Insider Mailing: The Start of Football Offseason Edition

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    Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/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.

    “Will Tennessee pursue D’Eriq King as an option at QB?” – Brian

    Nathanael: They absolutely should. But just because they pursue him doesn’t mean he’ll come to UT. In fact, I’d be pretty surprised if he did choose to come to Tennessee when you have other schools like LSU, Oklahoma, Alabama, and other top tier programs losing their starting quarterbacks from this past season. He would likely be Tennessee’s Day 1 starter if he did transfer to UT, but I wouldn’t bank on it happening. The Vols should definitely at least kick the tires there, though.

    Ben: Tennessee may choose to pursue D’Eriq King, but I don’t believe King will be interested. He’ll likely have better options such as LSU and Oklahoma. But if I’m Tennessee, I’m absolutely reaching out to King. He would be the best quarterback from day one, and then the Vols wouldn’t have to rush Harrison Bailey along.

    “What’s the estimate for how many coaches will be replaced before Spring Practice starts?” – @SirPentious

    Nathanael: I think you’ll see two more coaches leave Tennessee’s staff in one way or another. I don’t think you’ll end up seeing anyone else besides David Johnson leaving on the offensive side, but it wouldn’t shock me one bit to see two defensive assistants leave or not be renewed.

    Ben: Including David Johnson, I’ll say three. Believe we’re on the verge of seeing Tennessee part ways with two defensive coaches, possibly three.

    “Any word on RB coach yet?” – Janie

    Nathanael: Nothing yet. Just like with the offensive coordinator hire, Jeremy Pruitt isn’t in a rush. Now, I don’t expect the RB coach hire to take as long as the OC hire, nor do I expect it to be handled quite as dramatically. But Jay Graham, Montario Hardesty, and promoting Joe Osovet are the three most likely options still. Getting Graham would likely require offering a big raise and a new title to go along with his RB coach role, so I don’t know how realistic that is given UT’s current coaching staff makeup.

    Ben: Jeremy Pruitt is taking his time. He doesn’t feel the need to rush the hire which is absolutely true. Pruitt has talked to Jay Graham and Montario Hardesty. I expect for either to be the next Tennessee running backs coach. Graham is likely the No. 1 option.

    “How much of a raise & extension do you expect for CJP?” – @tjvol49

    Nathanael: Pruitt is currently making a shade under $4 million per year. I don’t expect him to get much of a raise and extension, but I think whatever he does get will put him over the $4 million mark for sure. He’s one of the lowest paid head coaches in the SEC, and I think Phillip Fulmer would like to change that. In terms of an extension, I wouldn’t expect more than a year or two.

    Ben: I don’t have an exact number that comes to mind, but he’s definitely going to receive a raise and extension. In terms of length, Pruitt will likely have a year added on to the end of his contract. In terms of money, the focus will be centered around the pool of money for assistant coaches to increase rather than the focus being on Pruitt seeing a huge increase in salary. He’ll definitely receive a raise, however.

    “Everything is about competition. Is our offensive coaches better than our defensive coaches?” – @BuckToTheNasty1

    Nathanael: Right now, I’d say Tennessee’s offensive staff is better than their defensive staff, at least if we’re not counting Pruitt as part of the defensive side since he’s the head coach. Defensively, the job Tracy Rocker did with the defensive line this past season was very good, and I think Derrick Ansley is a superb coach and recruiter. Rocker has been disappointing as a recruiter, however, and both Chris Rumph and Kevin Sherrer have had their bright moments and their drawbacks. I think Jim Chaney is UT’s best coach on staff currently, and I think Tee Martin is either second or third depending on where you slot Ansley. Brian Niedermeyer is the best recruiter aside from Pruitt, and he’s on offense, too. Chris Weinke was okay, but he could’ve been better. Will Friend, along with Chaney, did a good job with UT’s offensive line this year. So all of that leads me to pick the offensive side right now.

    Ben: If we’re not including Jeremy Pruitt with the defensive coaches, I believe the offensive coaches are better. Jim Chaney is the best coach on staff in my opinion, though Derrick Ansley is close behind. Tee Martin is also a great coach in his own regards. Martin along with Brian Niedermeyer are the best recruiters on staff. Plus, we’re likely to see an overhaul on the defensive side of the ball. So, I’ll roll with the offensive staff.

    “With such a crowded QB room as of now (barring everyone staying), I could see some position changes. Holiday seems obvious as a WR, but what about Hill? If he were to switch positions, what position could he switch to?” – @hesenij

    Nathanael: I don’t think Kasim Hill would change positions if he loses out on the QB battle or sees no future at quarterback at UT. I think he’d just transfer elsewhere. I think the only one you’d see make a position change would be Jimmy Holiday, as you pointed out.

    Ben: If he were to switch positions it would be to running back. He’s far too stocky to be playing wide receiver.

    “With all the momentum that Pruitt and Vols have, do you think they close out the class with 1 or 2 of their remaining top targets?” – @The_Klassens

    Nathanael: Well, they’re going to miss out on Jay Hardy most likely, but I like their chances with Dee Beckwith. You’ll also see the Vols go after another wide receiver or defensive back, and maybe another defensive or offensive lineman depending on who all is still available. I know UT is planning on hosting at least one 2020 offensive lineman this month. But I also think the Vols will look to add at least one more grad transfer if possible.

    Ben: Yes because they’re only going to sign 2-3 more players. Jay Hardy isn’t coming to Tennessee baring something changing at the last minute, but I see the Vols landing Dee Beckwith at minimum. Whether they bring in another recruit, particularly a receiver, is to be determined. I think they’ll use the extra spot on a grad transfer at the outside linebacker position.

    “Depth at tight end seems to be lacking right now. What will we do to address this for the 2020 season?” – Jonathan

    Nathanael: I actually think the depth is fine in terms of number of players there, you just don’t have many proven commodities. Austin Pope has been with the program for what seems like forever, but everyone behind him either has no game experience or very little. I like the potential of Jackson Lowe and Jacob Warren, but they just haven’t played.

    Ben: Quality depth is what is lacking. Tennessee has plenty of bodies at the tight end position, but nobody has stepped up and taken the bull by the horns. Austin Pope will be the starting tight end to start the 2020 season, but the Vols need Jacob Warren, Jackson Lowe, or Sean Brown to step up behind him and serve as a quality No. 2.

    “Now that Uros has been granted immediate eligibility do you view the Vols as an NCAA tournament team?” – Jeffrey

    Nathanael: Not unless they can find some offense. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an entire team mired in such a shooting slump before. It’s not just two or three players who are missing shots; it’s basically the entire team that just can’t hit. It’s not like the Vols are taking a bunch of bad attempts or getting guarded particularly hard — though that’s certainly the case at times — they’re just missing. We’ve all seen the missed layups, missed hook shots, and missed wide open threes. Until shots start falling, they’re not an NCAA Tournament team. Which is a shame, because their defense has been really, really good this year. Tennessee has shot 40 percent or worse as a team in seven of their 16 games this season, and five of those seven performances have come in their last eight contests.

    Ben: I did prior to the Georgia game, but not after the performance the Vols turned in last night. Tennessee’s offense just isn’t efficient enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Defensively, the Vols are good enough to string some wins together and make a run at the big dance. But that’s not going to happen unless Jordan Bowden and John Fulkerson step up. In addition, Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi, and Uros Plavsic need to take a gigantic step forward.