Managing editor Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“Is Cade Mays starting Week 1?” – Dustin Cody
“Why isn’t Cade Mays cleared by the SEC yet????” — Lisa Talley
Ben: It sure doesn’t look like it. Looks as if it may be Darnell Wright at right tackle and Jerome Carvin at right guard. If a Hail Mary is completed, Mays probably slides in at right guard, though there is a possibility he could play right tackle as well.
Your guess is as good as mine, Lisa. I think it’s pretty ridiculous that in a year in which eligibility doesn’t matter, the SEC is concerned about sticking to a rule pertaining to eligibility. If it were a normal year, sure, I would understand him not receiving immediate eligibility because he hasn’t graduated yet and he’s transferring from one in-division rival to another. But again, the NCAA has deemed this a year in which eligibility doesn’t matter. So why the concern? The NCAA swung and miss on this fastball right down the middle.
“Thoughts on Jeremy Pruitt receiving a contract extension and raise” – VolStorm
Ben: I’m a fan. It’s mainly for recruiting purposes, but I don’t think it’s crazy to give him a slight bump based off how he finished last season. It was a remarkable coaching job to finish the season on a six-game winning streak after starting 1-4. Pruitt is only 13-12 after two seasons, but I personally believe that he’s ahead of schedule when you consider how he is recruiting and where he took over for Butch Jones. The talent is better, the coaching is better and the culture is infinitely better.
“Who is the one player Tennessee can’t let beat them on Saturday night? Also which pair of britches would you pick for UT to wear Saturday night?” – Sam Smith
Ben: On South Carolina’s offense, Tennessee can’t allow wide receiver Shi Smith to beat them. South Carolina’s wide receiver room is lackluster. Smith is the only one on paper who poses a threat as the only wide receiver the Gamecocks have who has played in more than 12 games and has caught at least 10 passes. There’s no reason for Smith to have a big night. Defensively, Tennessee can’t allow Israel Mukuamu to have the type of game he did last year against Georgia when he intercepted Jake Fromm three times.
I would wear the orange britches if I’m Tennessee to offset the all-black uniforms that South Carolina will be wearing. The Vols chose to go with the all-white uniforms, however.
“Will Tennessee rush for 150+ yards on Saturday?” — VolJuice
Ben: Touchdown. South Carolina allowed 158.0 rushing yards per game last season, and its front seven has gotten worse over the course of the offseason. The Gamecocks still possess talent and players who can make life tough on Tennessee, but it must replace first round pick Javon Kinlaw and linebacker DJ Wonnum, two players who were instrumental to Carolina’s defense. On the flip side, Tennessee’s rushing attack has gotten better thanks to the development of the offensive line and running backs. I would be surprised if Tennessee doesn’t have a big night running the football.
“If you could pick any player from a Derrick Dooley or Butch Jones team to add to this roster, who would it be?” — @phil_breedlove
Ben: Without a doubt Derek Barnett. Tennessee’s defensive line struggled throughout camp, and so did the edge rushers. Part of that was due to contact tracing, but it’s never a good sign when the head coach openly talks about the defensive front playing with a lack of physicality. Barnett would instantly change that outlook. I’d say he do a pretty good job of replacing the production left behind from Darrell Taylor as well.
“What unit are you most interested to see play Saturday?” – Evan Reeves
Ben: The quarterback position, aka Jarrett Guarantano. If Tennessee is going to have a strong 2020 campaign, he has to be much better than he was last year and more consistent. Guarantano had a really good fall camp, and was noticeably more confident. He was checking off all of the coaching staff’s boxes. Will it translate to gameday? I’m really intrigued to see how it plays out. This Tennessee football team would take a humongous step forward this season if Guarantano plays consistently well, which I think he’s capable of doing.
“If you had to pick one player who would provide the best pass rush against South Carolina, who would it be?” — Michael Miller
Ben: Kivon Bennett because he is the upperclassman and he ended last season very strong. He’s likely in for another strong campaign, but he’s going to need help. The Vols desperately need Deandre Johnson and Roman Harrison to step up, and for Tyler Baron and Morven Jospeh to have an impact as freshmen.
“With JG being better in practice than he is in games do you think the less than game like atmosphere due to COVID could actually help?” — Jordan Tyler Moore
Ben: This is a great question. I think it will, but honestly, I believe we would see an improvement in Guarantano even if it were a normal year. He’s truly had a good fall camp and the buzz around him is different this time around. He’s more confident and that’s leading to more consistent play in practice. We’ll see if it translates to gameday.
“What freshman on both sides of the ball makes the biggest difference this year?” — DepressedBobKesling!!!
Ben: On offense, wide receiver Jalin Hyatt will have the biggest impact. He’s had a tremendous fall camp and looks to be ready to contribute from game No. 1. I expect for him to play significant snaps against South Carolina. Freshman offensive lineman Javontez Spraggins is the sneaky pick on offense.
Defensively, I’m looking at Key Lawrence and Doneiko Slaughter. Both have had outstanding fall camps and though they weren’t listed on the depth chart Tennessee released, I expect to see both early and often. They’ve been very impressive since arriving on campus.