Managing editor Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“What’s the over/under that Alabama draws Vandy and Missouri on this year’s schedule? I’ll hang up and listen.” – Buck Nasty
Ben: 100 percent. Just kidding, I think. In all seriousness, it’s ridiculous that the SEC is rumored to be catering to Alabama and Florida because both programs complained about potentially adding the 2021 and 2022 cross-division opponent. I fully expect for the SEC to give particular teams in the conference preferential treatment, which is ridiculous. I understand the conference wanting to try and make things fair for everyone, but by rebuilding a schedule, they’re doing the opposite. The fairest, easiest thing to do was just add the next two conference games that were on the schedule.
“When do you think the SEC will come out with the schedules?” – Bill
Ben: Should be sometime today (Friday). The rumors circulating throughout the SEC’s media this week has been that the schedule was going to be dropped Thursday afternoon or at some point on Friday.
“What newcomers are you most looking forward to seeing” – Triple O
Ben: Quite a few as a matter of fact. On the offensive side, obviously I’m excited to see what Harrison Bailey can do, but I’m also excited to see what his five freshmen wide receivers can do. At one point or another this offseason, each of the freshmen receivers have been brought up in conversations about newcomers who are standing out. Jimmy Holiday, Malachi Wideman, Dee Beckwith, Jalin Hyatt and Jimmy Calloway all have the opportunity to contribute early.
Defensively, I believe Tyler Baron, Morven Jospeh and Key Lawrence are going to have an opportunity to receive significant playing time early on. Baron and Joseph will compete for the starting outside linebacker job, while Lawrence should be able to compete for a significant role in the secondary as well. I’m also excited to see what Doneiko Slaughter can do. The coaches were extremely high on him when they signed him in February.
“Which players do you think could make the biggest surprise impact on the field?” – Roy Rogers McFreely
Ben: For those who are not as familiar with Tennessee’s roster it’ll be Deangelo Gibbs. The talk in regards to the Vols is that they must replace Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, and Josh Palmer is the one who is going to step up and try to replace their production. Palmer won’t be able to do it on his own and the hope is that Gibbs will be able to live up to the hype he generated in practice last year. The receiver that will surprise people is Brandon Johnson. He’s the forgotten man, and he led the team in receiving as a sophomore in 2017.
Defensively, I could see a situation in which J.J. Peterson surprises people. He hasn’t lived up to his recruiting ranking so far, but he’s finally healthy. Jeremy Pruitt has maintained since the end of the season that he believes Peterson will finally have the ability to legitimately contribute now that he’s healthy, has been in the strength and conditioning program and has a better understanding of the playbook now.
“Which receiver is most likely to step up alongside Josh Palmer this season?” – Ben Hodge
Ben: I essentially answered this in the last question, but I believe it’ll be Gibbs. While redshirting last season after transferring from Georgia, Gibbs generated quite the buzz to his name. He continually beat the first team defensive backs on scout team and made several highlight-reel catches. He’ll have to go and prove it in his first year playing wide receiver at this level, but he has the athleticism to be a big time contributor for the Vols.
“What impact do you think Dee Beckwith will have and what position will he play? Seems to be overlooked yet having a lot of potential IMO” — VolJuice
Ben: This is an interesting question because all five freshmen receivers have the potential to contribute early and often. Beckwith will have an opportunity to contribute more than the others because he is extremely versatile and can line up in multiple positions. He’ll start out at wide receiver, but I’ll be interested to see if he starts fall camp at tight end considering the injury to Austin Pope. Beckwith definitely has the opportunity to play well early on.
“Do you think Coach Pruitt gives Emmit Gooden a second chance if the charges against him or dropped? What are the chances that Trey Smith opts out of this season because of COVID-19?” — Matt Daniels
Ben: If the charges are dropped, sure, I could see a situation in which Pruitt offers Gooden a second chance. But the police report was pretty detailed. According to the report, Gooden smashed a glass jar on the top of his girlfriend’s head. There’s no coming back from that. It’s also very telling to me that Pruitt immediately kicked him off the team. In other situations, he’s let the legal process play out with Bryce Thompson and Jeremy Banks.
I would be stunned if Trey Smith opted out. Not necessarily from a health standpoint, but Smith isn’t the type to think of himself first. Smith is all about what’s best for Tennessee. So, even if it makes sense for him to sit out because of his previous health issues, he’s the type of guy who wouldn’t even consider sitting out. And would probably slap you for even considering it.
“Do you think Khristian Zachary is our next commit?” – CosmoKramer
Ben: I would be surprised if the three-star defensive end was the next to commit to Tennessee. That doesn’t mean the Vols aren’t in a good position, because they are, but other names such as Tyrion-Ingram Dawkins are closer to making a decision. The Vols are in a good position with Dawkins as well.
“With the way all of the power five conferences are now playing a 10-game only schedule, how many Vols games do you think will be blacked out?” — VFLPilgrim
Ben: I don’t believe any games will be blacked out, especially with all of the possibilities with technology in 2020. Broadcasts will look different as we’ve seen with other sports that have resumed, but all games will still be televised. There’s too many channels for them not to be broadcasted.
“Will there still be bowl games and what do the logistics of the postseason look like? – NCVol79
Ben: I personally would be surprised if there were bowl games, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t take place. COVID numbers could improve by then to make it more possible to play games by the time bowl season rolls around. I just don’t think decision-makers are going to go through with events that don’t pertain to naming a champion.
“Why not have a spring season? You can have full stadiums because there will be a vaccine. Won’t lose money.” – Stevie Duckett
Ben: Most of the big time programs are anti-spring season because that would mean playing without their best players. From Tennessee’s perspective, the Vols likely wouldn’t have Trey Smith as the NFL Draft will take place in April, and other Vols could potentially be drafted.