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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.
“Seen cryptic messages about Jeremy Banks, possibly hinting me might be reinstated. Any truth to those rumblings?” – Samuel
Nathanael: At this point, I think it’s just a matter of time before Jeremy Banks is officially back on UT’s roster. I think he’s been working really hard off the field to right some of the wrongs in his life, and I think you’ll see him reinstated at some point this offseason.
Ben: I would be surprised if Jeremy Banks wasn’t part of Tennessee’s 2020 football team. Frankly, it’s just a matter of time before he’s reinstated. Banks has done a tremendous job of working on the areas of his life he needs to improve on off the field in an effort to work his way back on the football field. Jeremy Pruitt has remained involved in Banks’ life, and I think we’ll really see that pay off. Banks deserves a second chance, and I believe he’ll make the most of it.
“Other than David Johnson, what other coaches are likely to leave? Weinke?” – @SirPentious
Nathanael: I think you’ll see a couple more changes to the staff this offseason, but I actually think Chris Weinke stays on staff. The only way I see the offensive side of the ball changing any more is if Tee Martin goes for an offensive coordinator position somewhere or if someone offers Brian Niedermeyer a huge lump of money and Tennessee doesn’t match it. I don’t think that’ll happen, though. I think if there’s going to be another change, it’ll be on defense. To me, everyone but Derrick Ansley on the defensive side of the ball is a candidate to move on this offseason.
Ben: I don’t believe Chris Weinke is leaving though it is certainly possible. Aside from needing to hire a running backs coach, the offensive coaching staff appears to be set unless Tee Martin finds an offensive coordinator position he likes. My eyes are on the defensive side of the ball. Particularly with Tracy Rocker, Kevin Sherrer, and Chris Rumph.
“Will DeAngelo Gibbs play WR and if so will how much do you guys think he will be able to contribute next year?” – Ryan
Nathanael: I think the ceiling is really high for Gibbs at receiver, and that’s where he’s going to play. He’s practiced at that spot all year and will get a chance to be a major contributor there next season. I think Josh Palmer likely starts out as the top guy in the group, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Gibbs be UT’s leading receiver after a bit. He’s impressed against the scout team, but now he has to do it in games.
Ben: Yes he will, and he might prove to be the best wide receiver on the team next year. That’s how impressive the Georgia transfer has been in practice this season. Gibbs will contribute just as much as Palmer, if not more. It wouldn’t surprise me if he proves to be Tennessee’s leading receiver.
“Why is JG so disliked by a large portion of the Vols fan base? He played really well in the 2nd half of the season, and was a big reason why the Vols got to 8 wins, but some fans still act like he’s the worst QB on the roster.” – Jeffrey
Nathanael: I’ll say, first off, that Tennessee’s defense is more of the reason the Vols were able to get to eight wins than Guarantano, but that’s not to say JG wasn’t a big reason UT was able to close out the season strong. He played a lot better in the last six games of the season than he did the first seven. And Jeffrey, your guess is as good as mine as to why people hate on him as much as they do. It just seems like some people have their minds made up about JG and think he’s the worst quarterback to ever play at Tennessee. I guess people have forgotten about Nick Stephens, Justin Worley, BJ Coleman, Nathan Peterman, and a few other Vol quarterbacks over the years.
I will say, though, that Guarantano hasn’t helped himself a lot of times by how inconsistent he plays. That’s probably the biggest reason fans are turned off by him. He can look great on a third-and-long one play then miss a wide open guy for a touchdown on the next throw.
Ben: Because he’s not consistent. The feeling towards Jarrett Guarantano really frustrates me at times. While he’s not the greatest quarterback to ever strap up for Tennessee, he’s far from the worst. Sure, he’s frustrating to watch at times, but a lot of the comments and narratives are uncalled for. You’re right, however. Guarantano is one of the big reasons Tennessee was able to get to eight wins.
“With the two new transfers and Trey Smith staying, what do the scholarships numbers look like right now? If things get tight, do we see the two commits not signed being pushed out?” – Evan
Nathanael: I think there’s still a chance you see Darion Williamson be part of this class in a blueshirt capacity or something, but I do think with the addition of Cade Mays and Trey Smith coming back that Kyree Miller is no longer going to be in it. Right now, with the additions of Mays and Velus Jones as transfers, I think the Vols probably only have three more spots ready to give out. Jay Hardy, Dee Beckwith, and one more recruiting target will be who UT looks to fill those voids. Maybe another transfer if the right guy comes along.
