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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“I get the allure of a UCLA as a historic program, but is there any way to not consider us as a very expensive 2nd choice and nothing else?” – Michael
Nathanael: There absolutely is. I get that some people interpreted what Barnes said on Tuesday as the Vols were his second choice only after UCLA didn’t pay the buyout. That’s not how I saw it and not how I see it still. To me, he viewed them not being able to pay the buyout as a sign for him to stay at UT. I think he truly saw UT and UCLA as options 1a and 1b. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I saw it. Barnes loves Knoxville and UT. If UT was really his second choice, he would’ve taken the loss in his bank account to go to UCLA, in my opinion.
Ben: I guess you could consider Tennessee Rick Barnes’ second choice because he admitted to the fact that had UCLA been willing to pay his buyout, he would no longer be in Knoxville. But Barnes truly does love being the head coach at Tennessee and being a part of the community in East Tennessee. UCLA just happened to be a dream job. We all have a dream job, and we shouldn’t fault someone in a different profession for considering theirs.
“Do you think (your opinions) that Rick Barnes lost a lot of fan support due to his comments?” – @Chris1971McGee
Nathanael: No. At least he shouldn’t have. I think he maybe lost some fan support by some people who just wanted to be angry and misconstrued what he said, but I don’t think he lost a lot of support. If he wins, people will gladly forget what he said anyway.
Ben: I wouldn’t say ‘a lot,’ but he definitely lost a couple of fans here and there. Those folks are viewing things through the lens of a Tennessee fan rather than the lens of a real-word scenario that everyone would consider.
“Gut feeling on Bone and Grant returning?” – @BluffCity_Vol
Nathanael: Honestly, I’m beginning to feel like both will be gone. I was thinking Williams might return, but now that he’s starting to get more predictions as a potential top-20 pick, I think he’s be crazy to come back. We’re, of course, still a long ways off from either of them having to make a final decision. But I’m starting to think UT will be without both of them next season.
Ben: I think Jordan Bone returns. I think Grant Williams leaves.
Bone hasn’t been listed on any of the main draft boards OR mock drafts. I believe that is very telling of how NBA people view him at the moment. Nothing against Bone — he’s going to have a professional career — but for whatever reason, people aren’t in love with him. Bone would benefit from returning for his senior year in order to prove he can knock down shots from the perimeter on a consistent basis.
As for Williams, it looks like at minimum he’s going to be drafted in the mid-20’s. I don’t believe his stock would change all that much if he would return for his senior year. Williams should take advantage of a weak draft class and go cash in on the big pay day he’s set to receive.
“Who was the biggest surprise in the O&W game?” – @BigOrangePruitt
Nathanael: I think it’s a toss up between Shanon Reid and Jaylen McCollough for me. I’m going to side with Reid, though, because McCollough at least had some hype around him coming in and was a highly-rated prospect. Reid looked very much like a transfer option after the end of last season. But he put in a lot of work during the offseason and turned in a very strong spring overall. He led the team in tackles on the spring game and was very effective in stopping the run.
Ben: I’d say the offensive line and defensive line.
The defensive line looked much better than I anticipated them to, mainly because they hadn’t had the strongest spring to that point. Matthew Butler was impressive, and as a group, they got the better of an offensive line I thought would look better than they did. The good news for Tennessee is that it had three starters – Trey Smith, Darnell Wright, and Brandon Kennedy – not dressed out or on the roster yet.
“Any update on DeAngelo Gibbs and Aubrey Solomon’s waivers?” – Jeremy
Nathanael: Nope. This question is quickly becoming this year’s version of “Any update on JJ Peterson?” from last offseason. Trust me, you’ll know when there’s an update. It’ll be all over social media and on every site that covers UT football.
“Other than Darnell Wright, which of the incoming players this summer do you think will have the biggest impact?”- @streets_weeper
Nathanael: I’m going with Savion Williams. I really think he starts on the defensive line for the Vols this season. I think the second-most likely (besides Wright) is linebacker Henry To’oto’o.
Ben: I agree with Nathanael on this one. Tennessee’s defensive line desperately needs Savion Williams to be able to play from day one, and I think he will. Williams appears to be ready from a physical standpoint, and as a result, he’ll see plenty of snaps.
“Which incoming players seem to be headed for a redshirt?” – @vo_ldemort
Nathanael: I think Melvin McBride and Elijah Simmons both could use a redshirt season as incoming freshmen. Tennessee can also afford to go ahead and redshirt Jerrod Means as well.
Ben: I would say Jackson Lampley is the one that stands out the most. There was talk at one point during his recruitment that he may grey-shirt, and I believe that is telling. As Nathanael said, I believe Means will redshirt as he follows the same path as Cedric Tillman.
“Tyler Baron, Cooper Mays, and Justin Rogers seem like very heavy TN leans as of late. How long before we get some commitments from them so they can start recruiting for us?” – Christian
Nathanael: I would agree with you that all three are probably Tennessee leans right now, but I’m honestly not sure when to expect any of them to announce a decision. I’ve been thinking for a while that any of those three could announce a commitment sometime in May, but I’m not so sure now. It seems like a lot of the prospects the Vols are in on right now aren’t in a huge rush to commit.
Ben: I haven’t heard much about Tyler Baron of late, but Tennessee is still sitting pretty with him. As is the case with Cooper Mays and Justin Rogers. The Vols have made it known to Mays and Rogers just how important of a piece they are, and it should pay off in the long-run. I don’t know when Mays plans to make a decision, but Rogers could potentially commit any day. Rogers has been to Knoxville several times and loves the family feel. The fact that Tennessee is really the only school recruiting him as a defensive tackle really stands out to him.