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.
“Would you sacrifice football this fall, if it meant basketball got to play, AND they were guaranteed to at least make the Final Four?” – Cody
Nathanael: I know I’ll absolutely be in the minority on this…but I’m really, really considering saying “yes” to this question. College basketball is probably my favorite sport, and I would love for Tennessee men’s basketball to get the national attention that comes with making a Final Four. Even if that means sacrificing football to do so.
But, with that being said, I think I’m going to have to say “no” to this, as much as my heart wants to say “yes.” I think the economic impact of not having any sort of football season for UT would outweigh the joy a Final Four or national championship game appearance would bring in men’s hoops.
Ben: No because not having the football season would be detrimental to the University, the city of Knoxville, and multiple programs on campus. Plus, even without being guaranteed, Tennessee basketball is capable of making a run to the Final Four. I’ll roll the dice and hope the Baller Vols can still make a run in March.
“What is the potential impact to recruiting with Graham’s show cause?” – Scott
Nathanael: Minimal, honestly. It’s always eye-catching when phrases like “show-cause” are used for a coach, but the actual punishment for Graham is pretty minor, and Tennessee as a whole isn’t getting punished. Graham has already done most of his recruiting for the Vols in the 2021 cycle, and he’ll still be able to do recruiting stuff on campus when prospects are allowed to visit again. His punishment is simply not being allowed to do off-campus recruiting for the remainder of 2020. Texas A&M (understandably) got hit harder, but even their penalties aren’t that serious.
Ben: It’s more of a slap on the wrist than anything else. Is it ideal? No. Preferably, Graham would be able to recruit off campus this fall, but other coaches on staff can fill in. Graham has already completed most of his work with running back targets Cody Brown, Tiyon Evans, and Jaylen Wright already committed. Graham will have to continue to massage those relationships to make sure they don’t decommit, but he’s perfectly capable of doing that under these circumstances.
“Do you think there will be a drop off in the wide receiver room? I personally believe it will be the opposite, very solid O-line, JGs senior year, Maurer & HB. Also stacked with receivers. I think Wideman and D Beck have amazing potential.” – @pruitteraa
Nathanael: I do think there will be a drop-off. Unless you’re a school like Alabama, Ohio State, or Clemson, you don’t just easily replace the type of production the Vols are losing from their WR room from last year. Trying to replicate what Jauan Jennings did for the offense would be hard enough, but attempting to replace Marquez Callaway along with that is very difficult. I really like the upside of UT’s wide receiver group this year with Josh Palmer, Deangelo Gibbs, Brandon Johnson, Velus Jones Jr., and a host of talented freshmen. But even if the offensive line is as good as advertised and Jarrett Guarantano takes another step forward, I think this group will be much more of a “by committee” approach than having two or three wideouts standing out like last season. Maybe that will be better overall, but I think we’ll see a little more emphasis on the run game this year regardless.
Ben: Any time you lose the type of production that Tennessee will be losing in Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, yes, there will be a drop off. Now, that doesn’t mean the group is going to struggle this season, because I don’t believe they will. Josh Palmer is one of the best wide receivers in the SEC, and I believe Deangelo Gibbs will prove to be just as good as Palmer if not better. Together they’ll prove to be one of the better duos in the SEC. Brandon Johnson, Velus Jones Jr., and Ramel Keyton will also prove to be reliable options. I anticipate one of the freshman wide receivers, if not multiple, will be productive as well. Jimmy Holiday and Jimmy Calloway are already generating some buzz.
“How quickly does the Whitehaven trio see the field and how quickly do they make an impact?” – @nposey23
Nathanael: I think both Bryson Eason and Martavius French have the chance of seeing some early playing time because of how thin the depth is at linebacker for the Vols. But I don’t really believe you’ll see much of Tamarion McDonald this season. He needs a little more development, is playing more of a nickel/STAR role, and is recovering from surgery. But Eason or French could carve out a role on defense, and I think one or both can make an impact on special teams as well.
Ben: The consensus throughout their recruitment was that Bryson Eason was better than Martavius French and Tamarion McDonald. I believe playing time will reflect that consensus this fall. With the lack of depth at inside linebacker, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Eason receive snaps if he can pick up the playbook. As for French and McDonald, I see them redshirting.
“Your surprise impact player on both sides of the ball this fall?” – Stevie
Nathanael: On offense, all the attention in the backfield is being given to Eric Gray. Ty Chandler is also getting some talk since he’s a rising senior, but it’s usually Gray who is standing in the spotlight. I think that with Tim Jordan being dismissed from the team, freshman Tee Hodge will end up making a bigger impact than many expect. He’s big, physical, and could be exactly what the Vols need at the goal line or as a blocker in jumbo sets. Defensively, I’m going to go with Roman Harrison. Both Kivon Bennett and Deandre Johnson have the edge in experience as edge rushers for UT, but I just really like the upside of Harrison and the type of physical edge he brings. He started to look a little more confident later in the season last year, and that could carry over and give him a chance to find a much bigger role in 2020.
Ben: I’m rolling with Deangelo Gibbs as the “surprise” impact player on the Vols offense. Tennessee fans and Tennessee’s media contingency may be aware of Gibbs and the fact that he is likely to start opposite of Josh Palmer, but the rest of the SEC and college football isn’t. By the time the season is over, they’ll be well aware.
I’ll go with Tyler Baron or Roman Harrison on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, there’s some experience at the outside linebacker position, but there’s not a ton of production returning following the departure of Darrell Taylor off the edge. Kivon Bennett and Deandre Johnson will get the first crack at playing and producing, but if they get off to a slow start, Baron and Harrison will race past them and won’t look back. Both are too talented to keep off of the field.
“Will Johnny get a statue?” – @brokebackvol
Nathanael: Does Johnny Majors get a statue at Tennessee? I don’t think so. Does he get one at Pittsburgh? Possibly. Majors was an outstanding player for UT and was a Heisman runner-up, and he helped the Vols win multiple SEC titles as a coach and the 1985 Sugar Bowl. But he didn’t actually win the Heisman, nor did he lead Tennessee to a national title. The only statues on UT’s campus are ones of coaches who won national championships (Pat Summitt, General Neyland). I think you can give Majors a plaque on or near the stadium, a road, or something like that, but probably not a statue. Though I think there’s definitely an argument to be made about him getting a statue. I just wouldn’t do it if I were UT.
Ben: No. Tennessee just isn’t in to statues like other schools are. Look at the only two statues on campus: General Neyland, who is the God of Tennessee football, and Pat Summitt, the greatest basketball coach in women’s basketball history and one of the greatest coaches in basketball history period. Johnny Majors is a Tennessee legend, but he isn’t Neyland or Summitt. Tennessee is stingy with statues, and I don’t see that changing.