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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Who do you want to see as next OC? Go big or go home I say.” – @volsfootball
Nathanael: It’s all about fits. I think Pruitt/Tennessee needs to find the guy who fits the best and will do the best job with UT’s roster. That guy may not be the “big name” like Hugh Freeze, but it could be. I think it’s all about how the OC will fit in with the staff and how well he can get the most out of his players. With that being said, I think it’s important that Pruitt get someone who has play-calling experience at a Power Five level and has coached in the SEC. To me, Dan Enos, Chip Lindsey, and Hugh Freeze all fit that bill. So does Bryan McClendon.
Ben: I don’t believe it’s go big or go home, but I understand what you’re saying. This is a big hire for Jeremy Pruitt and he needs to nail down the right guy. For me, I’m looking for someone with experience calling plays and someone who works well with quarterbacks. I also believe it’s important for Pruitt to find someone he can jibe well with. It’s well known that Pruitt and Tyson Helton didn’t have the greatest relationship, and at times, it may have affected things.
“Do you think there is pressure on Pruitt to announce the new OC before the early signing period?” – @volsince87
Nathanael: In this instance, I don’t think he should, no. I think it would be a benefit to UT and their recruiting class if they had someone hired before the early signing period starts on December 19th, but I don’t think it’s a necessity. Typically, the offensive coordinator isn’t a huge recruiter. It might affect things with Tennessee’s quarterback recruiting, but I don’t anticipate it doing much there either.
Ben: No, if Pruitt wants Mike Locksley or Freddie Kitchens and believes one of them is the man for the job, he should absolutely wait. The offensive coordinator doesn’t recruit as much as we think and won’t be the reason a recruit signs, or doesn’t sign.
“Which coaches on CJPs staff performed well and which didn’t?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: I was most impressed with David Johnson, the Vols’ receivers coach. As a position coach, I also liked what Pruitt did with UT’s cornerbacks, specifically the freshmen. On the other side of this, though, I was disappointed in the production UT got from Tyson Helton and Will Friend. I think those two are pretty obvious why.
Ben: David Johnson is the one that impressed me the most. His receivers were fairly consistent this season and were clearly better than a year ago. Not only is he doing a phenomenal job on the field, but he’s been a big addition on the recruiting trail. The coach that didn’t perform as well as we thought was clearly Tyson Helton – which is why he is no longer here.
“How can Tennessee upgrade the offensive line?” – @TheRealMrSnow
Nathanael: Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. Maybe by getting another grad transfer to come in, but recruiting is the main way here. Another year in the strength and conditioning program will help those already on campus, too.
Ben: Recruiting. And Tennessee has upgraded the offensive line in this signing class. Wanya Morris is going to be a day-one starter and if Darnell Wright signs – which I expect him to do – that’s two day-one starters who have the ability to have a big impact early on. The Vols are also bringing in Melvin McBride, Chris Akproghene, and Jackson Lampley. All three have great potential.
“How much attrition will we see and will it be after the early signing day?” – Jimmy
Nathanael: I’ve said before I anticipate somewhere between 8-12 players either transferring or declaring early for the NFL Draft. Not all will transfer for the same reason, but I do expect some movement. And I think you’ll see the transfers and declarations for the NFL scattered about. I don’t know how many you’ll see before the early signing period.
Ben: With the recruiting class? It’s too early to tell, but there will be some attrition because Tennessee has recruited better in this class than it expected. In terms of players transferring? I think you’ll see a handful of players run off.
“By my calculation on 247Sports, Tennessee should end up with a 276.43 rating…..or good enough for #9 recruiting class (based on last years modeling) What are your projections for the final class?” – Clint
Nathanael: I fully expect Tennessee to get a top-10 class, and I think they could even finish slightly better than what you calculated, Clint. I’d say they could finish very close to a top-5 class, though not inside the top 5.
Ben: I think Tennessee will finish around No. 7 or No. 8. Most definitely a top 10 class. Like I said in my previous answer, this coaching staff is recruiting much better in year one than they anticipated. Pruitt has set himself up to have a big signing day that will turn heads.
“Why does the basketball team always collapse on the national stage?” – @patrick552
Nathanael: I would disagree that they “always” collapse on the national stage, but your point is taken when you look this year’s Kansas game and last year’s contests against Villanova and North Carolina along with their losses to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament and Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament. I think a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that these guys still aren’t used to being on that stage. None of these guys were big time recruits who played in nationally-televised all-star games, nor did they get the amount of attention that five-stars do. And last year was the first time in two or even three years that some of those players actually had some pressure on them to perform.
I wouldn’t worry about it too much, but I understand you asking the question. Kansas was just better than UT this season, and the Vols have to learn not to stray from their game plan when it’s obviously working. If they had played more consistently in that regard against the Jayhawks, they would’ve won. But they didn’t.
Ben: I don’t think they always do. Tennessee did beat Louisville last week – a Louisville team that upset No. 9 Michigan State on Tuesday. The Vols have also beat Kentucky three times in a row at home and made it to the SEC Tournament Championship game. Even last season, Tennessee beat Purdue, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Iowa State in the SEC/Big 12 challenge.
Now, the Kansas, Villanova, and North Carolina collapses support your theory. As does losing to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament and Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament. But outside of Loyola, those teams mentioned were simply better than Tennessee at the time they played. For the most part, Rick Barnes’ squad has handled their business against teams they should have.