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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“With the way the team played against South Carolina, does your prediction for the rest of the season change at all?” – Murphy
Nathanael: Not really, no. I predicted the Vols to lose a close one to South Carolina, and they actually played a little better overall than I thought they might. Not defensively, but they did offensively. I still think it’s possible they make a bowl game, but 5-7 looks more likely. I think if Kentucky loses to Georgia then faces the Vols, I think UT has a decent shot at winning against them.
Ben: No, because I didn’t think Tennessee would beat Missouri or South Carolina to begin with. Vanderbilt looks to be a tougher game than maybe we thought, but that’s because of the Commodores’ performance against Arkansas and the emergence of KeShawn Vaughn. Tennessee is plenty capable of beating Mizzou or Kentucky. The defense is going to have to step up, though, and the offense is going to have to continue to improve. Tennessee outplayed South Carolina, they just beat themselves.
“What big recruits to you think we close the class out with and how much does winning out help our chances?” – Josh
Nathanael: I think winning out would absolutely help UT’s cause, specifically with players who are committed to other schools they’re trying to flip. That would be guys like Eric Gray, Owen Pappoe, Justin Eboigbe, Charles Moore, etc., and it even applies to Quavaris Crouch as well. I won’t give an outright prediction of who they land, but I think guys like Darnell Wright and JaVonta Payton are definitely big Tennessee leans.
Ben: Winning out can do nothing but help Tennessee’s chances with its main targets on the recruiting trail, but I don’t believe it’ll swing a recruit’s decision. The coaching staff is selling playing time and the prospects are buying into it. They realize that this year isn’t indicative of what Jeremy Pruitt is going to do at Tennessee, so I don’t think they’re paying too much attention to wins or losses. I definitely think Tennessee lands Darnell Wright, and I would be surprised if he went elsewhere. Someone else that is really beginning to come into the fold is the No. 1 OLB in the country, Owen Pappoe, who is an Auburn commit. Tennessee’s chances of landing Pappoe have increased over the last couple of weeks.
“What position will Banks play long term?” – Nathan
Nathanael: I think he’ll be at linebacker long term. They appear to have moved him back to running back this week because UT got banged up at that position against South Carolina. Both Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan took some shots on Saturday, so it’s just a depth move right now. I think he’ll be back at linebacker once those guys heal up.
Ben: Like Nathanael, I think Jeremy Banks’ long term position is linebacker. The way the coaches and his teammates talk about Banks’ ability on defense, it seems like it would be silly for him to be on offense. I do believe the move back to running back is because guys are banged up at running back. Who knows, maybe Banks will play both running back and linebacker. That would be pretty cool.
“Will the Vols football get another SEC win this year?” – Brad
Nathanael: Yep. If it’s not Missouri or Kentucky, I think they can beat Vandy. Definitely not a given, but I think they’ll get that win at least.
Ben: Yes, Vanderbilt. But it won’t be an easy win. The Commodores have underperformed this season and are better than their record indicates. I just don’t like the match-up for Tennessee against Kentucky and Missouri. Benny Snell and the Wildcats should run all over the Vols, and I don’t trust Tennessee’s secondary going up against Drew Lock. Both games are winnable, though. Kentucky isn’t receiving great quarterback play and Lock has underperformed all season. Thanks to Derek Dooley, of course.
“Who has the better season, Grant or Admiral?” – Dewey
Nathanael: Tough question. I’m gonna go with Admiral, though. I think Schofield has immense potential and really only began tapping into it in the last month of last season. His work ethic is unmatched, and he has tremendous skill. Grant may be the reigning SEC Player of the Year and the preseason SEC Player of the Year, but I think Admiral will end up being the best player on this team if he stays healthy.
Ben: I actually think it’ll be Admiral because of how he impacts the game in so many ways. But since Nathanael went with the senior, I’ll make a case for why the reigning SEC Player of the Year will have the better season. Grant Williams terrorizes folks in the paints. Very few people have given Williams fits during his first two seasons on campus, and there’s a reason for that. Williams is a bully and just makes things happen. And wait until you see Williams; he’s slimmed down quite a bit. He no longer has the baby fat and looks to be built of pure muscle.
Yesterday, I asked a former prominent Baller Vol who he thought the best player on the team was. He responded, “Grant Williams.” And he didn’t hesitate.
“Who on the basketball team do you expect to take this biggest step forward from last season?” – Cody
Nathanael: There are a lot of candidates for this because I expect several of UT’s bench players to step up this season. But I think my choice will be Yves Pons. I really think he’s going to be a defensive force when he’s on the floor, and he has some freak athleticism I think will really help out on offense as well.
Ben: I hate to do this, but I’ll give you three names. Yves Pons, Jalen Johnson, and John Fulkerson. Nobody on that basketball team is in the gym more than Pons. That’s really saying something, too, because Rick Barnes has a roster full of gym rats. The language barrier is gone for Pons, and he feels more comfortable within the program and scheme. I expect a big year out of the France native, as I do Johnson, for similar reasons. The pair would have played more last season had they not been stuck behind Admiral Schofield. Johnson redshirted his freshman season, as Barnes wanted him to transform his body and focus on becoming a really good defender. I expect him to be a solid defensive option due to his length, and on offense, he has a pretty shot and can put anybody in the country on a poster.
As for Fulkerson, a lot of people jumped off the Fulky bandwagon last season. But I maintained throughout the season that he was rusty and still working his way back. After all, he was in a cast or sling for 10 straight months and couldn’t really do anything. I expect for the rust to be gone and Fulkerson to be one of the first guys off the bench.
“What are your best and worst case predictions for the basketball team’s record this season? Will a young Lady Vols team be able to make some noise with all the new talent in spite of their youth?” – Corey
Nathanael: Best-case, for me, is a Final Four appearance. Would be the first in school history, and I think that would be a pretty great season. Worst-case is getting bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I don’t see them missing the NCAAT unless they sustain multiple injuries, and I just don’t see that happening. And I’m not expecting a lot from the Lady Vols this year to be honest. Maybe I’m just more down on them than I should be, but I don’t have a great feeling about them this season.
Ben: Best-case, I think Tennessee can win a National Championship. I truly do. The Vols have all the pieces in my opinion to make a run at a title, and who knows what may happen if the ball bounces their way a couple of times. Worst-case, injuries destroy the team and they don’t make the tournament. If this team stays healthy, though, I think there is no way they miss the tournament.
I have a bad feeling about the Lady Vols. Though talented, they don’t have a lot of proven play-makers or depth. They brought in Lou Brown, a grad-transfer from Washington State, and she tore her ACL the first week of practice. Preseason All-SEC first team forward Rennia Davis returns alongside the former No. 1 point guard in the country, Evina Westbrook, but that’s about it as far as proven play-makers.
Warlick signed four five-stars in the 2018 recruiting class, which ranked No. 4 in the country. Tennessee desperately needs the freshmen to not only play early, but be key players. If not, it could be a really rough season.
“Y’all got a favorite Halloween candy?” – James
Nathanael: Take 5 and Reese’s are my go to candies. But you can’t go wrong with Twix, Snickers, and Butterfingers. If you can’t tell, I have a huge sweet tooth. Halloween and Easter are great if for no other reason than the candy, in my opinion.
Ben: My favorite candy is Twix, Kit-Kats, Reese’s, and Life Savers. Can’t go wrong with anything, though.