Managing editor Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Could you rank the QB depth chart so far? What are the projected linebackers?” – Chris in JC
Ben: Jarrett Guarantano will be the starter game No. 1 against South Carolina barring injury. Behind Guarantano, through two weeks of fall camp, JT Shrout is the No. 2 quarterback, followed by Brian Maurer as the third-string, and Harrison Bailey as the fourth quarterback on the depth chart.
Guarantano and Shrout have both have good camps. Maurer is battling inconsistency, while Bailey has been behind schedule after being in “social quarantine” due to COVID-19.
At linebacker, Henry To’o To’o is clearly one of the starting inside linebackers. Quavaris Crouch is running next to him as the other starting inside backer, though Jeremy Banks is pushing Crouch. Aaron Beasley is currently slotted behind To’o To’o.
Outside linebacker is fuzzier. Kivon Bennett likely has one of the spots tied up, though freshmen Morven Joseph and Tyler Baron are pushing for playing time on the opposite side. As are Roman Harrison, J.J. Peterson and Deandre Johnson.
“With all the JT Shrout hype does he have a shot to challenge to be QB1 or is he just fighting to be QB2.” – Sam Smith
Ben: No, Jarrett Guarantano is going to be the starting quarterback Week 1 against South Carolina, barring injury. JT Shrout is fighting, and currently leading, for the backup quarterback job. Shrout has always had a heck of an arm, but struggled with the mental aspect of the game. He’s taken a huge step forward in that department and it’s showing in practice.
“Ben, what do you think we’ll see this upcoming season in JG?” – Ricky
Ben: I’m starting to believe that we will see a season from Jarrett Guarantano in 2020 that is similar to the season Jonathan Crompton had in 2009 during his final season as a Vol under Lane Kiffin. Crompton threw for 27 touchdowns that season, which I don’t expect for Guarantano to throw for that many touchdowns, especially in a 10-game season. Guarantano has been at his best at Tennessee when he has stayed within himself, which has led to him doing a good job of taking care of the football. He got away from that last year, but I think you’ll see him be much more consistent this year. I truly think we’ll see Guarantano take a step forward and be productive as a result of being in Jim Chaney’s offense for a second consecutive season.
“If Austin Pope returns at 90-100 percent, who becomes 2 and 3; and follow-up, should we look for P. Fant to not only TE but some H-back / fullback spots?” – Neyland Mafia
“Will Tennessee have a fullback this year?” – Rodney Cummings
Ben: Sounds like the No. 2, and No. 3 tight ends behind Austin Pope would be Princeton Fant, and Jacob Warren, in that order.
Jim Chaney spoke about Fant and Warren on Thursday during a media availability. Chaney stated that the coaches were “real comfortable” where they have Fant right now, and that he is “doing what he needs to be doing.” As for Warren, Chaney said he is doing a “fine job.”
As for the fullback position, Tennessee won’t have a designated fullback position in which one player will play a lot of. But I do believe you’ll a couple different guys line up at what would be the fullback position from time-to-time. Pope, Fant and true freshman Dee Beckwith are guys who come to mind that are capable of stepping up and playing that role, as well as playing some h-back.
“Who will start at the second corner position?” — Justin
Ben: I assume you’re talking about the spot opposite of Bryce Thompson. That spot would belong to Alontae Taylor, who has taken a big step forward mentally this offseason. Thompson and Taylor will be the starting corners, while Kenneth George Jr. and Warren Burrell will be their backups.
Tennessee defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley mentioned on Thursday to the media that George and Burrell were having a really strong of fall camp to this point. Sounds like the Vols are going to have four really good options at corner.
“How is (Deangelo) Gibbs doing in practice? — Scott Standridge
Ben: He’s doing well, but he’s not running with the first team receivers because he has decided to opt out for the 2020 season, Jeremy Pruitt announced on Friday. Pruitt did not specify why Gibbs opted out, citing that he was going to focus on academics this season and that he was still a member of the team.
It’s my understanding that Gibbs is in good standing academically, and that the decision to opt out was COVID-19 related. Gibbs continues to perform well in practice.
“If JG plays every game and is healthy what do you think the record will be? Who has more yards this year Eric Gray or Ty Chandler? Most tackles on defense Henry T or the field?” – Robby
Ben: If Guarantano plays every game, that tells me that he is playing well. I believe with Guarantano playing well, Tennessee is a 6-4 football team, possibly 7-3. I think the Vols lose to Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and then split the addition of Auburn and Texas A&M to the schedule. I should add, however, that I believe Kentucky will be a tougher game than the Auburn and Texas A&M game.
I’ll put my money on Eric Gray rushing for more yards, but I think Ty Chandler will also have a really productive season. Both Gray and Chandler are having an outstanding fall camp following a terrific offseason. Jay Graham has done a tremendous job of fine-tuning the details with his top two backs in his short time as Tennessee’s running backs coach.
“Is the new wideouts really that good or has the db’s regressed?” – Dino Vols
Ben: They’re really that good. From all indications, Tennessee’s defensive backs have had a good fall camp. Now, I should also say that the wideouts are going to be really good. They’re in a position to contribute more than the typical freshman, but they’re still developing. To this point, they’ve simply displayed an array of attributes that has coaches extremely excited for their future.
“With 25% capacity will they be adding additional crowd noise to simulate a real game day experience?” – NCVol79
Ben: That has yet to be announced yet by the SEC, but I do believe we will see the conference allow teams to do so.
“With this year being a year where eligibility doesn’t count, who can you see staying for an extra year and how would it help the Vols next year?” — Evan Reeves
Ben: This is going to sound extremely simple, but I think it’ll consist of guys who aren’t guaranteed to get a shot in the NFL. A guy like Trey Smith, or Brandon Kennedy, or Josh Palmer, or maybe even Cade Mays, don’t need an extra year. But seniors that aren’t considered NFL prospects at the moment will likely take advantage of the free year of eligibility. Unless they’re simply tired of college, which is understandable. Especially guys who have been on campus for more than four years already.