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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“How many true freshman do you think will see significant playing time this season?” – @SPentious
Nathanael: That’s a very good question. I think of the true freshmen coming in, I can see probably up to 8 getting a good amount of playing time, but I’m going to go with 6 that get significant playing time this fall. Those six are Wanya Morris, Darnell Wright, Quavaris Crouch, Henry To’oto’o, Roman Harrison, and Jackson Lowe. I would throw Jaylen McCollough or Warren Burrell in there, but I think they have veterans ahead of them that will limit how much they get to see the field on defense this year. Those two might make a good impact on special teams, though. Keep in mind also that this doesn’t include JUCO players and potentially Aubrey Solomon and Deangelo Gibbs if they get eligible, either.
Ben: Literally everybody if possible. That may seem like a stupid or obvious answer, but it’s the truth. Tennessee may be set at positions in terms of having a competent starter, but the depth is nowhere it needs to be at any position. As a result, any newcomer has a golden opportunity to play right away. The names that are at the front of the line are the usuals: Wanya Morris, Quavaris Crouch, Darnell Wright, and Henry To’oto’o. Plenty of other guys such as Jaylen McCollough, Warren Burrell, Roman Harrison, and Jackson Lowe will have every opportunity to play meaningful snaps.
“How’d JJ Peterson do this past spring?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: That’s…tough to say. He wasn’t out there a ton once the pads got on, and he wasn’t on the field at all for the final week or so of practice. Felt like he was absent more than he was out there.
Ben: Not great. Based off what I’ve heard and some comments we’ve heard publicly, JJ Peterson has a long way to go in terms of adjusting to life as a college football player. It’s a job that requires an extreme amount of work. Not a job where you can pick and choose when you want to show up.
“How likely are we to get Agelu Nunu? He’s a beast! Ole boy is going to maul offensive lineman for breakfast.” – Clint
Nathanael: If you missed my write up of him on Wednesday, check it out. This is a kid who has incredible strength. He’s 17 and can already bench press 525 pounds. That sent a state of Florida record. The Vols are the first SEC school to offer him, and they’re only the second Power Five school to offer him. I imagine they’ll be right in the thick of things for him if UT decides he’s worth pursuing in this class once they get to see him camp and everything.
“Do you feel the assumption of a possible story by the media can give us a bad image? Ex: Barnes story on UCLA.” – Shane
Nathanael: I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re trying to ask here, but I felt the question was worth inclusion because it’s a very relevant topic. If you’re talking about what Seth Davis wrote about Barnes in that he incorrectly wrote that Barnes contacted UCLA first, then yes, that could give UT a bad image (even though it’s a false one). Even though that’s been disproven, it’s something that some people will either choose not to believe or will still bring up to trash Tennessee. That’s just the way the world is.
Ben: Absolutely. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. A reporter may report something in a story that simply isn’t true, and from that point on, the public uses it against whomever. It’s unfortunate, but I guess it is what it is.
“With Admiral and more than likely Grant and Jordan Bone gone, who do you look for to step up for the basketball team? – @streets_weeper
Nathanael: If all three of those players don’t return next season, I fully expect both Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden to be the leaders on next year’s team. I think Turner’s emotion will be to next year’s team what Admiral was to this past year’s squad, and Bowden could be more Grant Williams-like with his quiet but sometimes vocal leadership. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Josiah Jordan-James come in and immediately exert some leadership. He’s a high quality person as well as a high quality player.
Ben: Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden are the obvious answers. But if Grant Williams leaves, DJ Burns almost HAS to be productive as a redshirt freshman or else Tennessee’s play in the post will suffer. Honestly, everybody has to take a step forward if indeed the 2019-20 basketball team is without Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, Jordan Bone, and Kyle Alexander. That’s a whole lot of production Tennessee is losing. But at the end of the day in that scenario, I believe Bowden and Turner step up and lead the team to a successful season.
“Is Tony Vitello the best thing to ever happen to Tennessee Baseball? He’s proving to be a hell of a coach. I can’t remember the last time there was this much buzz around the baseball team.” – @htcook1999
Nathanael: I’d hold off on crowning him just yet. He’s only in the middle of his second season on campus and still has quite a ways to go in the rebuild of the baseball team. But the work that he and his staff have done this season has been very, very impressive. Vitello also doesn’t get all the credit; the best thing that ever happened to him was hiring pitching coach Frank Anderson. His hiring has drastically improved the pitching staff from last season. Last season, UT had a team ERA of 4.56. This year, their ERA is an incredible 2.68 as a team. Tennessee has pitched an NCAA-best nine shutouts this season, and they have a K/BB ratio of 3.44.
Ben: I love Vitello. He’s one of the best up-and-coming college baseball coaches in the country, and if he decides to stay at Tennessee when bigger programs come calling, he has the potential to do things that have never been done before in Knoxville on the diamond. But for now, we have to hold off on saying that he is. It’s just too early, but he definitely has the baseball program way ahead of schedule.
I’ll say this though: If Phillip Fulmer wants the baseball program to continue to develop and grow as it looks to compete with all of the other top-notch programs in the SEC, he better begin to open up the checkbook. It’s just a matter of time before Fulmer has to fight off another school.