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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.
“Any more chances we have on any more 5 stars?” – @bkp15257171
Nathanael: There are chances for sure. Right now, five-star outside linebacker Smael Mondon appears to be the best shot the Vols have at adding a third five-star to the 2021 class, and five-star offensive tackle Amarius Mims is also on the table. I also wouldn’t count out the Vols with five-star cornerback Tony Grimes or five-star defensive tackle Maason Smith.
Ben: Yes, there is absolutely a chance for Tennessee to land some more five-stars in the 2021 recruiting class to pair with five-star edge rusher Dylan Brooks and five-star linebacker Terrence Lewis. Five-star linebacker Smael Mondon is the most likely for Tennessee, while five-star offensive tackle Amarius Mims is also a possibility.
“If we get Mondon and Mims in the 2021 class will it be the greatest class in UT history/the stepping stone to championships? I think we have a good shot at landing both.” – Hayden
Nathanael: I can’t speak to some of the recruiting classes Tennessee pulled in back in the 1990s because recruiting wasn’t followed as heavily back then and you didn’t have the star ratings, but I think it would absolutely be the best in the modern recruiting era for the Vols. The 2001 class was pretty top-heavy and had some studs, and the 2002, 2003 and 2004 classes were full of star power and All-SEC players. Those were some stellar classes all in a row. If the Vols land both Mondon and Mims and keep who they have currently, I’d put the 2021 class right up there with those classes.
Ben: If Tennessee were to land Mondon and Mims, the 2021 recruiting class would most definitely deserve consideration for the best in program history. More importantly, it solidifies itself as a humongous stepping stone to a National Championship. The Vols have already landed plenty of championship-caliber players, and adding Mondon and Mims would only add to that. Which you have to do if you’re going to compete for an SEC Championship every single year.
“What position do we need to sign now? Do we really need 4 running backs in this class?” – @BuckToTheNasty1
Nathanael: I’ll answer your second question first: Tennessee won’t be signing four running backs in this class. The only two I for sure see staying at RB in college are Cody Brown and Tiyon Evans. I think Jaylen Wright stays in the class, but his amazing speed could see him be used as a gadget player of sorts and maybe even as a slot wideout. I also think Elijah Howard ends up on defense as a cornerback, but we’ll see with him. The staff definitely likes him.
I’d like to see Tennessee add a couple tight ends, pick up another defensive lineman, add another offensive lineman or two, and grab another edge rusher to go along with Dylan Brooks. Figuring out the numbers in this class will be interesting, that’s for sure.
Ben: Tennessee now needs to go out and shore up the tight end position, the offensive line, and secure another edge rusher. The Vols won’t sign four running backs this class and have three currently committed in four-star Cody Brown, three-star Jaylen Wright and Tiyon Evans — the No. 1 junior college running back. Elijah Howard likely will play defensive back.
Tight end is likely the position you’ll see addressed in the near future. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Tennessee land Miles Campbell and Trinity Bell, though the Vols like Bell as a defensive lineman, which would open the door to land four-star Hudson Wolfe out of Savannah, Tennessee as well. Campbell is set to announce this Sunday — May 18th — and the Vols are in a good position for the three-star out of Douglasville, Georgia. The Vols are also in a good spot for Bell, the three-star out of Albertville, Alabama who recently included Tennessee in his top five with Auburn, Kentucky, Florida, and UCF. As for Wolfe, Tennessee still has some work to do with the four-star Tennessee native as it continues to battle Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State.
“We already have R. Taylor and now people are saying Campbell, Wolfe and Bell are starting to trend towards the Vols. No way we take 4 TEs right? Plus Nixon could switch to TE in the future.” – Michael
Nathanael: Roc Taylor isn’t going to play at tight end, I don’t think. I think he prefers to play wide receiver, so I don’t think the staff will move him there unless he has a change of heart or if it’s absolutely necessary. Julian Nixon could move there, but I think the staff wants him at wide receiver first and see how that goes. I do think the Vols land Miles Campbell, and I really like both his athleticism and the way he blocks. He’s aggressive blocking down the field in the run game, and he blocks well on the line, too. I think Trinity Bell could end up on defense at 6-foot-7, and the Vols aren’t guaranteed anything with in-state TE Hudson Wolfe. They still have plenty of work to do with him to make sure he doesn’t end up at Ohio State or at either Alabama or Georgia.
