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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.
“Where does Blackshear end up in your opinion? Tennessee, Kentucky, or A&M?” – Luke
Nathanael: As of right now, I’m going to go ahead and go on record and say he ends up with the Vols. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he chooses Kentucky, but I think it’s down to those two. Texas A&M has an outside shot, but I doubt he goes there. He could return to Virginia Tech, but I think their inexperienced backcourt makes that less likely. It doesn’t look like Florida or Arkansas are viable players now either, and I don’t think Memphis or Michigan are really going to affect things. So my prediction is Tennessee right this moment.
Ben: Either Tennessee or Kentucky, as Gene Henley of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported. Texas A&M is likely a courtesy visit for his former head coach at Virginia Tech – Buzz Williams. Plus, at Tennessee and Kentucky, Kerry Blackshear Jr. can win big in his final year of college basketball. With the Aggies, that likely won’t happen, and according to reports, it’s an aspect of his recruitment that is very important to him.
Blackshear and his camp simply aren’t talking, but Tennessee appears to have as good of a shot as anybody. The Vols knocked his visit out of the ballpark last weekend and gave him something to really think about. Being paired with the veteran duo of Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden is very appealing, as is spending a year with strength coach Garrett Medenwald in the weight room.
“Which player do think would leave if blackshear comes?” – Mark
Nathanael: We’ll have to wait and see. Like I’ve said before, I don’t like speculating on these types of things, but there have been names thrown out there already, so I’ll repeat them: DJ Burns and Zach Kent are the two names that have been mentioned by others. But that’s all I’m going to say.
Ben: A player on the roster. (I don’t like to speculate on players transferring)
“Who won the trade: Utah or Memphis?” – @Tbull22
Ben: Both teams got what they wanted. Utah wanted someone to pair with Donavon Mitchell to help take the weight off of the young superstar. And with the injuries at Golden State, the Western Conference is wide open. Utah wanted to add another big time piece to pair with Rudy Gobert and Mitchell in hopes of making a run at a title and it got its man in Mike Conley.
As for Memphis, it got what it wanted as well. The Grizzlies wanted a first round pick and a young player who could blossom into a potential starter. Memphis got back Grayson Allen, who could become a consistent sharp-shooter, and not only the 23rd pick in the draft, but an additional future first round pick. Throw in Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver, and Memphis walks away with a bigger haul than most anticipated.
Both teams received what they set out to receive. Right now, the Jazz and Grizzlies both won the trade. We won’t know who truly won the trade until two to three years down the road. If Utah wins a championship, it was absolutely worth it.
“Considering Barnes and Vitello got raises for early tournament exits, how much is Pruitt worth if he gets the Vols to a bowl?” – @SCompton72
Nathanael: I see what you’re trying to do here, Scott. I sense that shade at Barnes and Vitello and also at UT. I’m not falling for it.
But to actually answer your question about Pruitt: I think it depends on what Tennessee’s record is prior to that bowl game. If UT goes 6-6 and gets to a bowl, I don’t think Pruitt gets any sort of extension or raise. If the Vols go 7-5, then it might depend on who they beat and how they look in those losses. But if the Vols go 8-4 this season, I could definitely see the argument for giving a raise and maybe a year extension to Pruitt.
Ben: I feel as if shade is being thrown at Rick Barnes and Tony Vitello here, but I don’t believe we’ll see a huge extension/raise for Jeremy Pruitt if he simply gets Tennessee to a bowl game this season.
The headline for Barnes and Vitello read that they receive an extension and more money. But for both programs, it was more about increased money for assistants. And for the baseball program, increasing the recruiting budget and promising continued renovations to Lindsey Nelson Stadium were also included. What more does Pruitt need? He has the facelifts, the recruiting budget, and all the money needed to bring in top recruits.
I’m not saying Pruitt doesn’t deserve more money or a year or two added on to his contract if he has success this year, but it is absolutely a different situation than what Vitello and Barnes went through. For them, it was about improving the resources of the basketball and baseball program. Pruitt already has all of the resources necessary to be successful.
