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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.
“I know everyone wants to beat Georgia or Florida this year, but in my mind, beating SC and Vandy would be a good step in the right direction if you ask me. Do you agree?” – @GSix1987
Nathanael: I absolutely agree. Considering Tennessee hasn’t beaten either team since the 2015 season (which is crazy to think about), I think that would definitely be a step in the right direction. The Vols have never beaten Will Muschamp at any school he’s been at, and UT has unceremoniously lost three-straight games to Vanderbilt, and they haven’t even really been that close. The Commodores’ three-straight wins over UT have come by an average of 18 points. Beating either Florida or Georgia would be nice, but Tennessee has to start taking care of business against the Gamecocks and Commodores first.
Ben: 100 percent agree. Georgia and Florida are important games, but it’s unrealistic to expect Jeremy Pruitt to beat them in year two of what is a four-year rebuild. Tennessee doesn’t have the talent at the moment to beat those two.
“What does Pruitt have to do to avoid the dreaded year three hot seat? If he goes 5-7 again this year Derek Dooley would have had a better record in his first two years than Pruitt.” – Sam
Nathanael: Well, don’t go 5-7 for one. But really, that would be a great way to avoid the hot seat. Not losing to Vanderbilt would be another great way. Making a bowl game (and not just doing so by the skin of their teeth at 6-6) would be one of the best ways to avoid it. I would truly be shocked if UT doesn’t at least make a bowl game this season, and it would surprise me if they lose to Vanderbilt again considering how much the Commodores lost from last season.
Ben: Make a bowl game and don’t lose to Vanderbilt. It’s as simple as that in my mind. Obviously, fans won’t be happy by going 6-6 with a win over the Commodores. But it’s better than the alternative, which has taken place the previous two years.
“Does Banks play both sides of the ball this year?” – Torrey
Nathanael: I would be surprised if he played both ways. Tennessee should have enough depth at linebacker — at least at inside linebacker, which is where I think Banks would play — to not need him there. The only way he moves to the defense this season, in my opinion, is if he can’t stop his fumbling issues on offense. But I don’t see him being a two-way player throughout the whole season.
Ben: If he can’t hold on to the football to begin the season, there’s a great possibility. But for now, he’s sticking at running back where he’s capable of being really productive.
“Can someone please get JJ Peterson a helmet and coloring book and explain this defense to him?” – @Therealbucknas1
Nathanael: I think Peterson will be much better this fall. I think he took it on himself over the summer to put in the necessary work, and as long as he can stay healthy, I think he’ll be worked in to the linebacker rotation. Tennessee could use him after Darrin Kirkland Jr. had to medically retire. Right now, you have Daniel Bituli, Will Ignont, and Shanon Reid at ILB in terms of guys UT should feel comfortable playing. There are plenty of other players there who could find roles and will be battling for positioning this fall camp, and that’s a ripe opportunity for Peterson.
Ben: He’s going to be good to go, Buck Nasty. Peterson is in great shape, had a nice offseason, and is capable of being productive early in the season.
“What are the chances we get N’Faly Dante? Also, are we looking into the grad transfer market for another center?” – @TennesseeVolsf2
Nathanael: Well, right now they don’t look all that great. Tennessee has to get him on campus to even be considered a factor, and nothing has materialized there so far. If he reclassifies to the 2019 class (which looks fairly likely), then it could make the Vols more appealing. But they have to get him on campus. Otherwise, a blue blood is his most likely destination.
In terms of grad transfers, I don’t think so. I think unless they can pull off the upset and get Dante, Tennessee’s 2019-20 roster will be set. They’ll use that scholarship that got freed up from DJ Burns’ transfer on a 2020 recruit.
Ben: I don’t know that the chances are very high, but at minimum, they have a chance. Duke and Kentucky appear to be the frontrunners, which doesn’t make any school trying to land his services feel good about their chances. As for a grad transfer, no. The current 2019-20 roster is set in stone. Just waiting to hear if Uros Plavsic will be immediately eligible.