Insider Mailing: Vols are Still No. 1 Edition

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    We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.

    “Who is the most important 2020 recruit (aside from Bailey) to get a commitment from early on in order to help bolster peer recruiting?” – Robbie

    Nathanael: I’m going to give you two names. The first one is five-star lineman Justin Rogers. He plays for Oak Park up in Michigan, and he’s a versatile lineman who can play either offensive guard or defensive tackle. He really likes the Vols, and landing him to go along with Bailey would be two huge cornerstones for the 2020 class. I’ll also say that four-star defensive end Tyler Baron could be the linchpin for UT’s in-state recruiting for this cycle. Baron is from the mid-state but is transferring to Knoxville Catholic. He knows a lot of the mid-state players that Tennessee is targeting, and Knoxville Catholic is full of players that UT’s coaches want to come to Tennessee. Getting him on board would be huge for the in-state 2020 class.

    Ben: I think Tyler Baron is the most important recruit for Tennessee in the upcoming class for one reason: He has a lot of friends throughout the state. Like Nathanael said, he just transferred to Knoxville Catholic from Ensworth in the mid-state. Aside from him being a talented prospect in his own right, he’s really good friends with Reggie Grimes, a five-star defensive end from Mt. Juliet. If Tennessee can pull in Baron, I think you’ll see a trickle-down effect of the Vols landing some big-time players.

    “How many D lineman does UT sign in 2020?” – @TripleOGJamie

    Nathanael: Very good question. I would assume they sign at least three, if not four defensive linemen in this cycle. I think they’ll try to nab a couple defensive ends, and it would behoove them to get at least one defensive tackle if not two.

    Ben: My man, Triple O. Hope you and yours are well.

    I think Tennessee takes four or five. The Vols need some big-time players on that side of the ball, and, as a result, the defensive line and offensive line will be recruited the hardest. Tennessee lacked an elite pass-rusher in the 2019 class but could sure make up for it if it landed the likes of Reggie Grimes and Tyler Baron amongst others.

    “How big of impact do you think Crouch and To’oto’o make as freshman? And has Peterson got in good shape yet?” – Stevie

    Nathanael: I think both have a big impact, honestly. Maybe not quite as much on defense as you might expect, but I think both will make a big difference on special teams for sure. Keep in mind that Crouch is still learning the position, and I’m interested to see if he or To’oto’o plays outside linebacker. If one of them moves to play more primarily at OLB, I think that player has a bigger impact in 2019. As for Peterson, there have been rumblings that he’s maybe not attacked the weight room with as much gusto as coaches may have wanted. We’ll see once spring practices start in March, though.

    Ben: Quavaris Crouch and Henry To’oto’o are in the same boat as Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris. They don’t have a choice but to play early, because if they’re not playing, who else is going to? Tennessee has some better options at linebacker than the O-line, but the depth still isn’t great. So even if Crouch or To’oto’o don’t start, they’ll still be in the two-deep. As talented as the duo are, they should have an early impact.

    As for J.J. Peterson, I’ve been told Tennessee has had a hard time motivating him and that he’s had a hard time adjusting to life in a college strength and conditioning program. While that isn’t encouraging news, there’s still plenty of time for Peterson to get things figured out. The Vols really need him to.

    “Lots of talk about how great this football staff is now but for someone not as informed, could you give the offensive and defensive staffs a grade and explain why?” – Jeremy

    Nathanael: I think it’s still too early to grade the staff because I’m not sure the movement is done with UT’s staff right now. But I’ll say this: Jim Chaney is a big get because he fits what Pruitt wants to do more on offense, and he’ll bring stability to UT’s offense that they haven’t had since he left in 2012. Tee Martin is an elite recruiter and a very good wide receivers coach, and I think Derrick Ansley is one of the better identifiers of talent out there. He’s also gotten better and better at on-field coaching.

    Ben: On paper it’s an A. Jim Chaney is as good of an offensive coordinator as you’re going to find, especially when you consider his philosophies match those of Jeremy Pruitt. As for Tee Martin, the former Vol is a tremendous coach and an even better recruiter. And as sad as it is to see a former Vol – Terry Fair – not work out, Derrick Ansley is an upgrade both in terms of coaching and recruiting.

    “Do you think there will be any more football assistant staffing changes? If so, who is likely to leave?” – Lewis

    Nathanael: I think there will, yes. I think there are two or three coaches who are the most likely to leave, but we’ll see what happens. I expect something to happen relatively soon if there are moves to be made.

    Ben: Yes I do. Particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

    “Will the offensive line recruits start this upcoming season?” – Sean

    Nathanael: I assume you’re talking just about Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris, and not Jackson Lampley, Melvin McBride, and Chris Akporoghene. Because in an ideal world, those last three would be able to use this year as a redshirt season. But as for Wright and Morris: I think there’s a good chance both start, but I think it’s almost guaranteed that at least one starts. From what I’ve heard, Marcus Tatum has shown some improvement this offseason, so he may fight really hard for one of the tackle spots. But I think at least one of the true freshmen begins the season as a starter.

    Ben: They don’t have a choice. Who else is going to start at tackle? The only way I don’t see Darnell Wright or Wanya Morris starting day one is if they get hurt during fall camp. Other than that, they’re already the most talented tackles on the roster. As for the other three incoming freshmen, I think in an ideal world, Tennessee would love to redshirt them, but who knows how they’ll perform when it comes time to put the pads on.

    “Who is your key Vol this weekend in Rupp? I think this game is a game that Bowden or Turner needs to shoot really well to beat the Cats.” – @GSix1987

    Nathanael: Can I say “all of them?” I’m assuming you won’t accept that as an answer, though. I like your answer of Bowden or Turner, though. I do think Kentucky has the bigs to bang around inside with Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander, and they have the athleticism and size to potentially neutralize Admiral Schofield. I’ll go ahead and say Jordan Bone, because I think his speed and mid-range game could be the difference on offense. I don’t think this is a game where he can get by with just 10 or 12 points. He may need to score upwards of 18 of 20 points or more.

    Ben: I think Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner must play well in order for Tennessee to beat Kentucky, but not necessarily on the offensive end. The duo have to have a big game on the defensive end guarding Tyler Herro, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, and Keldon Johnson. Throw Jordan Bone in there as well. If the trio of veteran guards for Tennessee have a big game defensively, I think Tennessee wins by eight or 10. If they allow Herro in particular to go off, the Vols will be in trouble.

    “Is duke #1?” – @pizzamon1

    Nathanael: Not according to the polls, no. But if you watched them play Louisville, then you saw them make a very strong case for that. Granted, I think more of that outcome had to do with the Cardinals collapsing, but give Coach K and Duke credit for switching to a zone defense and pressing Louisville and sparking that collapse.

    Ben: I do believe Duke has the most potential of anyone in the country, but Tennessee is playing the best TEAM basketball at the moment. Essentially, if Duke plays it’s “A” game, I think the Blue Devils beat anybody in the country. They just score in so many ways, and with the way Tennessee’s perimeter defense has performed lately, that’s a recipe for disaster. On the flip side of that though, the Vols’ offense is pretty dang good in their own right.

    “Did Air Pons fall on a helmet? Does that story remain to be told?” – @neylandmafia

    Nathanael: You’re just trying to cause trouble, Neyland Mafia.

    Ben: Why did Titans Bill give you access to the Internet, Neyland Mafia? I thought you were grounded.