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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 the late addition of Kasim Hill an indication that Pruitt is not comfortable with the situation at backup QB?” – Craig
Nathanael: I don’t necessarily think that’s why, but it would make sense. I think Tennessee wanted to bring in two quarterbacks for 2020 any way they could, and this was how it was accomplished. The Vols have Harrison Bailey committed in the 2020 class, and since they missed out on getting Haynes King to commit to them, I think this move makes sense. I also don’t think landing Hill affects Bailey’s commitment in any way. UT has told him before that they wanted to bring in two quarterbacks in this cycle, so this is nothing new to him.
Ben: It could be, but the way I look at it is that anytime you can bring in a former four-star who has started games in a significant conference, you do it. Especially if he is wanting to walk-on. At minimum, he increases the competition in the quarterback room. Plus, Tennessee wanted to bring in a second quarterback this recruiting cycle anyways, whether it be a high school player or a transfer.
“With how versatile our RBs are, can you see formations that would have say, Chandler in the slot and Gray or Jordan at running back. I just like how we have 4 guys that can carry the ball and how different they all are.” – @GSix1987
Nathanael: Boy, I hope. There were a ton of gripes fans (and myself) had about the Butch Jones era, but one of my biggest qualms was their inability and seeming reluctance to put Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara on the field at the same time. I don’t think that will be a problem with Jim Chaney. I think you’ll see Chandler and Jordan on the field at the same time some, and I think Gray and Jordan — or even Gray and Chandler — could be in the same formation. But I’m all for having all three on the field at the same time, because all three are dangerous in the passing game. Jordan doesn’t get talked about a lot as a pass catcher, but he’s more effective there than people think. He has 20 catches for 181 yards in 24 games as a Vol.
Ben: Yes, I do. I think we’ll see Ty Chandler lined up in the slot because of his ability as a receiver. I also think we’ll see him used in quite a bit of motion while Tim Jordan or Eric Gray is lined up in the backfield. Tennessee has three capable running backs and all three will be used quite a bit.
“If the backup quarterback competition doesn’t create much separation between Maurer and Shrout, will Shrout win out just to keep him from transferring like McBride did after being passed by a freshman? Also, what is that competition looking like as the season draws near?” – Evan
Nathanael: I would be surprised if that’s how it plays out. Shrout will win the backup role if he proves to be the more capable backup. I don’t think you’ll see nearly as much politicking and appeasing going on with this coaching staff like you saw with the previous one. If Shrout doesn’t win the backup role, I don’t think he transfers this year, anyway. The only way he transfers, in my opinion, is if JG comes back next year or if he doesn’t win the starting job next year if JG doesn’t return for his fifth season.
As for the competition, I think Shrout is the No. 2 guy right now. But honestly, I fully expect Maurer to unseat him as the backup at some point this season. I could be proven wrong, but that’s just my feel on the situation.
Ben: No, because that’s not how Jeremy Pruitt operates. He’s going to put the best player on the field regardless of class. If one decides to transfer as a result, so be it. It seems like Shrout is slightly winning that battle, at least he was through fall camp. Recently, Brian Maurer has been taking more reps with the second-team. It’s neck-and-neck.
“What are the chances of getting Thomas, Hardy, and Oxendine?” – Greg
Nathanael: I think there’s a good chance Tennessee lands two of those three you mentioned. I really like where the Vols are with Jay Hardy out of Chattanooga, and I think the Vols are in a good spot with Omari Thomas as long as they show improvement in 2019. As for Octavious Oxendine, I’m not as confident there. Kentucky may get him just like they did Tre’vonn Rybka. But the Vols are still in a very good spot with their defensive line recruiting overall.
Ben: I love Tennessee’s chances for four-star defensive end Jay Hardy. I like Tennessee’s chances for four-star lineman Omari Thomas. As for three-star defensive tackle Octavious Oxendine, Kentucky is trending well for the Kentucky native.
“If you had pick, who do we land between Gilbert or Washington? And do you think we land Sewell or Smalls?” – Stevie
Nathanael: At this point, I’d say Arik Gilbert is more likely than Darnell Washington, but I don’t feel super confident in that at the moment. There’s just not a lot of certainty with either prospect right now, but with the Vols having Gilbert’s QB committed (Harrison Bailey) and another teammate in BJ Ojulari also in the boat, that really helps UT’s chances. But Washington is a major wildcard. My gut says Alabama or Georgia with him, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he chose Tennessee, either.
I think as long as Tennessee shows enough improvement in 2019, they’ll land at least one of Noah Sewell or Sav’ell Smalls. I think they have a better chance with Smalls as of right now, but if UT shows enough improvement, both are fairly likely.
Ben: Arik Gilbert simply because Tennessee was already in a great position, but with his teammates Harrison Bailey and BJ Ojulari committed, the Vols are in an even better position. Oh, and former teammate Ramel Keyton is already a Vol.
The good news in regards to Noah Sewell and Sav’ell Smalls is that both five-star targets have made it to campus. I wouldn’t say Tennessee is in a better position for one over the other, however. The Vols are going to have to continue to put in quite a bit of work to secure either commitment.
“Will Tennessee still be contenders in basketball without Grant and Admiral? Solid backcourt, but questions down low after Fulky.” – Torrey
Nathanael: Well, that depends on what you mean by “contenders” here. If you mean “will they contend for an SEC title?” then my answer is “no.” Not unless they get hot in the SEC Tournament, anyway. I think this team is better than a lot of fans think, but there are probably four or five other teams in the conference that I think are for sure better than UT this upcoming season. If “contending” is asking if Tennessee will make it to the NCAA Tournament and have a shot at advancing a few rounds, then my answer is “yes.”
There are a TON of questions for the Vols this upcoming season. Can Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden be the dynamic duo they probably need to be for UT to have success? Can Josiah-Jordan James live up to the five-star hype? Will Uros Plavsic get eligible? Can players like Yves Pons and Jalen Johnson take that next step?
Tennessee’s success will depend on the degree to which those questions are answered. The Vols also have a pretty tough schedule this upcoming season, especially in the non-conference slate. But I think 19-22 wins is plenty attainable, and that should be plenty good enough to get UT into the Big Dance, especially with their strength of schedule.
Ben: What is your definition of contending? Winning the SEC? Making the NCAA Tournament? A team that could make a run in the tournament?
There are better SEC teams than Tennessee heading into the SEC season, but the Vols will still have a good team that is in the top-half of the conference. I’m a big believer in Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden leading this team. Josiah James has lived up to the hype in practice, and Olivier Robinson-Nkamhoua has been mega-impressive since he arrived on campus. Nkamhoua could be the starting power forward on opening night.
So, I definitely think Tennessee is a tournament team. But whether they’re a contender to win the SEC or make a deep run in the tournament will be determined by just how good Turner and Bowden are, and if Uros Plavsic can become immediacy eligible to help the depth in the post.