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RTI Mailbag: Should Tennessee pursue McKenzie Milton?

Photo By Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics

Managing editor Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.

“What is on your Christmas list for Tennessee football for 2021?” — BasketVolKesling!

Ben: Many, many, many things. I’m actually planning on writing an article on this exact question, so be on the lookout for that as we get closer to Christmas. It’ll be much more detailed.

Tennessee has many moves it needs to make within its football program this offseason if Jeremy Pruitt is going to get back on track. First being the coaching staff (more on that later). Second is the quarterback position. The Vols have to find a transfer quarterback this offseason to help calm the waves. They also must find a pass rusher in the transfer portal. Most importantly, Tennessee has to establish leadership over the offseason. Leaders must emerge or these results will continue.

“With McKenzie Milton in the transfer portal, would the Vols pursue him? (if he’s healthy) Seems like he’d be a great addition to the QB room and could help our younger arms.” – Ricky Klassen

“McKenzie Milton? Would Tennessee consider him?” — Scott Stanridge

Ben: Tennessee should absolutely pursue McKenzie Milton. The Vols should have already reached out to him. As a matter of fact, every coach on Tennessee’s coaching staff should have reached out to Milton the moment he put his name in the transfer portal.

Yes, there is risk to bringing in Milton. He hasn’t played since he suffered a devastating knee injury in 2018 that nearly resulted in him losing his leg. But what he would add to this Tennessee football program is immense. Milton would add immediate confidence, swagger and most importantly — leadership. He would infect the rest of the Tennessee locker room the way Joe Burrow did when he arrived at LSU after transferring from Ohio State. The Vols desperately need that in their locker room.

The risk is clear, but Milton is the best transfer quarterback on the market at the moment and the Vols must add a transfer at the quarterback position to steady the ship until Harrison Bailey, Kaidon Salter or even Ty Simpson is completely ready to takeover. Milton was one of the best quarterbacks in the country and well on his way to being drafted prior to his injury. The talent is there and so are the other qualities that the Vols so desperately need.

Milton is worth the risk.

“What’s the biggest problem? Talent, development, execution, discipline, play calling or game plan?” – Ericvol2096

Ben: A little bit of everything. To me the biggest problem is Tennessee’s coaching staff. It has zero continuity right now and it’s hampering the players ability to perform. It’s like watching your parents argue. It’s awkward and zaps all energy. For the third offseason in a row, it’s critical that Pruitt pieces his staff together successfully. They cannot continue to operate as they are now. It’s affecting the development of players which then affects the execution, which then doesn’t give Jim Chaney any confidence to call plays because he doesn’t trust any of the players.
Talent is also an issue. The Vols simply need better players and a lot more of them. Pruitt has recruited well, but COVID-19 has slowed down the development of those younger players who the Vols were going to rely on this season.

“Would it be better for the offense to make long drive and be safe and keep the Florida offense off the field or have a shootout?” — MochaJones

Ben: This is a great question. On one hand, Florida has really struggled defensively against teams that go up-tempo. But on the other hand, Tennessee wants to keep Kyle Trask and the Florida offense off the field as much as possible. Time of possession is going to be key to the Vols potentially pulling off the upset, but you do want to take advantage of Florida’s weaknesses. Chaney is going to have to strike a good balance of going up-tempo while also making sure he is wasting time off the clock.

“Does Tennessee have any players that have done well enough to go ahead and declare for the draft this year outside of Trey Smith? What major needs have not already been addressed by the current recruiting class?” – Evan Reeves

Ben: Not very many. Trey Smith is obsiouvly one as you mentioned. I would throw Bryce Thompson into that conversation, as well as Josh Palmer. It’s, but those three are the only players who have a chance to get drafted in April, unless you want to include Brent Cimaglia.

“1. Do you have any insight into the coaches dynamic/chemistry? Are they disgruntled, happy? Working together?

2. Has COVID specifically impacted our team in a way that’s caused the regression? For ex, much of the talent is young players and that missed camp?

3. How much has the drop off in receivers impacted JG and the offense? Are they running good routes? If they are, are they getting open? If we had full camp, I wonder the impact Hyatt and the other WR Fresh have.” — Laustin676

Ben: I touched on the coaching staff a little bit earlier, but yes, there are coaches who are frustrated and disgruntled for the third consecutive season. Again, it’s like watching your parents argue. It does nobody any good. Pruitt has to make adjustments this offseason — whether it’s him personally or whether it’s the type of coaches he looks for when making a hire. If he doesn’t, a pivotal fourth year as head coach will prove to be fatal.

