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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.
“Is there any sort of grievance UT can file against the NCAA to hurry up the answer?” – @BucketHeadTN
Nathanael: Well, considering the buzz seems to be that either Tennessee had to change some things with their own appeal for Aubrey Solomon or that Jim Harbaugh at Michigan is holding things up…I don’t think so. This whole ordeal has been rather bizarre, and I don’t know that we’ll ever get the full story on how this all played out.
Ben: Not that I’m aware of, no. Simply a waiting game at this point.
“When does Tennessee have to start planning like they won’t have Solomon for the year? And what is going to be the rotation if he doesn’t get eligible?” – Sam
Nathanael: I think they’ve been preparing for it, but if there’s still no news by the time UT takes the field for their second scrimmage, then they have to start adjusting how they scrimmage. Solomon played a lot with the first team defensive line in the first scrimmage, but with Tennessee about two weeks away from the season starting, there’s a good chance they’ll give some more first team reps to other linemen in the second scrimmage if Solomon still isn’t cleared.
As for what the rotation will look like without Solomon, I think you’ll see John Mincey, Matthew Butler, and Greg Emerson get a lot of run along with LaTrell Bumphus, Savion Williams, and Darel Middleton.
Ben: That process has already begun. It’s too close to the season to not prepare for life without Solomon considering it’s a legitimate possibility. The good news is that with the way Jeremy Pruitt runs practice, the process has already naturally begun. Each player gets the same amount of reps during practice, which means the fourth string outside linebacker receives the same amount of reps as Darrell Taylor. It’s how Pruitt believes you build depth within a program.
The starting lineup without Solomon in my mind is Greg Emerson, LaTrell Bumphus, and Matthew Butler. Then, for the second unit, Darel Middleton, Elijah Simmons, and Ja’Quain Blakely.
“With Florida down to 7 defensive backs, is Jim Cheney sharpening his knife with his fork and licking his chops?” – @Therealbucknas1
Nathanael: Not unless Tennessee’s offensive line gets better. Won’t matter how banged up or bad that Florida secondary is if their front seven is still good and UT’s O-line is still bad.
Ben: Should be. Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson are great talents, but the Florida secondary is most definitely battling depth concerns at the moment. It should prove to be a favorable match-up for the Vols.
“Y’all are talking up Warren Burrel So much, which I think is good, however if he’s so good and surpasses Alontae Taylor on the depth chart, is he playing that good or is Taylor lacking so far this season…or something else? He played great last year, so I am confused how he is getting passed by a true freshman.” – Cole
Nathanael: First of all, Taylor hasn’t been passed up by Burrell on the depth chart. Taylor has been a little banged up as of late, so he hasn’t gotten quite as much run as he would normally, which has also given Burrell more practice/playing time to show out. I also wouldn’t worry about it too much. It’s been more because of Burrell performing well and the fact that Taylor has been somewhat limited that there’s been so much buzz. I still fully expect Taylor and Bryce Thompson to be the main two corners, but Burrell is doing everything he can to be the third corner on the field when UT plays with five or six defensive backs on the field.
Ben: Warren Burrell isn’t going to play over Alontae Taylor this fall. I’d be pretty stunned if he simply passed him on the depth chart. That would be bad news for Tennessee because, in my mind, that would mean Taylor took a large step backwards. Burrell has been very impressive, and I would expect for all three – Burrell, Thompson and Taylor – to be on the field at the same time quite a bit.
“Is the buzz about To’oto’o and Eric gray for real?” – Stevie
“Is Henry To’oto’o a Day 1 starter?” – @vo_ldemort
Nathanael: The buzz is absolutely real. I still wonder how much Gray gets to play as a true freshman with Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan ahead of him and Jeremy Banks also due for some carries, but he’s a legit playmaker from everything we’ve seen and heard through two weeks of fall camp. As for To’oto’o: I don’t know that he’ll be a starter in Week 1 for the Vols, but he’ll be featured heavily in the inside linebacker rotation. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s starting at some point this season, though.
