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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.
“How big of a deal is Tennessee landing Nicky Anosike’s brother in men’s hoops?” – Jason
Nathanael: It’s a very big deal. Even if EJ Anosike doesn’t start next season for Tennessee, I think he’ll be, at worst, their sixth man and be the first guy off the bench. Think of how effective Lamonte Turner was in that role in 2017-18 and how good Jordan Bowden was there in 2018-19. Anosike is an elite rebounder who has pulled down 10 or more rebounds in 31 of the 95 games he’s played and has snagged at least seven boards in 57 of his 95 career games. He’s only 6-foot-6, but he’s 245 pounds, meaning he’s the heaviest and bulkiest player on UT’s roster. He gives the Vols a Grant Williams/Admiral Schofield type of body in the post, and Anosike just makes so many effort plays. He’s going to be a fan favorite if he stays healthy, which hasn’t been an issue in his career thus far.
Ben: It’s a big deal because E.J. Anosike is going to be able to provide two things for Tennessee, depending on how Rick Barnes and the coaching staff decides how to use him. Regardless, Anosike is going to be able to rebound the ball. The young man is a monster on the glass, and as we know, the Vols struggled on the glass at times last season. On top of his rebounding ability, he’s very efficient around the rim in terms of scoring the basketball.
The other thing that Anosike can provide for the Vols is a productive wing player. Now, Barnes may choose to play him in the post because Anosike doesn’t shoot the ball for a high percentage from the 3-point line, but he is viewed as a wing and a productive one. Tennessee didn’t have that last year.
“Have we hired a strength coach yet?” – Logan
Nathanael: Not yet, but I think we’ll see Tennessee promote within for this hire rather than bringing in someone new. As Ben points out below, AJ Artis seems to be the favorite to get the position. He had a lot of responsibility under Craig Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald’s program has been successful at UT the last two seasons. Why fix what isn’t broken? But Artis — and the rest of Tennessee’s assistant strength coaches — have never led the strength program at an SEC school before, so that would be a worry.
Ben: Nope. We should know by now that Jeremy Pruitt is going to take his time with making hires. As of March 27th, though, it feels as if it’s just a matter of time before Pruitt promotes assistant strength coach AJ Artis to be the head man. Though he hasn’t had the opportunity to prove himself in a head role, Artis is viewed as an up-and-coming star in the business.
“Who are the five must get 2021 recruits for Tennessee football?” – Evan
Nathanael: I think getting either Dylan Brooks or Smael Mondon is a must, and landing Payton Page would be huge. The Vols must get a tight end in this cycle, so someone like Terrance Ferguson or Hudson Wolfe would be pretty high up on my list, but I don’t know if I’d put them in the top five. Nyland Green, Amarius Mims, Junior Colson, Terrence Lewis, and Jaylin White are all names to keep an eye on that Tennessee really wants to land in this cycle.
Ben: A little early to say in terms of individual prospects, but adding a player at particular positions stand out. To me, the five positions that Tennessee must do well with this recruiting cycle is the quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker. Tennessee also must land a kicker this cycle.
“TN really needs at least an OT in this class. Who do we have best shot at?” – @coskramervol
Nathanael: Five-star Amarius Mims is the biggest name of the group UT is pursuing, but I don’t know that the Vols can end up landing him. Five-star Nolan Rucci also seems like a bit of a stretch, but the Vols are definitely giving him a full-court press. The most realistic would probably be in-state three-star William Griffin from Pearl-Cohn in Nashville, but the Vols are still pursuing four-star Eli Sutton despite his commitment to North Carolina, and four-star Dietrick Pennington could be a tackle or guard.
Ben: Tennessee has done a good job recruiting offensive linemen during Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure. It appears that the left tackle and right tackle spots are going to be in good hands over the next couple of seasons with Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright in the fold. So, I wouldn’t say that the Vols “really need” to add an offensive tackle, but they do need to continue to work on the depth of the offensive line. Names to watch at the tackle position in this recruiting class are 3-star Dietrick Pennington from Cordova, Tennessee, 3-star William Griffin from Nashville, 5-star Nolan Rucci from Lititz, Pennsylvania, 4-star Eli Sutton from Brentwood and 3-star Jmarion Gooch from nearby Seymour.
