under Rick Barnes, I think we’ll see a much more comfortable player. Pons will produce flashy plays on offense and be a lockdown defender. I think he’ll be the best two-way player Tennessee has by the time he’s an upperclassman.
As for Johnson, he redshirted his freshman season so that he could put a little more weight on and develop as a defender. He has a nice offensive game, and we all know about the flashy dunks, but word on the street is that he’s really improved as a defender. He’s an important piece of the future of Tennessee basketball.
Zach Kent is just buried on the depth chart behind Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander, Derrick Walker, John Fulkerson, and maybe D.J. Burns. Kent has a pretty stroke, as he’s probably the best perimeter shooting big man Tennessee has. But I don’t expect him to have an impact this season unless he’s forced into action due to injuries.
“Vol basketball record this year?” – Jonathan
Nathanael: I’m going to predict they win 24 games this season in the regular season. That’s not a huge improvement over last year, but it’s a little bit. I just think the Vols’ schedule is really tough this year, and they’ll lose a few more games this year than some people expect. I don’t expect them to ever fall out of the top 15 this year, though.
Ben: Tennessee is going to go undefeated, win the SEC Tournament and then win the National Championship. Then the Vols are going to jump up to the NBA and sweep the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Seriously, I think they’ll win around 25 games. This team doesn’t have a glaring weakness and because of it, I think Tennessee finishes as one of the top two teams in the SEC and makes it to at least the Elite 8 if everyone stays healthy.