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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 are the odds of the Vols landing Kerry Blackshear, and if they did get him how would that change your expectations for the Vols next season?” – Jeffrey
Nathanael: First off, I want to say that anyone claiming they know with any sort of certainty what Blackshear is going to do is full of it and is just trying to pander to certain fanbases. Unless you hear it from Blackshear himself or someone in his inner circle, nobody really has any idea where he’s leaning right now.
With that said, my best guess is that UT has a very good shot, but I still think he ultimately picks Florida. If the Vols do land Blackshear, though, that changes things quite a bit. He doesn’t replace Grant Williams on the roster, but he’s as close to a replacement as you’ll be able to find, in my opinion. Adding him makes Tennessee a top-20 preseason team and gives them the kind of roster that should compete for the SEC regular season and tournament title once again.
Ben: Tennessee has a solid chance at landing Blackshear, a better chance than people thought initially. But with how many schools he is considering, it appears to be a mystery. Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech are all in the mix, and according to reports, he’s now planning on taking a visit to Memphis and considering taking one to Texas A&M. Even Gonzaga could get into the mix.
I would put the Vols’ chances at 50/50, which is better chances than I ever thought Tennessee would have for Blackshear.
“If Tennessee lands Kerry Blackshear, who do you think will transfer out?” – Luke
Nathanael: I don’t want to speculate too much because I don’t want to try and guess on anyone’s future, but there have been two names consistently brought up as options by various media members here in Knoxville, and those are Zach Kent and DJ Burns.
Ben: Pure speculation for the sake of the question, but I would guess Jalen Johnson, Zach Kent, or DJ Burns.
“Any more transfers (in or out) FB, MBB or WBB?” – Andrew
Nathanael: I fully expect for there to be more movement for the men’s basketball team. Whether that’s bringing in Blackshear and someone else transferring or it’s adding 2019 power forward Josaphat Bilau and someone having to transfer off, there’s a very good chance there’s still more movement to be made on the men’s side. For the Lady Vols, I think they still have a roster spot available, so there may still be a move made there. In football, I think there needs to be a move made, but I’m not sure what will happen. In my opinion, the Vols would be well-suited to go add a transfer offensive or defensive lineman if possible.
Ben: I don’t believe anyone will transfer off of the football team or the Lady Vols, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Both coaches are still new to the job and with that comes attrition. It’s only natural.
I do believe someone is transferring from the men’s team. With the addition of Victor Bailey Jr. –the Oregon transfer — Tennessee’s roster is maxed out at 13 scholarships. But for some reason, Rick Barnes is hosing a grad transfer and offering a scholarship to 2019 forward Josaphat Bilau. If the roster was set in stone, why would Barnes be sending out an offer and hosting a grad transfer? I believe the answer is that someone has decided to transfer and it just hasn’t been announced yet.
“With UT having lost so many O-linemen over the past year, how thin is the O-line depth now?” – @SirPentious
Nathanael: Not as thin as last season, but it’s still fairly thin. With the addition of the rest of the 2019 signees (minus Melvin McBride now), UT has 14 scholarship offensive linemen, and that’s counting Trey Smith. Of those 14 linemen, six are first or second-year players, and two of those first-year players are likely going to be starting for Tennessee this fall. Numbers wise, that’s not too bad, but when you look at the quality of those players, that’s where you start to worry a little bit.
Ben: It’s not thin in the sense of simply having bodies, but it’s still extremely thin in terms of talent. A good SEC offensive line usually has 8-10 capable O-linemen that can play at a moment’s notice. That’s not the case with Tennessee’s O-line at the moment. It’s on the road to getting there, but Jeremy Pruitt has to have a second consecutive strong offensive line haul.
“Do you feel like some fans aren’t giving BYU enough respect? I believe yes, we will win, but, I also believe it will be closer than people think it will be.” – @GSix1987
Nathanael: I do believe this, yes. I think Tennessee should still win, especially since the game is in Neyland Stadium. But BYU is better than a lot of Vol fans seem to think. They have plenty of question marks, specifically at QB thanks to some injury issues and youth, but they’re a team that showed a lot of improvement last season after a 4-9 campaign in 2017. They went 7-6 last season and beat teams like Wisconsin and Arizona, and they were competitive with Utah and Boise State, losing by one possession to both schools.
Ben: Yes. Tennessee isn’t good enough yet to where it can overlook any Division 1 opponents. BYU went 7-6 last season, but they return a good quarterback in Zach Wilson who could cause problems for a defensive line that lacks experience. In the final seven games with Wilson as the starter, BYU’s offense scored 11.3 more points per game, rushed for 77.4 more yards, totaled 109.4 more yards, and scored 1.8 touchdowns more than in the first six games.
And when you look at the state of the offensive line, every team on the schedule other than Georgia State and UTC should not be taken lightly. Yes, even UAB.
“Which unheralded players from the ’17 class do you think has a chance to finally emerge this year?” – @hitr94
Nathanael: Well, there are a lot of options. Aside from Trey Smith, Ty Chandler, and Josh Palmer, most of UT’s 2017 signing class hasn’t lived up to expectations. But looking at that class now, there are several players who will need to step up in the 2019 season in order for UT to achieve their goals. The one I’m going to pick is Shanon Reid. He had a very good spring and looks in line to be featured in the linebacker rotation. I think he qualifies as “unheralded” considering he was the No. 604 overall player on the 247Sports Composite rankings (though I believe he was rated as high as a four-star by the regular 247Sports rankings).
If he doesn’t count, then I pick offensive lineman K’Rojhn Calbert. Injuries have kept him from contributing, but he looks healthy and ready to be part of the two-deep along the O-line. I like his frame and motor a lot from what I saw this spring.
Ben: Will Ignont. Yes, he was a four-star, but you rarely see a four-star ranked outside of the top-300. With Darrin Kirkland Jr. retiring from football due to injury, it’s the perfect time for the junior to take that next step. Ignont battled a shoulder injury last fall, but that’s cleaned up now. He’s 100 percent, and he looked good in the spring. Everybody is talking about Daniel Bituli, Henry To’oto’o, and Quavaris Crouch at linebacker, but Ignont is strong, quick, and should be one of the better player’s on Tennessee’s defense this season.