Ben: I’d be surprised if Kyree Miller and Darrion Williamson end up in this recruiting cycle. Tennessee had four spots open following the early signing period. Cade Mays will take up one of those spots and the other three are likely reserved for prospects such as Jay Hardy, Dee Beckwith and a wide receiver — preferably Ger-cari Caldwell. Jeremy Pruitt could use up a scholarship from next year’s cycle, but I don’t believe he wants to do that.
“What’s our plan for a TE this recruiting cycle?” – Jonathan
Nathanael: It’s Dee Beckwith or bust at tight end, I believe. Unless the Vols go after a transfer at the position (which I think is likely, too), they won’t add one in their 2020 class unless they can land Dee Beckwith. He’s not a natural tight end really, so he’ll have to learn the position, but luckily the Vols have Austin Pope returning and have some good young guys in Jackson Lowe and Sean Brown.
Ben: Dee Beckwith — the cousin of Lamonte Turner. Florida is Tennessee’s biggest threat for the three-star athlete out of Florence, Alabama.
“So with Auburn losing its OL coach and Pittman gone at Georgia now whats the chances we land 5 star OT brodrick Jones?” – @TWA10672793
Ben: Zero percent chance. He recently cancelled his official visit that was planned with the Vols and scheduled a visit with Arkansas.
“What’s your forecast for # of wins by men’s and ladies basketball teams?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: For the men’s team, I predicted 18 regular season wins at the beginning of the season, and that’s about where I’m still sitting. The Vols have 10 wins right now, and I think they can beat Vanderbilt twice, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Alabama, and probably beat a team they aren’t supposed to once like Kentucky or Auburn. Maybe pick off Florida, too. It remains to be seen what they can do in the SEC Tournament, and they’ll probably be an NCAA Tournament bubble team.
For the Lady Vols, 20-plus wins seems a lot more likely than the men’s team. They’re currently 12-3, and they have a very good chance of picking up eight or nine more wins in the regular season, if not several more. They aren’t as good as I think the early season might’ve made them look, but they’re better than they were last season.
Ben: I believe the Lady Vols will win at least 20-22 games. They will struggle against the superior teams such as South Carolina because they lack talent compared to those teams, but they’ll continue to pick on the lesser SEC teams such as Ole Miss, who they beat by 56 on Thursday night. Their size really creates problems for opponents.
Best case scenario for Rick Barnes’ bunch is 17-20 wins. I think this group will continue to improve as they gel together. Aside from Auburn, Arkansas and Kentucky, the SEC isn’t all that strong at the moment either. If Tennessee plays its best basketball, there are several wins remaining on the schedule.
“What does next year’s rotation look like next basketball season with the better majority of this team coming back next year? Let’s assume JJJ stays.” – Shravan
Nathanael: This is a good (and tough) question. I think you’ll see some more roster movement this offseason for Tennessee, but not nearly as much as this past offseason. But right now, the starting lineup for next year is completely up in the air to me. I think the only two players I for sure see starting are Santiago Vescovi at point guard and Uros Plavsic at center. John Fulkerson probably starts, too, which leaves two spots up for grabs for Josiah-Jordan James, Yves Pons, Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, and Corey Walker. You also have Davonte Gaines, Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pember, and Jalen Johnson available as bench options. Next year’s depth should be a lot better than this year’s, and UT’s bench will be a strength next season.
Ben: This is a loaded question because there are so many great rotation possibilities. For the time being, I’ll simply limit it to just a starting lineup. I believe Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson, and Uros Plavsic will be the starting five. Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson could absolutely push for starting positions, however, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they slide into the starting lineup at some point if Vescovi and James struggle early on. Even Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. could push for a starting position. Regardless, Springer, Johnson, and Bailey will be the first off the bench. I didn’t even mention Davonte Gaines, Olivier Nkamhoua, Corey Walker Jr., or Jalen Johnson. Tennessee basketball is going to be deep next season.