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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.
“With 100% honesty, who do you envision being in the QB room in 2021?” – Jason
Nathanael: Tennessee’s 2021 quarterback room is very much up in the air right now. What if the Vols land JT Daniels this offseason? Does that run off Harrison Bailey for 2021, or does he stick around and fight for the job and beat out Daniels? Does Jimmy Holiday stay at QB, or does he move to wide receiver between now and then? How many QBs do the Vols sign in the 2021 class, or do they go and get another transfer?
Ultimately, I think UT will end up with only three quarterbacks in 2021, and it’ll be some combo of Harrison Bailey/JT Daniels, Brian Maurer/JT Shrout, and a third option they bring in from the 2021 class. Honestly, I could see both Shrout and Maurer transferring, though, so Tennessee may end up signing two quarterbacks in 2021 or bringing in a freshman and then a transfer. Or maybe they keep Holiday at QB, though I doubt that.
Ben: I believe Tennessee’s 2021 quarterback room will consist of Harrison Bailey, J.T. Shrout and whichever quarterback the Vols sign this recruiting cycle — which as of April 23, 2020, I have no clue which quarterback that will be. I don’t have Jarrett Guarantano, Brian Maurer, Jimmy Holiday, and Kasim Hill in the room for various reasons. Guarantano will obviously have graduated by that point, and I believe Holiday will have moved to wide receiver by that point. As for Hill, it’s just an odd situation for him being a walk-on in such a crowded room.
Maurer is obviously the X-factor. The Florida native has all the tools to be a starter at the collegiate level, but not if he doesn’t mature first. Based off his actions on social media, I’ve pegged him as an eventual transfer. It seems as if it’s just a matter of time.
“How does the shut down affect the development of JJ Peterson and where do y’all expect him in the lineup? I know it had been reported earlier last year he wasn’t attacking workouts like people hoped although that may have changed.” – Evan
Nathanael: JJ Peterson had a huge opportunity in front of him this spring with Tennessee’s linebacking unit being very thin and Quavaris Crouch missing practices as he recovered from offseason surgery. But instead, Peterson only got to go through two practices, then everything got canceled. He’ll now have to compete with several incoming freshmen at inside linebacker, and Crouch will be back and healthy in the fall, too. Unless Peterson has really improved on his self-motivation, this could be bad news for him.
Ben: It greatly affects the development for J.J. Peterson. For not only Peterson, but Quavaris Crouch as well, though Crouch was going to miss all of spring practice regardless due to shoulder surgery. Peterson still needs to continue to adjust to what it takes to be successful at the collegiate level, but he’s also been hampered by injuries. Jeremy Pruitt has stated multiple times since the end of the season that those injuries have hampered Peterson’s development, but Pruitt still believes in him.
“Who is the most likely starter beside To’o To’o?” – Stevie
Nathanael: If it’s not Quavaris Crouch, it’ll probably be a true freshman. I don’t think it will be JJ Peterson, not unless he really gets a fire lit underneath him this summer and shows up in the fall ready to go. Aside from those two, UT has Aaron Beasley and Solon Page III as inside linebacker options right now. That’s why I think if it’s not Crouch, you could see Martavius French or Bryson Eason really push for that starting role.
Ben: Continuing from the previous question, I believe Quavaris Crouch will start next to Henry To’o To’o. Simply put, I have more stock in Crouch than I do Peterson and other than Peterson, there isn’t really any other options.
“The defensive line is starting to concern me. With so many guys leaving after this year, we will be left with Simmons, Thomas, Bailey, Perry, etc. who are going to be the Def line prospects that will be ready to contribute in the 2021 class as freshman?” – @hesenij
Nathanael: Yeah, that’s a good question. As of right now, the Vols only have one projected defensive linemen committed to them. Darrell Jackson could be a defensive end, but I assume you’re more talking about bigger linemen like defensive tackles and nose tackles. The only player that fits that description currently committed to UT is Isaac Washington. I think you’ll see UT’s coaches go after another transfer defensive lineman between now and 2021. They went after a couple this offseason but have so far been unsuccessful in getting one. Payton Page is the biggest (literally) name along the defensive line to watch for the Vols right now in recruiting, and strong-side DEs like Jahvaree Ritzie and Najee Story are also names to keep in mind.
