Insider Mailing: Renewed Optimism Edition

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    Photo by Jake Nichols/RTI

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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.

    “Should Pruitt treat this Bama game like a NFL preseason game and sit the main guys after 2 or 3 series? I say live to fight more beatable opponents.” – Scott

    Nathanael: Nah. I understand where you’re coming from because this seems like an unwinnable game, and the rest of Tennessee’s schedule is full of winnable contests. So why risk injury and demoralization of your starters by playing them in this game?

    That’s fine for fans and media members to talk about, but I’d be very, very concerned if a head coach thought that way. Unless you’re an FCS school playing an FBS program and the game has no bearing at all in what you’re hoping to accomplish for the season, there’s no excuse for thinking this way as a football coach. Even in that scenario, though, I would think it was pretty inadvisable for a head coach to think like that.

    Ben: Heck no. That sends a terrible message to your entire team and that establishes a very poor, losing culture. Yes, Tennessee is likely to be blown out on Saturday night. But it’s okay for people outside of the program to talk like that. Not the coaches, players, or anybody associated with the program in any way. The only way I pull the “main guys” after two or three series is if they aren’t playing with effort. And I can promise you that won’t be a problem with guys like Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, Trey Smith, and Daniel Bituli.

    “If Vols finish 5-7, will that be a success?” – @tjvol49

    Nathanael: No, it wouldn’t be a “success,” but it would avoid the season being dubbed a “failure.” If the Vols go 5-7 overall after starting out 1-4 with losses to BYU and Georgia State, fans are going to be pretty upset that Tennessee missed out on a bowl game because they didn’t find a way to beat Georgia State or hold on to a lead against BYU. For those reasons alone, I don’t think a 5-7 record would be a success this season. It would avoid it being a “failure,” though, because Tennessee would’ve turned things around to avoid a catastrophic season like it looked like they were going to have after that 1-4 start. It wouldn’t be a success, but it’s much easier to sell to recruits and much less detrimental to the fans.

    Ben: I say yes because what the beginning of the season taught us was that this team wasn’t a seven or an eight win team — despite what many thought they could be. This team is 6-6 at best. So while 5-7 will be a sore eye because it’ll be the same record as in year one, it’ll also be somewhat of a minor miracle with the way the season started. 5-7 would also tell me that the team got better over the course of the season, which is very important.

    “Would Tennessee benefit from using a 2 QB system the rest of the year?” – @Georgia_VOL

    Nathanael: Interestingly enough, I had this debate with former RTI contributor Aby Goodman on the RTI Show on Thursday. She said she believed Tennessee will play both Maurer and Guarantano in games the rest of the season. I don’t see it happening unless Maurer gets hurt (which he has in his first two starts) or if he just can’t play well enough to keep his job. Guarantano doesn’t do anything particularly better than what Maurer does, so I don’t really see how Guarantano warrants getting playing time outside of Maurer getting hurt, ejected, or playing poorly. I also don’t think it benefits the Vols to do so. It’s very rare for dual-quarterback systems to actually work out. Usually, they end up destroying the flow of the offense or ruining the confidence of one of the QBs.

    Ben: No. Two-quarterback systems suck. It is extremely rare that they actually benefit the offense. Instead, they disrupt the rhythm of the quarterback, as well as the entire offense. Look at Florida. Kyle Trask is without a doubt the best quarterback on that roster, but for some reason Dan Mullen feels the need to play Emory Jones at the same time. Every time Jones comes in, the offense sputters.

    “Why haven’t the Vols tried to get Jennings the ball more? I have been asking for 2 years why they don’t put him in the Wildcat and sling it around some and then let him run it.” – @BigOrangeGunner

    Nathanael: Jennings has more than double the amount of catches as the second-leading receiver on UT’s roster. He has 29 receptions, and Marquez Callaway is second with 13. I don’t really know what more you want from him at this point. He’s on pace to have almost a 1,000-yard receiving year. I also don’t see a reason to play him at quarterback. He’s not a great quarterback outside of his running ability, and that’s limited more now than when he first got to UT because of all his injuries and surgeries. Maurer can run and throw better than him.

    Not getting Jauan Jennings the ball is far from one of the biggest problems with this team. He’s gotten the ball plenty. You can’t just feed him and nobody else. That’ll lead to guys like Callaway, Josh Palmer, and others getting disengaged and frustrated. You don’t want that.

    Ben: Jauan Jennings is one of the most productive receivers in the SEC. So, I don’t know what more you want from him and him being utilized. Aside from the Mississippi State game, he’s been the No. 1 target in every single game this season.

    What’s the purpose of playing Jennings at quarterback? All three quarterbacks throw the ball 10 times better than he can. Plus, Maurer is definitely more mobile, and because of Jennings’ multiple knee surgeries, Guarantano is just as mobile.

