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.
“Wondering what your thoughts are on Eric Gray being named to the Doak Walker Watch List. I already expected him to have a big season, but it looks like people outside of our program expect that too.” – Ricky
Nathanael: I wouldn’t look too much into it, really. I think it’s definitely good publicity for him and UT, but these preseason watch lists often have a ton of players on them. Gray is on the radar because he had that record-setting performance against Vanderbilt to end the regular season and had a strong game against Indiana in the Gator Bowl. Plus, Tennessee’s offensive line should make it much easier for him, Ty Chandler, and the rest of UT’s running backs to find holes this season. I do expect Gray to have a good year, but I’d be pretty surprised if he ends up being a semifinalist for the award or anything.
Ben: On one hand, it’s not a big deal because 76 different running backs were listed. But on the other, I do believe it’s an acknowledgment to not only Gray’s personal ability, but the potential damage Gray could do this year behind Tennessee’s offensive line. The Vols will have one of the best offensive lines in the country up front. If Gray plays like he did against Vanderbilt and Indiana for the entirety of the regular season, he’ll be viewed as one of the premier running backs in the country when it’s all said and done.
“Do you see any position changes?” – @roy__rogers__
Nathanael: Between now and the start of the 2020 season (whenever that will be), I could see a few moves being made. But I also think we see some more moves made during the season, because that’s happened a few times under Pruitt so far at UT. It wouldn’t shock me to see Bryce Thompson move around a little in the secondary depending on how the younger corners develop, and I think Len’Neth Whitehead ends up moving to linebacker at some point. Whether that’s now or down the road, I’m not sure.
Ben: I don’t think we’ll see as many position changes this fall camp as we’ve seen during Pruitt’s first two fall camps. The majority of the roster is Pruitt’s, and he no longer has to toy with Butch Jones’ roster to try and figure out what is best for his scheme. Instead, Pruitt communicated what position the players were going to play upon arrival to campus. Sure, some guys will get a look at other positions here or there, but there won’t be multiple changes throughout each week like there has been in the past.
“Do you know anything on Kennedy Chandler announcement date? Seems like its coming soon.” – @coskramervol
Nathanael: Nope. His dad said a few weeks ago in an interview that it would likely be sometime in the fall, but with all the crystal ball predictions rolling in and the buzz around Chandler growing, that time table may have been moved up. I don’t know a specific date, but it definitely feels sooner rather than later. And if Tennessee is Chandler’s choice, the sooner he jumps in, the better. He’ll be a huge recruiting tool for UT to try and bring in other five-stars.
Ben: There’s definitely a lot of buzz surrounding Chandler and Tennessee. A commitment isn’t imminent, but where there is smoke, there is fire. As Nathanael said, Chandler’s father recently said that they were eyeing a decision in the fall. Regardless, the Vols are in great position and the quicker a decision, the sooner Tennessee’s potential dominoes in recruiting could begin to fall. Chandler is the type of point guard that most elite-level recruits will want to play with.
“What basketball combo has a better chance of getting Barnes his first natty: Chandler/Banchero or Springer/Johnson?” – Hayden
Nathanael: That’s a really tough question. Kudos to you for making me sit here and think a while.
I would side on saying that this season of Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer would be a better chance than if UT lands Kennedy Chandler and Paolo Banchero. As great as I think that duo would be, I think Tennessee’s roster for the 2020-21 season is the perfect mix of young talent and experienced veterans. If Yves Pons returns, he and John Fulkerson will be a really, really good duo in the frontcourt, and I’m a huge fan of what grad transfer EJ Anosike brings to this roster. Throw in Victor Bailey Jr. becoming eligible, Josiah-Jordan James (hopefully) being healthy and feeling better, and Santiago Vescovi actually having time to acclimate and improve his game, and I think this team has a very high ceiling. Tennessee loses quite a bit off the roster for the 2021-22 season, especially if either Johnson or Springer leave after one season.
Ben: I’m going with Chandler and Banchero. Let’s remember that we’re splitting hairs for this question. I’m also not taking into consideration the surrounding pieces. I’ll start with Banchero. The Washington native is without a doubt the best player of the four mentioned. He’s a likely top five pick in 2022 and can play either the four or five. At 6-foot-9, he’s plenty capable of coming in and winning SEC Player of the Year as a freshman.
Pair Banchero with Chandler and you have one of the most talented freshmen duos Tennessee has ever seen. Because Chandler is viewed just as talented as Johnson and Springer, Banchero is the best of the four, and they play two different positions, I’m rolling with the potential 2021 combination.
“Most underrated Tennessee player of the last 10 years?” – @BurneyVeazey
Nathanael: In football, I’ll say it’s Josh Dobbs. The more time passes, the more I look back and think, “Man, if Dobbs had been on a Clemson or Florida or Alabama-type of roster, he probably wins the SEC or maybe a national title.” Dobbs was so good on the ground, and he improved every year as a passer. If he had a competent coaching staff and even just a slightly above average QB coach for the last two years he was on campus, he would be remembered even more fondly than he is.
In men’s basketball, I’m going to go with Armani Moore. That dude was a 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard who played center at times for UT and averaged double figures in scoring his final two years while leading the team in rebounding those same two years. And it wasn’t like he led the team in that category with sub-par numbers; no, he averaged almost seven rebounds a game in 2014-15 and averaged 7.6 boards a contest in 2015-16. He was also second on the team in assists as a junior and led the team in assists as a senior. If he had been more competent behind the three-point line, he would’ve grabbed a lot more national attention. Well, that and if UT had actually been good his final two years of play.
Ben: Is it too early to say Lamonte Turner for basketball? Turner is always praised for the game-winning shots, but I don’t think he’s credited enough for his play on defense, overall offensive ability, and his leadership. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield receive nearly all of the credit for leading the two NCAA Tournament teams. Turner deserves just as much credit.
On the football field, I’ll go with Mychal Rivera. The former Tennessee tight end was always the forgotten member of the potent 2012 offense that consisted of Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, and Cordarrelle Patterson, but he had more success in the NFL than Bray and Hunter. He was a terrific pass-catcher for the Vols and the best tight end in the program over the last decade.