Ben: It’s definitely a fair thought to be worried about the defensive line following the 2020 season. I will note, however, Tyler Baron and Morven Jospeh are guys who are going to play on the edge. They may be listed as outside linebackers, but they’re going to play the Darrell Taylor role off the edge by either standing up or putting their hand in the dirt. I mention those two because I think both are going to be very productive players for the Vols, especially Baron.
Outside of those two, Pruitt and company definitely need to get to work. I’ve been surprised by the lack of fireworks in recruiting along the defensive line to this point of Pruitt’s tenure. They’re in the running for highly-touted recruits such as five-star Dylan Brooks, five-star Payton Page, four-star Jahvaree Ritzie, four-star Jeremiah Williams, and four-star Deontae Lawson among other recruits. Landing a couple of those defensive linemen would drastically change the outlook of the position.
“What are the priorities by position for 2021? DL, DBs, and RBs in that order for me. Do you agree or see a different priority or other positions?” – John
Nathanael: Yeah, I think defensive line has to be the top priority. I would throw wide receiver in there, but so far UT has done a great job at addressing that and look to probably add another wideout or two in this class. I think tight end should be pretty high up on the priority list, too. The Vols lose Austin Pope after this season and don’t really have anyone proven behind him. Tennessee doesn’t have a lot of great depth there, and unless you see them move Dee Beckwith there or move Roc Taylor to tight end in the 2021 class, I think they need to go get at least one TE. Defensive back has also already been addressed fairly well, but I think you’ll see that continue to be pursued hard, too. Tennessee also needs a kicker this cycle.
Ben: I pretty much agree with you. Defensive line is the No. 1 priority, while also continuing to add bodies along the offensive line. Overall, Tennessee has to continue to address the overall speed of the team. I also would like to see the Vols continue to add depth at the linebacker and safety position.
“Sound like TN has a slight lead over Duke for Kennedy Chandler. Thoughts?” – @coskramervol
Nathanael: I’m hesitant to say “yes” on this because it’s very rare that Tennessee beats out a team like Duke or North Carolina in men’s basketball for a recruit, but as of right now it definitely looks like the Vols are, at the very least, neck-and-neck with the Blue Devils. There’s still a long way to go with Kennedy Chandler’s recruitment, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see another team jump in before it’s all said and done. But as long as he doesn’t end up at Memphis, I’ll be happy.
Ben: I would agree as of April 24th. Tennessee assistant Kim English has done an absolutely tremendous job of recruiting Kennedy Chandler from the jump, and it’s clearly paying off. Duke is the main competition, but I wonder if the G League could sneak in and make a run at him following the recent developments of high level prospects accepting the NBA’s developmental league’s $500,000 offer. The Chandler family has come out and said that they intend to attend college, but we’ll see what happens when the money and free college tuition presents itself.
“Let’s settle this who’s the greatest QB in TN football history Tee or Peyton? Gotta be Tee he won a natty.” – @htcook1999
Nathanael: It’s hands-down Peyton Manning for me. Manning is one of the most talented quarterbacks of all-time. Tee Martin was great, and he deserves a lot of credit for helping the Vols go 13-0 and winning a title in 1998. But you know who else deserves a lot of credit for that? Tennessee’s incredible defense and their monster run game that year. People put way too much praise or blame on a QB for winning (or not winning) titles. Football is a team sport, and without UT’s suffocating defense and the power run game they had that year, Tee never gets a ring. Peyton is easily the greatest UT QB in my mind. It’s just a shame Tennessee could never beat Florida in his time as a Vol.
Ben: Talent wise, Peyton Manning. After all, Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time at any level. I’ll say Manning is the greatest Tennessee quarterback of all-time because of his ability, but it’s hard to not see Tee Martin because, like you said, he is the one who won the National Championship after all.