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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Outside of The Dog, who are the players (if any) that play with that right amount of nasty, that edge, that swag? There has been a lack of this in recent years hence the dreadful state of the program.” – Robert
Nathanael: I agree, Robert, there’s been a definite lack of that. The first person that springs to mind for me is Trey Smith, but unfortunately he may or may not be playing this fall. I honestly think Guarantano has that kind of fight in him. He’s extremely competitive, and that’s been evident ever since his redshirt freshman year. On defense, I think we’re all going to see that from Savion Williams. I know he’s not on campus yet, but I think he definitely has that nasty edge to him. Alontae Taylor gets a mention, too.
Ben: You’re right, Robert. One of the reasons Tennessee has struggled so much over the last decade is because it’s lacked those players that have a nasty edge to them. Under Jeremy Pruitt, I expect the Vols to reach that point once again. He’s already brought in several. Alontae Taylor, Bryce Thompson, Jeremy Banks, Jahmir Johnson, and Quavaris Crouch are all those guys.
“Who’s your under the radar breakout player for the Vols this fall?” – @GSix1987
Nathanael: Roman Harrison. I’m not sure how under the radar he is to those who really pay attention, but the large majority of Vol fans will be surprised if he shows out. I honestly think he may have the highest upside aside from Quavaris Crouch of any of Tennessee’s defensive signees in the 2019 class. He’s a physical freak and is a bonafide winner. He doesn’t just look the part, but he plays exceptionally well too and always seemed to be the guy that made plays for his high school team. He’s a guy I’m very, very excited to watch this fall.
Ben: Tim Jordan. Everyone is aware of Jordan, obviously, but I believe he gets lost in the shuffle at running back. Ty Chandler is a starter, Jeremy Banks has a lot of potential if he can hold on to the football, and I believe Eric Gray will flash signs of potential this season. But Jordan is the forgotten one who I believe will take care of all the dirty work. The junior needs to work on eliminating unnecessary steps when toting the rock, and if he corrects that, I believe he’s very capable of being a key part to the offense.
“Going into year 2, what area does Coach Pruitt need to improve in most as a head coach?” – Brian
Nathanael: Giving up control, which I think he’s already doing just that. I think the hiring of Jim Chaney to run the offense and giving up play-calling duties to Derrick Ansley on defense show that he’s already learning to do that. Pruitt obviously still needs to be in control and shouldn’t be completely hands-off, but we all saw last year that he tried to do too much and control too much. I think letting his assistants do a little more on their own will be good for him, the players, and the team as a whole.
Ben: Exactly what Nathanael said. Pruitt has to allow his coaches to do their job – particularly on the offensive side of the ball. He clearly did not trust former offensive coordinator Tyson Helton last season, and as a result, Pruitt took over the play-calling in multiple games last season. The good news is that the second-year head coach now has people he can trust in Jim Chaney and Derrick Ansley. From everything that I’ve been told, Pruitt was excellent about allowing Chaney and Ansley to do their thing throughout the spring. That’s a great sign.
“Why does there seem to be no recruiting momentum? 28th ranked in country in 247 not going to get it done.” – Scott
Nathanael: I would hold off on worrying about recruiting. It’s early May. This time last year, I’m pretty sure the Vols had only 7 or 8 commits. Wanya Morris committed on May 1st, and that was the big commitment that started pulling more guys in. I would expect UT to start getting more commits starting this month and going into June and early July. Just because you’re not seeing public commits doesn’t mean work isn’t being done behind the scenes. Coaches are attending camps and traveling all over to visit recruits right now. In fact, Tennessee is hosting some key guys on campus this weekend.
Ben: There is plenty of momentum right now for some big recruits. Those recruits just aren’t planning on announcing soon. It’s May. We’re 10 months away from National Signing Day.
“Derrick Walker replacement?” – @coskramervol
Nathanael: I’m very interested to see what path UT goes down for this. My gut says they’ll go after a transfer to fill the spot he leaves behind, but 2019 power forward Olivier Robinson-Nkamhoua is one to keep an eye on in recruiting as well. The Vols are hosting him on an official visit, and they have a good shot at being able to sign him.
Ben: Hopefully a grad transfer. Tennessee needs experience and production. With great experience at the guard position in Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner, Rick Barnes needs to match that with an experienced player in the post. Especially if Grant Williams doesn’t return.
“With Derrick Walker leaving does that make you feel better about Jalen Cone coming to TN in 2019 or any other recruits in this upcoming class?” – @htcook1999
Nathanael: It does in the fact that it clears up a roster spot to welcome in Cone if he chooses to reclassify, but I honestly think Tennessee will look to replace Walker with someone who fills the role he leaves behind. I think UT will add another forward to replace him, and Cone is being looked at as a replacement option for Jordan Bone’s scholarship spot. I could be wrong on that, but that’s the read I have. I do feel pretty good about Tennessee’s chances with Cone, but NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech are not going to go down easy. Neither is Texas A&M.
Ben: No. I believe Derrick Walker was going to transfer regardless. I don’t view Walker transferring as ‘Tennessee making room for Cone.’ I view it as, ‘Derrick Walker wants to play basketball elsewhere.’
“In 5 years which coach do you think will, going forward and not counting previous accomplishments, have had the most success at UT: Pruitt, Harper, or Barnes? Just to elaborate, when I say don’t count previous accomplishments I mean don’t credit Barnes for his previous SEC championship and Sweet 16 appearance and don’t hold Pruitts 5-7 record from last year against him. I just want to look at who will do the best in the next 5 seasons.” – Jeffrey
Nathanael: Man, tough question. In the next five years, I definitely don’t think it’s Pruitt who has the most success. He still has a long way to go in his rebuild, and if you’re comparing the type of success I think he can have in the next 5 years to the type of success UT has historically had in football, I don’t think you can choose him. Harper is a complete wildcard in this. She has the capability, in my opinion, of getting the Lady Vols to a Final Four, but I hesitate to say her because I also think Rick Barnes can get the men’s team to the Final Four in the next five years, and that would be a much bigger accomplishment for him when you look at the history of the two programs. So I’m going to side with Barnes in this one.
Ben: Can I say Tony Vitello? I kid for the sake of this question, although it could legitmately end up being Vitello. I believe it will be Kellie Harper. Mainly because with the Lady Vols program, she has all the tools necessary to get the program back to one of the elite programs in women’s basketball. Not that Pruitt doesn’t, but it’s incredibly more difficult to have elite success in college football. I simply believe the path is easier for Harper. Plus, I am one that absolutely believes Pruitt takes the Alabama job once it opens. So, if Nick Saban does strangely retire within the next five years….
As for why I didn’t pick Rick Barnes, the Tennessee basketball program has only made it to the Elite Eight once. I don’t doubt Barnes or the program, I’m just in the camp of needing to see elite success happen in order to believe it. Similar to football, I believe Harper has an easier path to the Final Four.