Managing editor Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“General feeling on Cade Mays getting freed” – Ben Mandrell
Ben: I feel good about Cade Mays being 100 percent freed by Tennessee’s season opener next weekend against South Carolina. Jeremy Pruitt announced on Thursday following practice that Mays had won his waiver appeal with the NCAA, but still needed to be cleared by the SEC in order to be immediately eligible to play this season. I’m confident that Greg Sankey will make the right decision here and allow Mays to play this year for the Vols.
“With all the OL depth this year, any talk of guys working as a swing tackle or H-back/Fullback for heavy packages?” – Garrett Miller
“Chris Akporoghene is an interesting guy and I’ve seen him running with the two’s at guard. How has he progressed in his time at UT? Any chance they try and work him at center down the line?” — Garrett Miller
Ben: The first three names that come to mind in regards to an h-back/fullback role are Princeton Fant, K’Rojhn Calbert and Cooper Mays. This would have been the role that Austin Pope would have played in addition to lining up as a tight end, but he’s had a setback with his back injury and won’t be playing any time soon. So, that leaves Fant, Calbert and Mays. I believe Fant will slide into Pope’s role, and is athletic enough to play multiple spots within the offense. I throw Calbert’s name into the discussion because we’ve seen him line up in h-back role before, as well as defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus, who could also switch over to offense for a play if Tennessee needed him to. I think there’s a small possibility you could see the younger Mays brother as well. He’s athletic enough to do so.
As for Chris Akporoghene, I do believe he’s coming along fine in his development, but it appears that he was running with the two’s as a result of some guys missing time due to positive COVID tests or contact tracing. He could be the backup left guard, but I think Tennessee would slide Cade Mays over to fill Trey Smith’s shoes if they needed to. On the right side, Akporoghene is behind Jerome Carvin, K’Rojhn Calbert, Riley Locklear, Mays and Darnell Wright. Akporoghene could possibly move to center, but Tennessee will likely continue to rep him at guard. Carvin or Cooper Mays is Tennessee’s future center once Brandon Kennedy finishes up his career.
“What is your level of concern from 1-10 that game will be postponed due to quarantine issues based on your knowledge of COVID at UT and USCjr?” – Warren Snead
Ben: Right now it’s not very high. Maybe a one or a two on your scale. But that’s as of eight days before the game. As we’ve seen with COVID, things could change at a moment’s notice. Pruitt mentioned on Thursday that as of this moment, nobody will miss the South Carolina game due to COVID related issues. We also haven’t heard about any issues the Gamecocks have run into either. Looks like we’ll almost definitely have kick off next Saturday night in Colombia.
“Should we be concerned about the season considering the number of players having quarantine?” — SirPentious
Ben: Yes. Tennessee hasn’t been able to have as physical of a fall camp due to players missing time as it relates to COVID, and we’ve seen that already really hurt teams that went through similar issues. Navy chose not to have a physical camp because of its concerns and proceeded to get destroyed by BYU. Pruitt stated on The Paul Finebaum Show Wednesday afternoon that there will be some players playing against South Carolina that haven’t had the chance to block or tackle in live scrimmages. That is definitely a concern.
“With COVID, contract tracing policies in Knox County, and lack of practice time, how should fans judge Pruitt’s third season? If it is less successful than last year, do we have concerns around Pruitt or does he get a pass this year due to the circumstances?” — Michael Miller
Ben: This is a question suited for the end of the year, to where we can look back in hindsight and see the circumstances surrounding each game. But I do think there may be a game or two to where Pruitt shouldn’t be judged as harshly as he would be during a typical season. This season is going to present challenges that nobody can control, especially a football coach. Results, especially losses, should be responded to with context, assuming that COVID does impact some of the games.
“With Pruitt saying he’s only got 3 or 4 scholarship receivers due to COVID right now, doesn’t it seem a little counterproductive to move Dee Beckwith to running back instead of receiver?” – Buck Nasty
“How do we feel about moving Dee Beckwith to RB?” — Mo #GBO
“How much depth at WR do you expect back for SC, as long as we don’t lose any more to COVID-19 and contact tracing before then?” — J-Carv
Ben: I don’t think it’s counterproductive. All of the wide receivers are going to be available for the South Carolina game unless something pops up. Plus, Dee Beckwith has been getting some work at wide receiver during fall camp. He’s also gotten work at the tight end position and at running back, which is why I like Beckwith getting some run in the backfield. He’s a Swiss army knife that is going to be a real weapon for Tennessee because of his versatility.
I expect all of the wide receivers to be available. Especially after Pruitt stated Thursday that he doesn’t expect anybody to miss the South Carolina game due to COVID related issues.
“How worried should we be about what Jeremy said to Paul Finebaum? Are the fans taking the SC and Mizzou game too lightly?” – Samuel Smith
“Are we going to be close to fielding a full team next Saturday? And can we give the fighting Muschamps more than they want?” — NCVOL79
Ben: I answered the first question earlier, but it’s definitely a concern. You have to play with physicality in the SEC in order to be successful, and Tennessee hasn’t been able to do that this fall camp. For that reason alone, I do believe fans are taking South Carolina and Missouri too lightly, especially the Gamecocks. Tennessee is more talented than Carolina, but if the Vols don’t play with physicality, they’ll lose. South Carolina is experienced enough to take advantage of that situation, especially up front along their offensive line.
“How will it look with Cade and Cooper on the field in a jumbo package this season?” — MochaJones10
Ben: Erotic. Tennessee’s entire offensive line in a jumbo package will be erotic. But it’ll be really cool to see Cade and Cooper in the game at the same time. Their father played at Tennessee, and now both of them are playing for the Vols at the same time in the same game. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“What is your guess on a “big fish” we may land this cycle?” – Stevie Duckett
Ben: Amarius Mims would be my guess. Tennessee has faded slightly with Smael Mondon, but the Vols are still battling it out with Georgia for Mims. He really likes the Vols and if Tennessee can have some early season success, it could push itself over the edge for the five-star offensive tackle.
“Who will be your favorite player on this year’s football team?” – Triple O
Ben: How can it not be Trey Smith? The way he represents the University of Tennessee off the field, the way he bullies opponents, the way he leads his teammates — it’s an easy decision for me. Enjoy this last season of Trey Smith, Vol fans. Players like him don’t come around often.
“Here’s an easy one.. I’m in Montana, how’s the weather treating you guys down there? We are covered in smoke from all the wildfires here.” — @Chris1971McGee
Ben: So sorry that you’re having to deal with the wildfires there. We’ve been sending positive thoughts out to the west coast from Knoxville. The weather here has been nice. It’s starting to cool off just in time for football season.