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Insider Mailing: Reporting Back to Campus 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.

“If there is a potential spike in COVID numbers in the fall, and the season got cut short prematurely, does that really hurt Tennessee because the back end of our schedule is easier than the first half?” – @hesenij

Nathanael: That’s a good question. I don’t know if that would happen, but if it did, it definitely would hurt Tennessee in my opinion. But I don’t think it would be a massive blow unless the Vols failed to pull off at least one upset. Tennessee’s first seven games feature three of their four toughest opponents in Oklahoma, Florida, and Alabama. I guess it depends on when the season is cut short if it happens, but I could realistically see UT being 5-2 after that point, and they’d probably be ranked. That’s not a bad selling point to high profile recruits, especially if UT can beat one of those three teams. Now, being 4-3 at that juncture is a different story, but it’s still not horrible.

Ben: I do agree that the back end of the schedule is easier, but I don’t think it’s as easy as some would think because the Georgia game is in November this fall, and it’s on the road. The trip to Athens isn’t the only tough game on the back end of the schedule either. Kentucky is going to be a good football team once again this season, and I expect for that to be a close game in Neyland Stadium. But ultimately, yes, it would hurt Tennessee because the Vols have to play Oklahoma, Florida, and Alabama during the front half. After playing those teams, the Vols wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to beat up on teams like Arkansas, Troy, and Vanderbilt if the season were cancelled.

“I’ve never been more proud of our coaches or our players than I am after seeing them peacefully protesting together. I’m wondering what you guys’ thoughts are on it and what it says about our coaches and our team?” – @The_Klassens

Nathanael: I loved it, honestly. I know there are fans out there who got upset over it (for whatever reason), but to me it shows that Pruitt and this team know that life is more than just football. It shows that Pruitt supports his players beyond the field, and I think it’s a great sign for the chemistry and relationships of this team.

Ben: I don’t want to dive in too much for the sake of sticking to sports out of respect for those who use this as an escape, but anybody who has listened to me on the Swain Event over the last week knows that I have loved the way Tennessee Athletics has handled everything going on. Especially Jeremy Pruitt and the players.

“What happened with Tray Curry?” – Jeremy

Nathanael: I don’t know that we’ll ever get the full story, but it seems like Curry wanted to commit and went ahead and went public with it on Instagram despite not being a take right now for Tennessee. It’s weird because in an interview with Matt Ray of VR2, Curry claimed he told Tennessee’s coaches and they were excited about him committing. Now, he didn’t specify which coaches he told, so it could’ve been like a GA or someone, but still. I think Tennessee likes Curry, but with spots being at a premium in this class right now, I don’t think he’s a take just yet. I’ll be interested to see what happens with him in the coming months.

Ben: Simply put: Tennessee wasn’t ready to take his commitment. It caught the coaching staff off guard.

“Do you guys think Brooks, Lewis, Willis, and Kamar stays in the boat?” – Stevie

Nathanael: Of those four, the one I would be worried the most about decommitting would be Terrence Lewis. But I still think he sticks with the Vols unless UT just completely bombs this season. I think Kamar Wilcoxson is very solid, and Dylan Brooks seems pretty content, too. Aaron Willis also seems pretty solid.

Ben: As of June, yes. Tennessee will still have to fight for all four, however. Especially Dylan Brooks and Terrenece Lewis. Auburn isn’t going to stop recruiting Brooks and neither are the top teams that Lewis was considering before he committed. It’s going to be a fight until Signing Day.

“Who is the guy in the 2020 class that you just get the ball in his hands and let him do the rest?” – Ben

Nathanael: I’m going to say Jimmy Holiday. Even if he stays at quarterback and doesn’t move to wide receiver, he’s a guy who is electric with the ball in his hands. Go watch his senior year highlights if you haven’t yet. He’s an incredible athlete who is a threat to score every time he has possession. My second choice would be Jalin Hyatt. His speed is so, so dangerous, and he’s a strong route runner already. Get him in space, and watch out.

Ben: Jalin Hyatt. That kid is different. His speed is something that has been lacking for quite some time in the Tennessee wide receiver room, and he’ll have an opportunity to immediately play in the slot.

“Do you think the TE position will have a bigger role in the offense? If so, who steps up?” – Ed

Nathanael: Statistically, I don’t expect Tennessee’s tight ends to have a much better season through the air than last year. But their impact as run and pass blockers might be greater, though that won’t show up on the stat sheet. The Vols don’t have any proven pass catchers at the position right now, at least not at the collegiate level. But Austin Pope is an exceptional blocker, and I like the potential of Princeton Fant and redshirt freshman Sean Brown as blockers, too. If Jacob Warren can take another step, he may be able to shine as a pass catcher, though.

Ben: No, because I view the tight ends as a weakness. They could prove me wrong, but going into fall camp, the Vols lack a threatening pass-catching option and players that are strong blockers outside of Austin Pope. So, I think Jim Chaney is going to be forced to scheme around the position. There just aren’t a lot of difference-makers at the position right now.

“Are UT’s freshmen basketball players one and done, or do they stick around long enough to get Coach Barnes his Natty??” – @jbinjoplin

Nathanael: I think it’s more likely that both Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson are one-and-done players, but I do see Corey Walker Jr. hanging around for two or three seasons. But unless they get hurt or just don’t get as much playing time as we expect, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see both Springer and Johnson leave after one year. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to see both stay, especially with how many players the Vols are set to lose after this upcoming season, but I lean slightly more towards at least one of them — if not both — leaving after a season.

Ben: Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson are only going to be on campus for one season if everything goes according to plan. They’re too talented to stick around for a sophomore season with NBA teams already chomping at the bits to draft them. Corey Walker Jr. is likely a developmental guy as he sits behind Yves Pons, John Fulkerson, and EJ Anosike during his true freshman season, so he’ll likely be around for a while.

“What happens first: Tennessee football wins an SEC championship, Tennessee basketball makes the final four, or Tennessee baseball makes it to Omaha?” – Samuel

Nathanael: I think the basketball team making it to the Final Four happens first. It’s so hard to predict how a team will do in the NCAA Tournament because it’s based so much off match-ups and luck a lot of times, but the Vols should have the type of roster to make a deep postseason run over the next couple seasons at least. I pick men’s hoops over football and baseball partially because the SEC isn’t nearly as deep or daunting in basketball as it is in those other two sports. I think Tennessee football can win the SEC East in the next three years, but beating Alabama or some other SEC West team to win the whole conference? I don’t know about that. Baseball has a similar problem. The SEC is the best conference in baseball, and the Vols not only have to survive conference play, but they also have to get past some really good teams in regional play, too. I think baseball could make it to Omaha sooner than a lot might think, but I think the odds are better for men’s basketball to get to the Final Four sooner.

Ben: I’ll say Tennessee baseball simply because they’re the team with the most talent, and though they play in the best conference in America for baseball, it’s more likely a team makes it to Omaha than it is a final four because eight teams make the College World Series each year. Yes, they have to go through conference play, but once you make the tournament, you’re likely playing teams outside of the conference, and you only have to win four games, maybe five, to make it to Omaha. The NCAA Basketball Tournament is much more difficult to navigate.

With football, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are hefty moving blocks on the path to make it to the SEC Championship Game.

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  1. Tennessee needs to be recruiting Bryce Goodner out of McMinn County and not let him leave the state. He is a beast and will be a top 10-20 pick in the NFL draft. He has some of the best feet and just explodes off the ball. Thoughts?

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