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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Whats more likely to happen: We land both Tate Ratledge and Justin Rogers, or just 1, or miss on both?’ – @streets_weeper
Nathanael: I’m gonna say that Tennessee misses on both. I would be surprised if they land either one of them right now. Doesn’t mean UT is out of it forever, though. December and February are a long ways away.
Ben: Miss on both. The relationship between Tate Ratledge and Georgia was always going to be hard for Tennessee to overcome. With Justin Rogers, that kid loves the recruiting process.
“Should we be concerned about how many lineman Tennessee has lost to medical retirement/transfer this year?” – Evan
Nathanael: I wouldn’t be, no. So far, all the players who have had to medically retire are Butch Jones guys and suffered their injuries under the previous staff. The exception to that is Tanner Antonutti, but everyone else had these issues before Jeremy Pruitt and his staff took over. As for the transfers, those are positives from what I can see. We’ve not seen the type of concerning transfers we saw under Butch Jones. There hasn’t been a mass exodus of players who look like they were going to be big contributors. With the exception of Drew Richmond, none of the players who have transferred this offseason so far looked to be in line for big roles in 2019.
Ben: No, because they aren’t Jeremy Pruitt recruits. Since those players have committed or signed with Butch Jones, a healthy portion of the medical staff has been overhauled, and there is an entirely new strength and conditioning program. Theoretically, all of the medical retirement situations should be a thing of the past now that they aren’t under bad care.
“What are the chances that Aubrey Solomon and Deangelo Gibbs have in becoming eligible to play in 2019? Also, the chances Trey Smith will cleared to play, and the impact the 3 players would have on the upcoming season?” – Matt
Nathanael: I honestly have no idea about Solomon and Gibbs. Just when we thought we had the NCAA figured out when it came to granting immediate eligibility waivers, they went and started denying ones that looked like no-brainers. So honestly, I can’t even begin to answer that one. As for Trey Smith, rumblings are now suggesting he could be ready to play this fall after all. I’m surprised by that, but it’s a good surprise for sure. If he’s healthy and is still in football shape, he’ll be a starter for sure for UT. Solomon will be a starter on the defensive line if eligible, but Gibbs is a big question mark. It remains to be seen if he’ll transition to wide receiver or play defensive back at UT.
Ben: I don’t have a good feeling because I don’t trust the NCAA. And I don’t think Tennessee has a great feel for what may or may not happen. If Aubrey Solomon or Deangelo Gibbs are eligible, it would be a tremendous boost to the starting lineup – especially Solomon. Both would be two of the more productive players on the defensive side of the ball.
As for Trey Smith, it seems as if he is doing everything in his power to play this season. Which makes me feel very uncomfortable, because I don’t want anything traumatic to happen. But hey, nobody knows Smith’s body more than him. If he can play this year, obviously he would have a huge impact. He’s the best offensive lineman Tennessee has and is capable of being a first-round draft pick.
“How screwed is Florida?” – @SPentious
Nathanael: In terms of the NCAA coming in and punishing them, probably not very. In terms of questioning Dan Mullen and losing talent off the roster, I’d say moderately. They’ve taken a few big blows to their roster recently with all the mess going on down there.
Ben: I don’t believe they’re screwed. The Chris Steele situation is ugly, but I don’t think it’s a situation that will prevent Dan Mullen from being successful. Don’t get me wrong, Steele requesting a new roommate and not being granted that wish immediately is a bad look. It may affect a recruit here or there, but at the end of the day, it’s still Florida.
The bigger story should be that Mullen allowed somebody like Jalen Jones to step foot on Florida’s campus.
“Chris Steele to UT?” – Andrew
Nathanael: I would be shocked if the now former Gator decided to transfer to Tennessee.
Ben: No. Word on the street is that in addition to Florida not fulfilling Steele’s wishes of a new roommate, he was also homesick just a tad. I believe the California native will end up back on the west coast.
“How big of a role will DJ burns have to play next year if Grant Williams is gone and Derrick Walker transferring? We’ve never seen him in action, so what are his strength and weaknesses for the former 4 star?” – @itscoleworld7
Nathanael: It honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see DJ Burns as a starter next season. He’s all of 6-foot-9 and may even be pushing 6-foot-10, and I imagine he’s down to somewhere closer to 260 or 255 pounds at this point, too. He needed a redshirt year to work on his conditioning and slim down more than anything. He has the skill set both on offense and defense to be an immediate contributor, and I expect he’ll be a solid piece of the roster next year even if Grant Williams does decide to return. Burns plays old school, back-to-the-basket basketball on offense, and he’s a bully in the paint on defense. I don’t expect him to set the world on fire as a redshirt freshman, but he should be a positive when he’s on the floor.
Ben: I would pump the brakes on DJ Burns. For now. He’s naturally gifted and very skilled, but I don’t believe Burns is where the coaches would like him to be in terms of his conditioning level. That’s not to say that Burns hasn’t made improvements, because he absolutely has. But there’s still a lot of room to grow in that department.
Burns will be a really good player for Tennessee at some point, but unless he has a tremendous offseason, I don’t know that it will be during his redshirt freshman season. One thing is for sure though; Tennessee needs him to be ready to go.