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Insider Mailing: Opening Back Up Edition

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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.

“2 questions.. since the football team didn’t get spring practice, do u think they’ll be able to start fall camp earlier? And do u think we will have fans at games? I would rather have a later start just to have fans there.” – Stevie

Nathanael: To your first question, I’m curious to see how the whole fall camp and 2020 season starting time play out. I know UT is expected to welcome students back to campus for the normal first day of classes, but I also know that UNC and NC State have proposed moving up the academic calendar and having students back earlier so they can be let out earlier, too. The fear seems to be that a second wave would hit hardest in the late fall and early winter, so ideas are floating around out there that it may be better to start the football season earlier rather than putting it off till later. I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I hope the safety of the athletes, coaches, and fans remain the focal point of discussions.

As for your second one, I think there will end up being fans, but I don’t think we’re going to see stadiums at full capacity. I think the numbers will have to be reduced in all stadiums across the country, not just at Neyland.

Ben: I do believe camp will begin earlier, but I don’t think that there will be a designated amount of legitimate practices to make up for what was lost in the spring. Rather, I believe they’ll have more of an OTA style practice like the NFL goes through each offseason. Just simple workouts in shorts that allow the players to get out on the field and go through position specific drills.

Yes, I do believe fans will be at games this fall, but it definitely won’t be full capacity. The talk right now throughout the country is allowing anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of a stadium’s capacity. I wish we could delay the season until a stadium can host its full capacity, but that’s a logistical nightmare.

“If Athlon has us 3rd in the East, who is our QB going to be?” – Ed

Nathanael: Right now, I’d be fairly surprised if Jarrett Guarantano isn’t the starting quarterback for the Vols to start the year. That doesn’t mean he’ll hang on to the job for the whole season, but barring an injury or Harrison Bailey or Brian Maurer just absolutely exploding over the summer and in the fall, I think JG will be the starter to begin the season. Even with Guarantano at quarterback and if he doesn’t make a ton of progress from last season, Tennessee should still be able to finish third in the East at worst this season.

Ben: The starting quarterback game No. 1 is going to be Jarrett Guarantano. Without a cluster of spring practices and a typical summer spent on campus, Harrison Bailey isn’t going to be able to win the job during fall camp as a true freshman. Guarantano has always been a good practice player, and that’s not going to change this fall. He’ll be the starter until his play dictates otherwise.

“What is more likely: Tennessee beating Oklahoma or Tennessee beating Florida?” – Samuel

Nathanael: I think it’s more likely the Vols beat Oklahoma, actually. The Sooners lost a lot from their roster from last season, and they’ll likely be led by a young quarterback making his first start against a Power Five program when Oklahoma hosts the Vols. Granted, Spencer Rattler has a high ceiling, but that’s still a big moment for a redshirt freshman quarterback. I think Oklahoma loses more than Florida does from the 2019 season, and even though that game is on the road, I like UT’s chances slightly more to pull off an upset over the Sooners than beating the Gators.

Ben: Tennessee beating Oklahoma. As of the end of May, I have Florida winning the SEC East over Georgia. The Gators return Kyle Trask with a flurry of weapons at his side, and the defense will once again be stout. It’s weird because Tennessee plays Florida in Knoxville, and they have to play Oklahoma in Norman, but I like that the Vols catch the Sooners in the midst of breaking in a bunch of new faces. Lincoln Riley has to rebuild an offense without spring practice or a summer of workouts while also having to replace key pieces on the defensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, we know Jeremy Pruitt is going to have his defense ready to play. Plus, if fans aren’t allowed at games week two, it won’t be as challenging of a game as we initially expected.

“Over/Under for games that Harrison Bailey starts this season: 3?” – @BelltowerJr54

Nathanael: I’ve had to delete my answer to this question about three times now. I really don’t know how I feel about this one. Part of me feels like Bailey will eventually unseat Guarantano during the 2020 season because Guarantano will play his way onto the bench, but part of me also thinks that JG has the ability to play consistently enough to remain the starter all year. There’s also no guarantee that Bailey would take the job after Guarantano. Brian Maurer could be the next in line for reps.

But if I have to make a prediction, I’ll say “push.” Bailey may end up making a couple starts, but I don’t know that he’ll make more than three.

Ben: Under. I think we’re going to see an improved Guarantano. I don’t think he’ll go out and win the Heisman, but I don’t think we’re going to see him lose his job. We saw Guarantano improve as the season progressed last season. That was because of him becoming more comfortable with Jim Chaney and his system. Guarantano said so himself following the win over Kentucky. With a second offseason with Chaney’s offense under his belt and being able to lean on arguably the best offensive line in the SEC, we’re going to see a productive Guarantano from start-to-finish to end his career.

“Why would JT Daniels go to Georgia?” – Mark

Nathanael: Beats me. It looks unlikely he’ll be eligible for the upcoming season now that the NCAA is putting off voting on the one-time transfer rule, so he likely won’t be competing with Georgia’s transfer from Wake Forest this season. That sets him up well for the 2021 season, but Georgia also has five-star Brock Vandagriff currently committed to them in their 2021 class. I wonder how he feels about Daniels transferring into UGA?

If I was JT Daniels, I would want to go to a proven offense that has shown it can showcase quarterbacks. Why not LSU? Or even Florida for that matter? Both those offenses favor quarterbacks more than Georgia’s. The Bulldogs are certainly an interesting choice.

Ben: Because he’s going to have plenty of talent to work with. Assuming he beats out Brock Vandagriff for the job, which won’t be an easy task, he’ll have George Pickens — a first round pick — and a slew of other weapons. Georgia must replace a ton on offense, but that’s for the 2020 season, and the cupboard isn’t bare. By the time Daniels takes over, the young talent the Bulldogs have will have established themselves.

The James Coley experience is also over. He’s moved on after a tough year on offense, but Kirby Smart hired Todd Monken, who has experience in the SEC at LSU as a passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. Monken also went on to Oklahoma State where he was the offensive coordinator of the Cowboys offense that had Brandon Weeden and James Blackmon go on to be first round picks.

Daniels’ choice to pick Georgia makes sense. It just came out of nowhere, as Tennessee and LSU were the two SEC schools most associated with Daniels throughout the process.

“Please tell me we get Smael Mondon????” – Hayden

Nathanael: I’d love to tell you it’s going to happen, Hayden, but that’s far from a guarantee. I do think the Vols are in a good spot with him, but Georgia is going to do everything they can to land the five-star inside their own state borders. Tennessee is going to have to continue to give the full-court press for Mondon all the way through Signing Day. Because even if he commits to UT or UGA in June, that doesn’t mean anything in today’s recruiting world.

Ben: Tennessee definitely has a shot, but Georgia’s in the lead at the end of May. Brian Niedermeyer has a great relationship with Mondon, so the Vols shouldn’t be counted out, but the full-court press will have to continue.

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