Ben: I pretty much answered this in the previous question, but to add some more context, I don’t believe we’ll see four-star Julian Nixon or three-star Roc Taylor start their career out at tight end. While both are bigger-bodied receivers, Tennessee likes them at wide receiver. The two could end up at tight end, but they’ll both start out in Tee Martin’s receiving room.
As I mentioned above, I do believe Campbell and Bell will eventually be Vols. But the coaching staff likes Bell on the defensive side of the ball as a lineman at 6-foot-7. If that holds true, then Campbell will be the tight end of the class, and Bell will be counted towards the defensive front. Tennessee isn’t going to turn away Wolfe either if it can beat out Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State for his services. Best case scenario, Tennessee signs two true tight ends in Campbell and Wolfe, while also adding Bell who will start out on the defensive line, but can always transition back to the offensive side of the ball.
“With all the big recruits we have committed would it be beneficial if football season didn’t happen? Just to avoid any decommitments from an embarrassing loss?” – @nposey23
Nathanael: Not at all I don’t think. Yes, you run the risk of another Georgia State-type of loss if the season goes on (whenever it does), but I think the financial impact of not having a season would be much worse than losing a couple recruits after having a disappointing season. I see the angle you’re coming at, but I also think it could hurt the Vols to not be able to go out there in 2020 and prove the ending of the 2019 season wasn’t a fluke. Tennessee has a legit shot this season of pulling off at least one upset of the four big teams on their schedule, and if they did that, then that only helps their chances of keeping this class intact and adding to it. Without a season, other teams can still point to the Vols as being mostly flash and little substance even after the strong close to the 2019 season.
Ben: No. I get what you’re saying, but I wouldn’t want that to happen even if it ensured that the current commits would remain committed. Part of being a good recruiter is closing the deal and inking their signature. This staff will handle business on and off the field over the next nine months. Plus, the financial impact of not having a football season is much greater than any one recruit. Football will be played in some capacity.
“Do you think the closing of California schools until 2021 will ensure JT Daniels transfers to an SEC school? (Tennessee or LSU)” – @VFL_WNC
Nathanael: That’s a good point, but I also think what happens with the vote on the one-time transfer rule will have just as large of an impact on JT Daniels. If that doesn’t get voted on or gets turned down, then that’s less incentive for him to go somewhere just to sit out the season. Even if Pac-12 schools don’t operate in 2020, Daniels might not be eligible to play this season anyway without the waiver rule, so why not just stay at USC if you can’t play either way? Of course, the NCAA might rule that the schools closing would be “mitigating circumstances” and allow players transferring from those schools to be immediately eligible, but who knows with the NCAA.
Ben: “Ensure” isn’t the correct word, but it sure doesn’t hurt. While also leaving the option to return to USC open, Daniels has spoken with Oregon, Michigan, Tennessee, and LSU. If the Pac-12 doesn’t have a football season, I could definitely see him landing at Michigan, LSU, or Tennessee, with an even greater chance of it being one of the SEC schools. After all, LSU and Tennessee are generating the most buzz for the services of Daniels.
“Basketball: Can we get a ‘Midnight Madness’ type of event this year? We’re growing into a basketball powerhouse. We need to have a midnight madness event like that team the North of us.” – @TurtleTTC
Nathanael: I’d be all in favor of that, or at least some type of big event in the preseason to get fans hyped up. This year I don’t think you’ll see it happen because of the current pandemic, but I’d love to see it prior to the 2021-22 season.
Ben: I would absolutely love that, and I think it’s something Tennessee could pull off if it promoted the event correctly and long enough. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll see it this season with everything going on with the Coronavirus.
“Hear any noise on Mac McClung?” – Darrin
Nathanael: There’s definitely noise, but I’m not sure how realistic it is. As Ben points out below, Tennessee has at least reached out to see if McClung is interested, and I think there’s mutual interest there. But unless the Vols find a way to free up a scholarship, they don’t have room to add McClung for this upcoming season. Of course, McClung may not be eligible to play for the 2020-21 season unless he gets a waiver approved, so maybe UT could bring him on as a walk-on just for next season then award him a scholarship for 2021-22. The only way Tennessee would have room to add him the normal way is if Yves Pons stays in the NBA draft pool or someone transfers, and I don’t think Pons is staying in the draft.
Ben: Yes, there is smoke with Mac McClung. It’s not heavy smoke, but Tennessee is interested in the services of the talented Georgetown transfer who has multiple ties to the Vols. I can confirm the report from Evan Daniels of 247Sports that Tennessee has reached out to gauge his interest.