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Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“What’s going on with football recruiting? I see Vols have dropped well down in the rankings for 2020.” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: It’s June. Seriously, that’s mostly it. A lot of the Vols’ main targets in the 2020 class aren’t announcing either till later this month, July, or August. Many others are waiting till their senior seasons are over to announce. Now, the Vols have certainly missed on some players right now, too, but I’m just not worrying about recruiting like some are. This staff has proven both at UT and other stops that they can recruit. That’s the one thing I worry the least about with them.
Ben: Tennessee is “down” in the recruiting rankings because it’s June and UT’s most coveted recruits – with the exception of a couple of guys – aren’t committing until the end of the summer, December, or National Signing Day. When the top in-state players such as Tyler Baron or Cooper Mays commit elsewhere, that’s when I would begin to worry.
Tennessee could also really help itself out by having a successful football season. Have to win a game or two it isn’t supposed to.
“Opinion on who commits next? I’ll hang up and listen.” – Stevie
Nathanael: Well, it could be elite four-star QB Haynes King. If he ends up choosing UT, I think he’s the Vols’ next commit. There are a few others at camps and stuff who could, but he’s the big name.
Ben: Haynes King is the name with all the buzz, but it’s unclear when he’s planning on announcing. And as Nathanael was getting at, with camp season underway, Tennessee will pick up a kid or two after falling in love with them during camp and offering them. A Roman Harrison type of player.
“Will it be hard to hang on to Harrison Bailey if the kid from Texas commits?” – Scott
Nathanael: I don’t think so, no. Tennessee has been up front with Bailey about the possibility of them bringing in two quarterbacks in the 2020 class, and Bailey also isn’t one to shy away from competition. I think the Vols hold on to him even if Haynes King commits.
Ben: No. From what I’ve been told, Harrison Bailey was told going into the process that Tennessee wanted two quarterbacks in this class. And on the flip side, Haynes King was made well aware of Bailey entering the recruiting process. Both have embraced competition.
“Is Tennessee’s secondary top 3 in the SEC?” – Bradley
Nathanael: Without doing a lot of research into it, my gut says no. I think Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson are very, very good, but they’re both also just sophomores and have a lot left to learn. Nigel Warrior should be a mid-to-late round NFL Draft pick, but there are probably five or six safeties in the SEC alone who are better than him. Trevon Flowers flashed as a true freshman, but not enough for me to put a ton of weight on that. I’d say UT’s secondary is top half of the SEC, but I wouldn’t put them in the top three.
Ben: No. Tennessee’s starters are good, but from top-to-bottom, the Vols aren’t touching Alabama, LSU, or Florida. There’s a reason that trio of schools go back-and-forth as to who is DBU. I would also throw South Carolina into the boat. Will Muschamp has some big time defensive backs.
As far as the Vols are concerned, Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson are one of the better corner duos in the country. They’ll play in the NFL for a long time. Even the safety duo of Trevon Flowers and Nigel Warrior is one of the better ones. But Tennessee doesn’t have the depth to be in the top three of any position at the moment.
“Status of solomon and Gibbs?” – Casey
Nathanael: Your guess is as good as mine. Seriously, though, still no new updates there. Probably won’t know till late June or sometime in July at this rate.
Ben: Same as it has been the past couple of months. Tennessee has submitted the proper paperwork and now its just wait-and-see mode.
“The Vols have lost a lot of good players to graduation and the NBA draft, but they have also brought in some talented new players. All things considered do you view the Vols as an NCAA tournament team next year? If so what seed do you think they’ll get?” – Jeffrey
Nathanael: I do view them as one, yes. We’ll have to see if Uros Plavsic gets eligible and how much growth players like John Fulkerson, Jalen Johnson, and Yves Pons can make, but I do think that UT still makes the NCAA Tournament in 2020. I’d put their over/under for wins in the regular season right around 19.5. I’d take the over, but only slightly. Given how difficult Tennessee’s schedule looks and how much better the SEC is overall, the Vols’ NET ranking should be pretty high and make them appealing even if their record isn’t as good as other team’s.
As for what seed? I would be shocked if it were higher than a 4 or 5. I’m going to go with a 6 or 7 seed in a favorable region.
Ben: I do. In football, the team goes as both lines of scrimmage go. In basketball, having veteran guards is the crucial aspect a team needs, and Tennessee has exactly that in Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner. Those two are crucial to the Vols’ success next season, and I believe they’ll deliver. Sprinkle in a very talented freshman in Josiah James, and that’s a really good backcourt.
The frontcourt has many more questions following the departure of Kyle Alexander, Derrick Walker, and Grant Williams. Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut fill-in. John Fulkerson is a really good role player, but is he capable of being a productive starter? The Vols need Uros Plavsic to be eligible.
Tennessee has a lot of puzzle pieces, but it needs to all come together. If they do, I absolutely believe the Vols make the tournament.
“Will Plavsic be eligible in 2019?” – @dkcraw1
Nathanael: Tennessee seems to feel very good about him getting eligible for the 2019-20 season, so I’m going to say “yes” on this. I have no clue when UT will hear back from the NCAA on it, but I think there’s a better than 50/50 chance that Uros Plavsic will be eligible to play for the Vols this upcoming season.
Ben: As I just mentioned, Tennessee needs him to be. Whether he is or not remains unclear, but the Vols feel good about their case. Plavsic followed assistant Drazen Zlovaric to Arizona State, who was not retained last season. Both are from Serbia, so Tennessee’s case is tied to Zlovaric.
“Dwight Schrute or Ron Swanson IF: the Vols had an inside LB spot open up.” – @neylandmafia
Nathanael: Man, tough (and weird) question. I’m going with Ron, though. I know Dwight is tougher than you’d think and is also slightly insane, but he always seems to overvalue his own abilities. Ron knows what he’s good at, and he’s bigger overall than Dwight. He’s also very confident, smart, and reliable (as long as you don’t ask him any personal questions). Give me Ron Swanson as an inside linebacker.
Ben: Dwight. He simply gets the job done no matter the conditions. And he would despise every single opponent Tennessee plays. Could you ask for anything more?