COVID has absolutely caused regression. That’s not an excuse for why Tennessee has played so poorly, but it is a fact. Several young players that were going to be relied upon were slowed down in fall camp due to contact tracing. Fall camp is so critical to player development and most didn’t get that during preseason. Some missed as many as 30 days.

Most of the passing game’s issues have been because of Jarrett Guarantano, but the wide receivers have not done him any favors. Tee Martin’s group has failed to consistently get open and make life easier for Guarantano. I do believe if we had a full camp we would have seen more of Malachi Wideman, Jimmy Holiday and Jimmy Calloway to go along with Malachi Wideman. The wide position is a position that was hampered by contact tracing and it’s hard to develop when you spend several practices in quarantine.

“Which coach or coaches do you think will be gone at the end of the season and who do we see come in next season? What does year 4 look like for Pruitt with no COVID hold back? And do you see improvement from this team?” — Dustin Cody

“Who’s most likely to be shown the door this offseason? Undoubtedly there will be staff shake up.” — Thack Sparrow

“Which football assistant coaches do you see being replaced this year?” — Taylor Roberts

Ben: There’s definitely going to be some staff changes. We’ve already seen one in Jimmy Brumbaugh, who was let go after four games as the defensive line coach. We could potentially see some more movement along the defensive side of the ball, but I believe the offensive staff will be the next unit put under the magnifying glass — especially at the quarterback position.

Year four is make-or-break for Pruitt. COVID absolutely played a role in slowing down the development of this football team. That won’t be the case next season, however. Most of the roster will be his and by this point, the roster should be developed enough to contribute to winning.

I do think we’ll see some improvements from the program next season simply because they’ll have spring practice, a normal summer and fall camp to develop players. The question will be how much improvement will we see? It won’t be a lot if Pruitt doesn’t find some leadership and continuity on his coaching staff.

“Can you give us the pros and cons of the coaches who you think would be on the top of the coaching list if UT moved on from CJP?” – Central Florida Vol

Ben: I’m not willing to go there just yet. Not until Tennessee needs a new football coach and doesn’t appear to be this offseason. But I’ll share this tweet that I recently saw from Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network. It epitomizes exactly what Tennessee needs if it ends up needing a new coach.

“Let’s say that a head coach needed firing What would be the process to accomplish that at UT? Is it the lone call of the AD? Or Randy Boyd? Or does majority rule on the BoD? Or does the AD have to ask the board for approval? How does it work? Asking for a friend.” — Sister Vol Reborno

Ben: This is always an interesting conversation. I believe that ultimately Phillip Fulmer would have the final say, but there would be heavy influence from multiple directions — specifically from boosters. Of course president Randy Boyd and chancellor Donde Plowman have input on the situation as well.

“Are we ever going to get over the hump with Pruitt or any other coach? It feels like we are doomed to perpetual failure.” – Justindb29

Ben: It doesn’t feel like it right now. Pruitt has a chance to get things fixed if he can find leadership, good quarterback play and staff continuity. But after three years of the same issues, it’s hard to bet on him getting over the hump at this point.

“Let’s say Pruitt is fired and Freeze is brought in. If we see no progress at year three, do we fire Freeze?” — Randy T

Ben: No because I believe Hugh Freeze would show plenty of progress by that point. Freeze has baggage that every school in America should consider if they want to hire him, but you can’t question his ability to coach football. The man beat Nick Saban twice at Ole Miss of all places and made Saban rethink his philosophy on offense.

“When does the hurting stop?” – RagingIguana

Ben: As soon as basketball season starts.

“Is there any way we finish recruiting class strong? If so, anyone to keep eye on?” – Stevie Duckett

Ben: There’s absolutely a way. Tennessee’s class won’t finish top five or top ten like it felt like it had the potential to do back in the spring, but it’s still going to be a really good class that should finish top 15. This class has several key players who are very talented and have a ton of potential. And there’s still potential for the class to add more before signing day. Losing Damarius McGhee and Terrence Lewis were tough to swallow, but the Vols are still on track to sign a really good recruiting class.

“Who has the best jerseys in the SEC?” — Blake Talley

Ben: Not Mississippi State or Texas A&M. The maroon is putrid, although A&M’s simple throwback uniforms are solid. Aside from Tennessee’s uniforms, Ole Miss’ powder blue uniforms are elite and my pick for best in the conference. LSU’s uniforms are probably my second-favorite. A couple of underrated set of uniforms are Missouri’s and Vanderbilt’s.

“What’s your take on the BYU vs. Coastal Carolina matchup put together for this Saturday?” — John Hall

Ben: It’s absolutely awesome for college football. Kudos to both schools for being willing to put this game together on the fly. I believe BYU will win on Coastal Carolina’s teal field. Zach Wilson is unlike anything Coastal has seen this season.

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