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    Photo by Jake Nichols/RTI

    The mailbag is brought to you by Mid Tenn Ford. They are Middle Tennessee’s oldest Ford Dealer, and they offer a full line of Ford Trucks, Vans, SUVS, and Crossovers. They have both a light and heavy duty Service Department to get you back on the road when needed. Call 1-888-409-0306 today for your no-obligation price quote from their sales department!

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

    “Should we, as a fan base, revolt against the SEC on behalf of Darrell Taylor and Jauan Jennings?” – @BuckToTheNasty1

    Nathanael: I understand Vol fans being really upset with the SEC on both of those situations. With Taylor, though, he didn’t face any punishment after the game, but that flag was awful. With Jennings, I’m not exactly surprised he got a suspension, but at the same time, where’s the consistency with the SEC? Where was this energy with Kash Daniel earlier in the season?

    Ben: Maybe not revolt, but Tennessee fans should definitely be upset by Jauan Jennings’ suspension. I’m of the belief that Jennings shouldn’t be suspended because you can’t prove intent, though he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt and probably did have bad intentions. The problem, however, is that the SEC has been so inconsistent. Why does Jennings face suspension, but Kentucky’s Kash Daniel or Alabama’s Raekwon Davis doesn’t?

    “Should we demand a home and home with Rutgers now? Asking for a friend.” – @nposey23

    Nathanael: Why give Rutgers the money by going up to New Jersey and playing them? I say ask for a neutral site game so Vol fans aren’t pouring money in to their university or their area. It’s clear that Schiano thinks Vol fans are inferior to his beloved Rutgers fans, so UT fans should just keep their money away from that state.

    Ben: Yes, schedule a home-and-home with Rutgers and play the game there, in Yankee Stadium. Beat Greg Schiano down so bad that he never considers mentioning Tennessee again, in any regard. Then, go out and schedule a home-and-home series with Georgia State. Turner Field would be a cool place to see a football game, but if that doesn’t work, put it in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

    “What are you looking forward to more Recruiting or the Bowl Game?” – Jamie

    Nathanael: Definitely the bowl game. As someone who has covered recruiting pretty hands-on for the last two years, it gets very, very tiring and can be very, very dramatic. Tennessee hasn’t been in a bowl game in three years. I’m excited to actually cover one again.

    Ben: Bowl game. Recruiting is fun to follow, especially this time of year because signing day is quickly approaching, but the actual football games are the only reason we care about recruiting. Bowl games are infinitely more exciting than recruiting.

    “Do you think (if so who) that a few seniors set out for the bowl game?” – Kris

    Nathanael: I would actually be pretty surprised if any of Tennessee’s upperclassmen sit out the bowl game (other than Jauan Jennings sitting out the first half, obviously). None of UT’s seniors are really projected as first-round draft picks, and those are usually the guys who sit out. Nigel Warrior, Daniel Bituli, Darrell Taylor, Marquez Callaway, and Dominick Wood-Anderson all need as much game film as possible, in my opinion.

    Ben: If somebody sits out of a bowl game, I think it would be Trey Smith, not the seniors. He has as much on the line as anybody in the country this bowl season. Smith has played well enough to be a first round pick, but his medical history still haunts him. Why risk it in a bowl game where you’re not playing for some form of a championship? Smith won’t sit out because of who he is, but I would understand his decision if he did.

    And I definitely don’t see guys like Nigel Warrior, Jauan Jennings, Daniel Bituli, Marquez Callaway or Darrell Taylor sitting out. Though Jennings is technically sitting out some of it.

    “Who do you see declaring early this year?” – Evan

    Nathanael: Interesting question. I don’t know that anyone outside of Trey Smith forgoes his senior season for the Vols this offseason. I could see a few rising seniors transferring, but I don’t know that UT really has anyone who it makes sense for them to declare early. Maybe Brent Cimaglia will do what kickers usually don’t and declare early, but I doubt it. I guess Jarrett Guarantano could, but I’d be surprised if he did, too.

    Ben: Trey Smith or Jarrett Guarantano would be the only two options. I believe Guarantano will be Tennessee’s starting quarterback for the season-opener next year, but he does have NFL arm talent to where he should at least get a feel for how the league feels about him. As for Smith, if I were him, I’d leave. He’s had an exceptional year — a first round NFL Draft pick type of season. As I said in the previous question, why come back another year and risk health issues popping up again when you’re going to get drafted this year?

