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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 we, as a fan base, revolt against the SEC on behalf of Darrell Taylor and Jauan Jennings?” – @BuckToTheNasty1
Nathanael: I understand Vol fans being really upset with the SEC on both of those situations. With Taylor, though, he didn’t face any punishment after the game, but that flag was awful. With Jennings, I’m not exactly surprised he got a suspension, but at the same time, where’s the consistency with the SEC? Where was this energy with Kash Daniel earlier in the season?
Ben: Maybe not revolt, but Tennessee fans should definitely be upset by Jauan Jennings’ suspension. I’m of the belief that Jennings shouldn’t be suspended because you can’t prove intent, though he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt and probably did have bad intentions. The problem, however, is that the SEC has been so inconsistent. Why does Jennings face suspension, but Kentucky’s Kash Daniel or Alabama’s Raekwon Davis doesn’t?
“Should we demand a home and home with Rutgers now? Asking for a friend.” – @nposey23
Nathanael: Why give Rutgers the money by going up to New Jersey and playing them? I say ask for a neutral site game so Vol fans aren’t pouring money in to their university or their area. It’s clear that Schiano thinks Vol fans are inferior to his beloved Rutgers fans, so UT fans should just keep their money away from that state.
Ben: Yes, schedule a home-and-home with Rutgers and play the game there, in Yankee Stadium. Beat Greg Schiano down so bad that he never considers mentioning Tennessee again, in any regard. Then, go out and schedule a home-and-home series with Georgia State. Turner Field would be a cool place to see a football game, but if that doesn’t work, put it in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“What are you looking forward to more Recruiting or the Bowl Game?” – Jamie
Nathanael: Definitely the bowl game. As someone who has covered recruiting pretty hands-on for the last two years, it gets very, very tiring and can be very, very dramatic. Tennessee hasn’t been in a bowl game in three years. I’m excited to actually cover one again.
Ben: Bowl game. Recruiting is fun to follow, especially this time of year because signing day is quickly approaching, but the actual football games are the only reason we care about recruiting. Bowl games are infinitely more exciting than recruiting.
“Do you think (if so who) that a few seniors set out for the bowl game?” – Kris
Nathanael: I would actually be pretty surprised if any of Tennessee’s upperclassmen sit out the bowl game (other than Jauan Jennings sitting out the first half, obviously). None of UT’s seniors are really projected as first-round draft picks, and those are usually the guys who sit out. Nigel Warrior, Daniel Bituli, Darrell Taylor, Marquez Callaway, and Dominick Wood-Anderson all need as much game film as possible, in my opinion.
Ben: If somebody sits out of a bowl game, I think it would be Trey Smith, not the seniors. He has as much on the line as anybody in the country this bowl season. Smith has played well enough to be a first round pick, but his medical history still haunts him. Why risk it in a bowl game where you’re not playing for some form of a championship? Smith won’t sit out because of who he is, but I would understand his decision if he did.
And I definitely don’t see guys like Nigel Warrior, Jauan Jennings, Daniel Bituli, Marquez Callaway or Darrell Taylor sitting out. Though Jennings is technically sitting out some of it.
“Who do you see declaring early this year?” – Evan
Nathanael: Interesting question. I don’t know that anyone outside of Trey Smith forgoes his senior season for the Vols this offseason. I could see a few rising seniors transferring, but I don’t know that UT really has anyone who it makes sense for them to declare early. Maybe Brent Cimaglia will do what kickers usually don’t and declare early, but I doubt it. I guess Jarrett Guarantano could, but I’d be surprised if he did, too.
Ben: Trey Smith or Jarrett Guarantano would be the only two options. I believe Guarantano will be Tennessee’s starting quarterback for the season-opener next year, but he does have NFL arm talent to where he should at least get a feel for how the league feels about him. As for Smith, if I were him, I’d leave. He’s had an exceptional year — a first round NFL Draft pick type of season. As I said in the previous question, why come back another year and risk health issues popping up again when you’re going to get drafted this year?
“Do you see CJP making any staff changes this offseason?” – Brian
Nathanael: Absolutely. I don’t want to speculate on someone’s job specifically, but I expect at least a couple changes this offseason, and there’s a chance an assistant or two leaves of their own accord, too. Tennessee has a few assistants who are thought of pretty highly in the coaching world.
Ben: Already in the works. Staff changes are on the way to improve recruiting. You can take that to the bank.
“What’s your crystal ball on Washington, Whitehead, Tisdol, and do we get any big time WR?” – Stevie
Nathanael: Call me crazy if you want, but I actually think Tennessee lands five-star TE Darnell Washington right now. That can obviously change between now and the next few weeks, but I honestly like where UT is with him, and with Brian Niedermeyer as his recruiter, you have to feel good about Tennessee’s chances. I’m going to go bold and say the Vols get him. I think UT gets four-star linebacker Desmond Tisdol, too. With Whitehead, I’m not as confident. He and linebacker Vai Kaho are both kinda up in the air for me right now.
As for receivers: I don’t know what you mean by “big time,” but UT isn’t getting a five-star or a top-100 receiver this cycle, in my opinion. I do still like their chances with a few receiver targets, though, such as four-star Ramon Henderson and athlete Dee Beckwith.
Ben: Darnell Washington is this year’s Henry To’o To’o in the sense of it may not feel like Tennessee has a great chance because of how far away he is, but how can you doubt Brian Niedermeyer at this point? Len’Neth Whitehead is trending well for Tennessee right now, while Auburn worries me when it comes to Demond Tisdol, though the Vols are in good position.
Tennessee isn’t going to land a “big-time” receiver, but I believe it’ll land at least a body at the position. Whether that be Jimmy Holiday — who may get a shot at quarterback — Demarcus Beckwith — the cousin of Lamonte Turner — or Ramon Henderson and Jaylon Barden.
“Who would be more successful at Arkansas, Lane Kiffin or Mike Leach?” – @htcook1999
Nathanael: To me, it’s Kiffin without a doubt. I don’t think Leach has what it takes to have long term success in the SEC, especially in the West where he’d have to face Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Texas A&M every single season. Kiffin has SEC experience, has better pull with assistants, and is a much better recruiter.
Ben: Mike Leach. Although he is crazy in his own rights, I don’t believe you have to worry about him off the field as much as you do Lane Kiffin. Plus, he’s just as good of an offensive mind as Kiffin. Arkansas isn’t going to out-recruit the teams in its divisions, which Leach is used to because of his time at Texas Tech and Washington State. But with players that the bigger schools didn’t want, he’s beaten them.