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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 the realistic worst case scenario for this team? I see stuff like the FPI saying 9-3 and some media members saying 8-4 but I haven’t seen anything about what’s the floor for this team. And since it’s Tennessee the worst case usually happens.” – Sam
Nathanael: Let’s start off with a nice, cheery question, shall we?
But honestly, Sam, I can’t really fault you or other Vol fans for feeling this way. It does seem like more often than not the “worst case scenario” has happened or come closer to happening than the best case scenario in football. I think the floor for this team would be another 5-7 season. A complete disaster scenario such as 4-8 or 3-9 would only happen if there were catastrophic injuries on both sides of the ball, in my opinion. That would include Jarrett Guarantano going down for the season early on in the year and losing a star player or two on defense. Outside of that happening, I think 5-7 is the floor for the team this year.
Ben: Nine wins is possible including a bowl win, but not in the regular season. Because of the offensive line and defensive line, I believe the ceiling for the team in the regular season is eight wins. As for the floor, that’s a different story.
I believe Tennessee will lose to Florida, Georgia and Alabama. That leaves BYU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt as all possible games Tennessee could lose. Obviously I don’t think the Vols will lose all of those games, but there is a realistic chance in each of those games that they could lose. Meaning, in my mind, there are only three guaranteed wins – Georgia State, Tennessee-Chattanooga and UAB. So, 3-9 could happen simply because I don’t view the other nine games against legitimate competition as automatic wins. I would be stunned if Tennessee doesn’t go to a bowl game, however.
“How much of a role will Eric Gray have this year?” – Michael
Nathanael: I don’t think he’ll have a huge one this season. He might even be able to redshirt this year depending on how the other backs perform. If Jeremy Banks can’t fix his fumbling issues, then he’ll get benched/moved to linebacker real quick. That would open up more time for Gray. But as it is, he’ll have Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, and Banks ahead of him, and Carlin Fils-aime will probably get some touches too. I do think Gray gets used this year, but I think he’ll see a bigger role in 2020 and definitely in 2021.
Ben: I could see him having an important role as he brings a dynamic to the running back room that only he and Ty Chandler can. That being that he is quick and shifty. I believe Tim Jordan is going to have a nice year, but if he struggles with hitting the holes once again and Jeremy Banks can’t hold on to the football, I could see Gray being the No. 2 back at some point. The question for me is how healthy will be Gray be at the beginning of the season after having off-season shoulder surgery that sidelined him in the spring.
“What’s your take on the Henry To’oto’o situation?” – @EvilNiedermeyer
Nathanael: That it was a major overreaction by a small minority of fans. I think To’oto’o was homesick and had hit a wall with offseason conditioning. I also don’t think he realized how it was going to look with him liking those tweets from Washington fans. Keep in mind that “home” for him isn’t Washington. He’s from California. It would’ve been a different situation and more worthy of a freakout had he been from Washington or if he was liking comments from fans of USC or UCLA.
Ben: He was homesick like any 17-or-18-year old is when they’re on their own for the first time and that he’s not going anywhere.
“Are you getting a feeling that we may land Darnell Washington? He is spending some time in KVille as of late. Also how many LBs do we take in this class. Pruitts comments the other day about DPRs led me to think he wants more rushers!” – @hesenij
Nathanael: I’m not going to get too optimistic about UT’s chances with either Washington or Arik Gilbert. With that being said, though, there does appear to be a little momentum moving Tennessee’s way with Washington. But he’s still more of an Alabama or Georgia lean right now in my opinion. And yes, I do think Pruitt would like to have more outside linebackers/defensive ends in the 2020 class. They didn’t get as many in the 2019 class as he wanted. I expect you’ll see Tennessee take around three DPRs (Designated Pass Rushers) in this class if they can.
Ben: No. Tennessee has a legit chance, but I think Alabama and Georgia are bigger players for Washington right now.
They’ll probably take four or five in this class. Tennessee only loses Darrell Taylor but the Vols need plenty more talent off the edge. You win and lose football games in the SEC based off if you can get to the quarterback. Right now, the Vols need more of a pass-rush, which is why there is a heavy emphasis on defensive ends and outside linebackers right now.
“What are our chances of flipping Rakim Jarrett? And when do you think NCAA decides on eligibility for Solomon and Gibbs?” – @The_Klassens
Nathanael: Right now, I’d say fairly high. If you’re Tennessee, you probably want him to hold off on flipping for a while, but not too late. If you wait too late, who knows what could happen. He could stay with LSU or end up getting love from another school and flipping to them. But right now, it does feel like Tennessee has the momentum with Jarrett if he doesn’t stick with the Tigers.
As for your second question: No idea. At all.
Ben: Very good chance. At this point, I believe it’s just a matter of time before he decommits from LSU. At that point, it’ll be between Tennessee and Maryland, which the Terrapins are major players for the 5-star wide receiver’s services.
I’ll take a stab at your second question and say by the beginning of fall camp, but that’s a pure guess. It sounds like the NCAA is wrapping things up if they can get some people to cooperate.