“What are the odds we see Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris in the starting lineup game 1, and if we do what position makes sense for them in our current OL rotation?” – @vo_ldemort
Nathanael: I’d say those odds are pretty high, but don’t count out Marcus Tatum getting a starting spot. But if both Wright and Morris transition as well as most expect, then they’ll be starting Week 1. If not, then I expect at least one will and the other will be in the rotation heavily and will probably start by November.
As for where they’d end up, I’d say both start off at tackle, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see Morris end up at guard at some point in his career. Brandon Kennedy will be the starting center if he stays healthy, and you have Jahmir Johnson probably starting at one of the guard spots. Trey Smith’s health is the biggest X-factor in all this. If he’s healthy, he probably stays at guard, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him go to tackle again.
Ben: I’d say there’s a 93 percent chance Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris are the starting tackles when Tennessee kicks its season off against Georgia State. Mainly because there’s nobody else to push the freshman duo at tackle. Wright and Morris have to play. As of today, I see the starting offensive line being Morris at left tackle, Trey Smith at left guard, Brandon Kennedy at center, Jahmir Johnson at right guard, and Wright at right tackle. (Right guard is the spot I don’t feel as confident penciling in. Ryan Johnson and K’Rojhn Calbert could also start.)
One of the storylines I’m most intrigued by when it comes to fall camp beginning in early August is just how ready Wright and Morris are from day one. Because they were both elite recruits, there’s a sense that they’ll automatically be ready to contribute. I believe they’ll be key contributors immediately, but we also thought the same thing about Dontavius Blair and Drew Richmond. We know how that worked out.
“What’s more likely for the upcoming football season, 5-7 or 9-3?” – Cody
Nathanael: Definitely 5-7. I know UT’s schedule is easier this year than in the past, but to go 9-3 they would have to essentially win all of their toss-up games and only lose to Alabama, Georgia, and a third team (most likely Florida, in my opinion). That means the Vols would have to beat Missouri, Mississippi State, and South Carolina all three. That also assumes that UT actually beats Vanderbilt this year, and they hold off Kentucky again. I think those last two happen, but I’m not convinced Tennessee beats all three of Mizzou, State, and the Gamecocks.
I don’t think either 5-7 or 9-3 happens, but I think 5-7 is more likely.
Ben: 5-7. This Tennessee roster isn’t talented enough to win nine games in the SEC just yet. But with the current state of the offensive and defensive lines, it’s possible that the units don’t produce. If that happens, I believe it’s very possible the Vols don’t win six games. There are too many toss-up games for me to believe Tennessee wins all of them. Mississippi State, South Carolina and Missouri will be very tough games. And BYU, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt aren’t an automatic ‘W’ just because of the name on their jersey.
“Is Jordan Davis still committed to us? Do you think Rakim flips to us?” – Stevie
Nathanael: As of now, Davis is still committed to the Vols, yes. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that changes down the line. He seems like a prime flip candidate right now. Luckily, UT has some contingencies in place should that happen. And right now, I think Rakim Jarrett is in a good spot with Tennessee. If he flips anywhere any time soon, it’s more likely Tennessee than anyone else. Don’t count out Maryland, though. It also might not be a great thing for the Vols if Jarrett ends up committing to them right now. The best case scenario might be him just decommitting from LSU and waiting to announce once he’s able to sign with a school.
Ben: Yes, Jordan Davis is still committed, though he’s been very intrigued by Mississippi State of late and recently visited Starkville. Seems as if the Vols will have to continue to fight for Davis.
As for Rakim Jarrett, Tennessee still has a ways to go with the five-star wide receiver, but the Vols are trending extremely well. He’ll be taking his official visit to Tennessee this weekend, his second visit to Knoxville in three weeks. Tee Martin is doing a great job recruiting Jarrett and selling Tennessee, but Maryland is a legitimate threat. It’s just a matter of time before he decommits from LSU.