    “Do you see CJP making any staff changes this offseason?” – Brian

    Nathanael: Absolutely. I don’t want to speculate on someone’s job specifically, but I expect at least a couple changes this offseason, and there’s a chance an assistant or two leaves of their own accord, too. Tennessee has a few assistants who are thought of pretty highly in the coaching world.

    Ben: Already in the works. Staff changes are on the way to improve recruiting. You can take that to the bank.

    “What’s your crystal ball on Washington, Whitehead, Tisdol, and do we get any big time WR?” – Stevie

    Nathanael: Call me crazy if you want, but I actually think Tennessee lands five-star TE Darnell Washington right now. That can obviously change between now and the next few weeks, but I honestly like where UT is with him, and with Brian Niedermeyer as his recruiter, you have to feel good about Tennessee’s chances. I’m going to go bold and say the Vols get him. I think UT gets four-star linebacker Desmond Tisdol, too. With Whitehead, I’m not as confident. He and linebacker Vai Kaho are both kinda up in the air for me right now.

    As for receivers: I don’t know what you mean by “big time,” but UT isn’t getting a five-star or a top-100 receiver this cycle, in my opinion. I do still like their chances with a few receiver targets, though, such as four-star Ramon Henderson and athlete Dee Beckwith.

    Ben: Darnell Washington is this year’s Henry To’o To’o in the sense of it may not feel like Tennessee has a great chance because of how far away he is, but how can you doubt Brian Niedermeyer at this point? Len’Neth Whitehead is trending well for Tennessee right now, while Auburn worries me when it comes to Demond Tisdol, though the Vols are in good position.

    Tennessee isn’t going to land a “big-time” receiver, but I believe it’ll land at least a body at the position. Whether that be Jimmy Holiday — who may get a shot at quarterback — Demarcus Beckwith — the cousin of Lamonte Turner — or Ramon Henderson and Jaylon Barden.

    “Who would be more successful at Arkansas, Lane Kiffin or Mike Leach?” – @htcook1999

    Nathanael: To me, it’s Kiffin without a doubt. I don’t think Leach has what it takes to have long term success in the SEC, especially in the West where he’d have to face Alabama, LSU, Auburn, and Texas A&M every single season. Kiffin has SEC experience, has better pull with assistants, and is a much better recruiter.

    Ben: Mike Leach. Although he is crazy in his own rights, I don’t believe you have to worry about him off the field as much as you do Lane Kiffin. Plus, he’s just as good of an offensive mind as Kiffin. Arkansas isn’t going to out-recruit the teams in its divisions, which Leach is used to because of his time at Texas Tech and Washington State. But with players that the bigger schools didn’t want, he’s beaten them.



      (Photo via The Tennessean)

      Sometimes trying to hold on to highly-rated prospects in a recruiting class is almost as difficult as trying to land uncommited recruits. But it doesn’t look like Tennessee will have to worry about their top-rated commit going anywhere this cycle.

      Four-star defensive back and Vol commit Keshawn Lawrence of Ensworth High School in Nashville tweeted out on Wednesday evening that he is shutting down his recruitment, saying he is “staying home and sticking with my gut,” adding that his recruitment is “10000% shut down from now on.” He will be signing with the Vols on the first day of the early signing period on December 18th.

      The 6-foot-1, 197-pound defensive back committed to Tennessee for their 2020 class back on June 24th, just days after taking an official visit to Miami and with the Hurricanes feeling good about their chances. Since then, Lawrence has picked up even more interest from schools thanks to a strong summer and a good senior year.

      Lawrence took an official visit to Oklahoma in mid-October and was still getting interest not only from the Sooners, but from USC and other schools as well. But the standout in-state prospect has also made it over to Knoxville a multitude of times during the season, visiting Knoxville at least seven times since the beginning of the 2019 season.

      Now, it looks like the Vols won’t have to worry about him going anywhere else.

      Lawrence is the No. 66 overall prospect, No. 3 safety, and No. 2 recruit in the state of Tennessee in the 247Sports Composite rankings. The regular 247Sports rankings list him as the No. 58 overall prospect and the No. 1 player in the state of Tennessee in the 2020 cycle.