“If you were Tony Vitello how would you handle this whole mess? Assuming the NCAA gives everyone a extra year like Division 2 did.” – Samuel
Ben: That’s a question I don’t really have an answer for because I only have a surface level knowledge of everything college baseball coaches have to deal with when constructing their rosters. I do believe every spring athlete regardless of class should receive an extra year of eligibility. I understand that it would really complicate things, and it may be hard to do financially because of all the money that is being lost due to the Coronavirus, but I don’t care. Simply make it work.
Vitello is going to have to be very gentle with how he navigates these waters, however. Let’s revisit this question when the decision comes down on Monday.
“Who has the best chance of winning a national championship within the next 3 years, Jeremy Pruitt or Tony Vitello?” – @htcook1999
Nathanael: I’m not sure either have a great chance of doing so over the next three years, but I’m going to say Jeremy Pruitt. I think the work that Vitello and his staff have put in and the turnaround they’ve pulled off so far at Tennessee has been supremely impressive, but the SEC in college baseball is even more stacked than it is in football right now. Not only that, but baseball has a similar postseason to college basketball in that an extended tournament decides who wins. The Vols would have to reel off several wins in a row to win a title in baseball, whereas in football you just need to win two games (technically three if you count the SEC Championship Game).
I think Pruitt and Vitello are both recruiting at the level they need to in order to compete for championships eventually, but I think the depth of the SEC in football isn’t what it is in baseball, and the postseason structure would help UT more in football than baseball.
Ben: Great question. I believe Tony Vitello is currently closer to a National Championship, but Jeremy Pruitt has a better chance of winning one sooner because of two reasons: Pruitt has more resources and an easier path.
It’s easier to recruit to Tennessee football than it is to Tennessee baseball, though Vitello has been wildly successful on the recruiting trail as he has beaten out National Championship level programs for recruits. As Vitello continues to win, recruiting will continue to become easier for the baseball program, but they still lack the resources the football program has. And as I mentioned, and as crazy as it sounds, it’s easier to navigate the waters of SEC football than it is SEC baseball. Then, if you make the tournament, you have to win almost 10 games to win a championship in baseball. With football, you have to win three, though that is still a tall task with the SEC Championship Game, the College Football Playoff, and the National Championship Game.
“A recent survey of Vols fans by David Ubben asked, “Who is your favorite all-time Vol football player?” Players like Manning, Berry, Wilson, and White were popular responses and rightly so. On the flip side who do you think are some of the most under appreciated former Vols?” – Jeffrey
Nathanael: Man, I always have a hard time with these questions. For me, of the players I’ve seen in my lifetime, Eric Berry, Alvin Kamara, Josh Dobbs, Derek Barnett, and Cedric Houston are some of my all-time favorites. I also really liked Robert Meachem, Kevin Burnett, and Rico McCoy as a teenager. I’d throw Casey Clausen in there too, and I’d also mention him as one of the most underappreciated Vols ever, certainly in my lifetime. Him and Dobbs both are very underappreciated. Put Dobbs on a team with a competent coaching staff (for example, give him Jim Chaney as an OC), and he ends up breaking even more records than he did as a Vol and might’ve even led Tennessee to the CFB Playoff. Kamara wasn’t underappreciated by fans, but he was by his head coach.
Ben: My three favorite Tennessee football players of all-time, in order, are Eric Berry, Peyton Manning, and Al Wilson. Berry was in the prime-time of me growing up as a Tennessee fan, and my favorite number is the No. 14, so that’s why he was my favorite. In terms of Manning and Wilson, they’re arguably the two best players to ever play at Tennessee. They’re legends.
Josh Dobbs and Tee Martin are the two most under appreciated former Vols that immediately came to my mind. Martin doesn’t get enough credit for guiding Tennessee to a National Championship, in my opinion. Dobbs also doesn’t get enough credit for all of the ridiculousness of Butch Jones that he covered up.