    “Do you think Tyler Byrd gets more involved in the game plan more after the Miss. State game?” – @roy__rogers__

    Nathanael: I think so, but I don’t think you’ll see him have the kind of game he had against Mississippi State on a regular basis. Moving Tee Martin down onto the field will ensure the Vols use more of a rotation at wide receiver, and defensive coordinators are going to start keying in more and more on Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway. I think Byrd gets more involved, but so will Josh Palmer, Ramel Keyton, Cedric Tillman, and Dominick Wood-Anderson. I also hope UT’s running backs get utilized more in the passing game.

    Ben: I’d say so, because the reason he was so involved in the Mississippi State is because Bob Shoop did a tremendous job of taking Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway out of the game. Every defensive coordinator the remainder of the way will try to do the same, and if they’re successful, that’ll open up the door for Byrd, Ramel Keyton, and Cedric Tillman to be more productive.

    “Seems a little cold on the football recruiting trail lately. Anything new going on or is it just typically a slow time of year?” – @vo_ldemort

    Nathanael: It’s partially because this is a slower time of year and because recruits are waiting to see if the Vols can turn a corner and show progress. Recruits are in the middle of their seasons, so most of them are focusing on playing and trying to make it to the playoffs. They are taking visits and stuff, but this isn’t a popular time for commitments. Plus, a lot of Tennessee’s targets want to see if the Vols can turn things around after their brutal start. The Mississippi State game is a step in the right direction, but we won’t know till November if that was a fluke or not.

    Ben: It’s not necessarily a slow time of the year. Recruits are just waiting to see which way Tennessee’s season swings. Several of the Vols’ targets have declared on multiple occasions that they need to see some sort of progress this season. The horrid start to the season clearly did Tennessee no favors, but let’s see if the Mississippi State gets them back on track. The Vols have a golden opportunity beginning with the South Carolina game next Saturday to string together some wins to end the season, which would in turn really swing momentum in their favor.

    “What does a successful season look like this year for the basketball team?” – Sam

    Nathanael: I think success this season would be making to the NCAA Tournament, and not just sneaking in. I think barely getting in obviously wouldn’t be a failure, but it would be difficult to call a 19-15 or similar Tennessee team a “success” to me, even with them losing the amount of production they did. I think a successful season would be at least hitting that 20-win threshold, and I believe this team is capable of that if they stay healthy and if Uros Plavsic is eligible. If Plavsic doesn’t get eligibility, we’ll reexamine what a “successful season” looks like.

    Ben: Making the NCAA Tournament — especially if Uros Plavsic is ruled eligible. This team doesn’t have the talent on the roster that it did last season to make a deep run, but they’re still good enough to finish in the top-half of the SEC, which would result in a tournament berth. The team will go as Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden goes. I believe the senior duo will have a big season, and I trust Rick Barnes to have the rest of the team ready to play.

    “Looking back at last year’s home Kentucky win for the basket-Vols, what kind of enormous shoes do Turner and Bowden have to fill to replace the gaping holes of Bone and Williams? Note: My new neighbors are Kentucky fans. I need this.” – Serena

    Nathanael: Make no mistake about it: The Vols have huge roles to fill with the departures of Williams, Schofield, Bone, and Alexander. But it’s not an impossible task at all, and Rick Barnes has already mentioned he plans on changing his style this season to be more guard-oriented. He has to, because UT doesn’t have the post presence they’ve had the last two seasons. But if Uros Plavsic gets eligible, I really like what he brings to Tennessee’s frontcourt, and I think Olivier Nkamhoua has the ability to be a surprisingly good player even as a true freshman.

    The Vols will obviously be more driven by their guards this season, and that starts with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, and Josiah Jordan-James. But Bruce Pearl and Auburn showed last year (as have many other teams in the past) that a roster with that kind of makeup can have a lot of success.

    Ben: They definitely have enormous shoes to fill, though I believe Josiah-Jordan James will be relied on to take some of the weight off their shoulders. Barnes has said on multiple occasions that after running the offense through post players — mainly Grant Williams — the past couple of seasons, the offense will run through the guards this year. The play of Bowden, Turner and James will determine if its a smooth transition — especially the play of the senior duo.

    “Lets get serious….. when are we wearing the white tops with those beautiful orange britches???” – Craig

    Nathanael: I would love if that happened this weekend, but I’m afraid the orange pants might be a once a season type thing. I would love to be wrong, because I think this Saturday against Alabama would be the perfect time to wear them. It would call back to the days when both teams would wear their home jerseys when they played each other.

    Ben: Hopefully this weekend. The beautiful orange britches should be worn every single Third Saturday in October.