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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.
“Who is QB number two this year and how much playing time does he get since JG has a history of not being able to play every snap?” – Sam
Nathanael: That’s a fair question. Guarantano missed most of the Southern Miss game in 2017 and was held out against Missouri, and while he never missed a start last year, he had to exit early in three separate games due to getting beat up on the field (Florida, Alabama, Missouri). I think if any injury occurs or if there’s any other reason why Guarantano has to come out early in the season, JT Shrout will be the quarterback who comes in. But honestly, if Guarantano comes out later in the season, say late October or in November, I almost think it could be Brian Maurer who comes in. I think Maurer has a chance to unseat Shrout as the No. 2 guy as the season goes along.
Ben: I believe it will be JT Shrout. The redshirt freshman is the forgotten member of the quarterback room because of all the talk surrounding Jarrett Guarantano, the new guy (Brian Maurer) and if Tennessee will land both Haynes King and Harrison Bailey. Last season, I had heard that the staff preferred Shrout to Keller Chryst throughout fall camp, which to me, was telling of Shrout’s ability. Shrout has an impressive arm and with a year under his belt, should be the No. 2 quarterback.
“Which new player do you think will have the most success this year on offense and which player will have the most on defense?” – @roy__rogers__
Nathanael: I think Ty Chandler is going to be the big breakout player on offense this year. His skill set fits so well with what Jim Chaney likes to do, and he’s the Vols’ most dynamic play-maker on offense right now. I don’t expect him to get like 350 touches or something because Tim Jordan is also a capable back, and you also have Jeremy Banks and Eric Gray likely to get carries and touches. But Chandler is my pick on offense, and I could easily see him getting over 1,200 or 1,300 yards of total offense. On defense, my pick is going to be Emmit Gooden. I think he flashed a lot of potential last season even in a somewhat more limited role as one of the main rotation players on the defensive line, and now he’ll be asked to start. A lot of teams are going to key in on Darrell Taylor, and while I still expect Taylor to have a solid season, I’m going to say Gooden surprises people in the national media and ends up being UT’s best defensive lineman.
Ben: Jarrett Guarantano is the easy answer on offense. The offensive line should take a step forward, allowing Guarantano to get the ball to his playmakers. Plus, you throw in Jim Chaney, who will help Guarantano grow and develop. I like that combination. Guarantano is a talented player who has had bad cards his entire career. Now that the cards are in his favor, I expect him to take full advantage.
On defense, I’ll roll with Bryce Thompson to be the most successful. With a year under his belt, Thompson has the tools to be one of the better defensive backs in the SEC. And he has great coaches in Jeremy Pruitt and Derrick Ansley leading the way. Most will say Darrell Taylor, but I need him to be more consistent throughout the season rather than his production coming from two big games.
“Who’s somebody on the roster that no one is paying attention to or talking about but should be?” – @htcook1999
Nathanael: I’m going with my guy Roman Harrison. I’ve been hyping him up for months, but outside of one or two other media members, I’ve not heard much talked about with him. I’ve seen a few fans mention him too, but most of the excitement for Tennessee’s 2019 linebacker group is for Henry To’oto’o and Quavaris Crouch. I think Harrison is a stud who just needs to learn more of the linebacker position. I don’t necessarily think he’ll get a ton of run in 2019, but it wouldn’t shock me if he did. I fully expect him to be a big piece of the defense in 2020, though. That kid is already ripped, has one of the best work ethics I’ve seen, and is a natural winner.
Ben: Will Ignont. The Huntsville, Alabama native had offseason shoulder surgery and now that he’s back to being 100 percent, he’s poised for a productive season. Everyone wants to talk about Daniel Bituli, Quavaris Crouch, Henry To’oto’o, and JJ Peterson, but Ignont is capable of being the most productive out of the group. He’s strong, can run and I’m expecting good things.
I’ll throw in Brandon Johnson, who not enough people are talking about on the offensive side of the ball because of Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings, and Josh Palmer. Johnson led the team in receptions in 2017 and is a veteran who should be a nice contributor this year.
“Out of these 7 players, how many do we sign when it’s all said and done?” – @hesenij
Nathanael: Will I sound like too much of a homer if I say “all of them” for this? Because I truly think UT has a really good chance of getting all of them. The Vols already have Cooper Mays, Tee Hodge, and Keshawn Lawrence committed. I think they have to feel really good about Tyler Baron right now, and they’re in a good position with Jay Hardy. The one that concerns me most is Omari Thomas, but Tennessee is trending upward with him and just needs him to continue to drag out his recruitment. Luckily, he’s not planning on announcing till the All-American Game in January, so that gives the Vols plenty of time to keep building that relationship. Rybka is going to come down to Tennessee and Kentucky, and right now I think UT has a very, very slight edge, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he chose Kentucky when he announces his commitment next month.
Ben: I truly think Tennessee lands all of them, for the same reasons Nathanael said. The one that concerns me most is Tre’vonn Rybka, who is strongly considering Kentucky. But the Vols are well-positioned to land Jay Hardy, Rybka, Tyler Baron, and Omari Thomas.
“Who are possibilities if any to fill the basketball roster now that Burns is officially gone? Will this team even make NIT?” – Scott
Nathanael: My goodness, the overreaction to the basketball team this offseason has been insane. I’m not trying to call you out, Scott, because I think you’re genuinely asking a question instead of trolling or just being negative like I’ve seen some people do. But this team is absolutely going to at least make the NIT. Go compare this upcoming season’s roster to Barnes’ first or second teams. The roster, while full of question marks outside of Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden, still looks to be in a better shape than either of those two teams. I still maintain that this team makes the NCAA Tournament, in fact.
As for where UT goes for that open scholarship: I think at this point they’re probably going to just hold on to it for the 2020 recruiting class. The only grad transfer left available who I think is really worth taking a shot on right now is UNLV forward Shakur Juiston, but Tennessee hasn’t really had any traction there, and it looks like Oregon is the favorite for him. Plus, he has a bad injury history. DJ Williams from George Washington could be someone, but again, I haven’t seen the Vols tied to him at all.
Ben: First things first, DJ Burns is no longer at Tennessee because DJ Burns couldn’t handle his business. And Uros Plavsic, John Fulkerson, and Zach Kent were all ahead of him at the forward position. Even freshman signee Olivier Nkamhoua who just stepped foot on campus has been more impressive in practice this summer. Even with Burns, Tennessee would go as far as Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner take them. That remains the same following Burns’ departure.
The expectation continues to be NCAA Tournament or bust.