Ben: Yes, the buzz is legit. To’oto’o and Gray are legit, and are going to be good football players for Tennessee.
I believe we’ll see Daniel Bituli and Will Ignont will be the starters at inside linebacker against Georgia State on Aug. 31, but To’oto’o is going to be relied on early and often. He’ll play his share of snaps.
“Haven’t heard much this fall camp about Tank McCollough, how is he doing, will he see some time in games early this year? Also, there was some ‘behind the scenes’ buzz about Jacques Jones, I loved that kid coming out of high school, is he pushing for time in the slot?” – @rondonkers
Nathanael: Despite the lack of attention, I think Jaylen McCollough plays a role on defense for the Vols this season, but I think you’ll really see his presence felt on special teams. He has a few more things to learn about the defense and the schemes, but he has a lot of upside and could play more at the STAR rather than at the two main safety spots. And I don’t really think Jones is pushing for time at the slot position very much, but Ben might be able to answer that one more effectively since he’s watched more of the offense during practice than me. But I’d be surprised if he’s really in line for a ton of playing time or anything. I think he plays more than he has in his first couple seasons, but I’m not expecting a whole lot regardless.
Ben: Jaylen McCollough is having a nice camp, but Warren Burrell is stealing the show in the secondary at the moment – at least in terms of the newcomers.
As for Jacques Jones, he’s having a really strong camp. On Tuesday he was seen working as the second wide receiver in the SLOT behind Jauan Jennings, and ahead of Jordan Murphy. Jones has made several nice plays this camp.
“Tennessee is currently ranked 28th in the class rankings on 247. Obviously it’s just August and they are on a lot of lists for some top recruits. With that being said… barring a good season (7-5, 8-4, 9-3) where do you think Tennessee’s 2020 class ends up?” – @brandosdrunk
Nathanael: If Tennessee goes 6-6 or misses out on a bowl, I think you can count out the Vols getting players like Noah Sewell or Sav’ell Smalls in their 2020 class. I still think it’ll be a top 15 class, but it won’t have some of the heavy hitters that Vol fans are hoping for. There are several recruits — and Smalls said exactly this in an interview after his visit to UT — who are in “wait and see” mode for Tennessee in 2019. The Vols don’t have to go out and finish second in the SEC East or upset Georgia or Alabama for these recruits to buy in, but they absolutely have to show solid improvement from 2018. While 6-6 would be improvement, I don’t think that it’s enough to ensure the Vols landing some more top-50 prospects like they want and need to do. A 7-5 record with an eighth win in a bowl game would, though.
Ben: It all depends on how Tennessee performs on the field this season. As Nathanael mentions, several of the Vols’ top targets want to see success on the field this year. If Pruitt and company deliver, I think they’ll end up with a top-7ish class. If not, I think it’ll finish in the back half of the top-25.
“So do the VOLS get a major boost with the 2020 recruits that are still on the fence with a 7 or 8 win season? Secondly, is the UGA game rotating to November on a permanent basis in ’20 ?” – @BoKeck1
Nathanael: Kinda answered your first question in my previous response, but I’ll add this: I would be a little surprised if Tennessee doesn’t finish with a top 10 class in the 2020 cycle if they end up with at least a 7-5 regular season record.
Secondly, I would love if that’s the case. I think Tennessee moving around their September/October schedule is a huge benefit. Breaking up that gauntlet in late Sept./all through Oct. is a big plus. I would rather see the Vols play Florida in November rather than Georgia, but that’s at least a step in the right direction. There’s been no indication that it’s a permanent move, but it would be much better for UT if it is.
Ben: Winning is crucial to the Vols finishing strong in the 2020 recruiting cycle with guys such as Rakim Jarrett, Darnell Washington, Arik Gilbert, Sa’vell Smalls, and Noah Sewell.
I believe it’s a permanent move because the whole reason the Tennessee/Georgia game was moved to November in the first place was so that the Georgia/Auburn game would be moved to October.