      As it stands right now, Lawrence is Tennessee’s highest-rated commitment in their 2020 class, and he’s one of nine players rated as four-stars or higher on 247Sports who are committed to the Vols in the current cycle.

      Tennessee is recruiting Lawrence as a likely cornerback, though he’s capable of playing safety as well. He played in all three phases for Ensworth, and he excelled as a do-it-all athlete.

      Click the image above to order your Go Big Orange shirt now! Use the coupon code UT20 to get 20% off your ENTIRE order!

      In 10 recorded games on MaxPreps in his senior season, Lawrence totaled 37 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, five passes defended, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery on defense while also totaling 13 receptions for 219 yards and two touchdowns on offense and returning seven punts for 434 yards.

      Lawrence participated in Nike’s The Opening Finals over the summer and has been invited to both the Polynesian Bowl and All-American Bowl. Lawrence was timed running a 4.59-second 40-yard dash and a 4.06-second shuttle at a regional camp for The Opening, and he showed off a 41-inch vertical leap at the Finals.

      Right now, Lawrence is nursing an injury, but he’s not expected to miss a significant amount of time. He suffered a hairline fracture on the outside of his foot in Ensworth’s loss to McCallie School in the semifinals of the Division II-AAA playoffs two weeks ago, and he will have a minor procedure to address it.

      Tennessee’s coaches can rest assured now that their highest-rated commit in the 2020 class is securely a Vol.



        (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

        RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article 

        Prior to the 2019 season, many had written senior safety Nigel Warrior off as a bust. The former four-star recruit and son of former Tennessee and NFL defensive back Dale Carter hadn’t lived up to expectations in his first three years at Tennessee, and many weren’t sure the light would come on in his senior season.

        This year, however, Warrior has been anything but a disappointment. Warrior’s performance this season has not only turned heads in Knoxville, but it’s drawn national attention.

        The college division of Pro Football Focus, which had named Warrior to the SEC Defensive Team of the Week three times in 2019, named Warrior as a PFF All-American Honorable Mention on Thursday.

        In twelve games in the regular season, Warrior has intercepted four passes, which is tied for first in the SEC. In Warrior’s first three seasons as a Vol from 2016 to 2018, he had just one pick, which came in 2017 against Missouri in a 50-17 loss.

        Warrior finished the regular season with seven pass breakups — leading all Vols — and finished second on the team in tackles with 68, trailing only linebacker Daniel Bituli. On three occasions, Warrior was named to the PFF All-SEC Team of the Week, earning that honor in outings against UT-Chattanooga, Mississippi State, and South Carolina.

        In addition to his PFF All-American honorable mention, Warrior garnered PFF All-SEC honors as well, landing a spot on the PFF All-SEC Second Team defense.

        Warrior was not the only member of Tennessee’s 2019 squad to receive nods from Pro Football Focus, however. Six fellow Volunteers earned spots either on the PFF All-SEC Second Team or received PFF All-SEC honorable mentions.

        Click the image above to order your Go Big Orange shirt now! Use the coupon code UT20 to get 20% off your ENTIRE order!

        Four Vols earned spots on the PFF All-SEC Second Team. Joining Warrior on the second team were senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings, junior offensive guard Trey Smith, and junior placekicker Brent Cimaglia.

        On the season, Jennings led all Tennessee wideouts in receiving yards and touchdowns, totaling 942 yards and eight scores. Jennings’ biggest performance of the season came in Tennessee’s 41-21 beatdown of South Carolina. During that game, Jennings dominated the Gamecocks with a 172-yard, two-touchdown performance while also taking snaps as a wildcat quarterback; that performance earned him SEC Offensive Player of the Week.

        Trey Smith is projected by many as a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and he earned SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week after Tennessee’s win against Mississippi State. Brent Cimaglia ranks second in the SEC in field goals made, trailing only Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship.

        In addition to Warrior, Jennings, Smith, and Cimaglia, two other Vols earned PFF All-SEC honorable mentions, as senior outside linebacker/edge rusher Darrell Taylor and senior wide receiver Marquez Callaway earned All-SEC just missed out on the all-conference teams.

        With the exception of Smith and Cimaglia, all of Tennessee’s players who received All-SEC honors from Pro Football Focus were seniors.



          (Photo via Jon Lopez/Nike)

          Tennessee’s men’s basketball team won’t play another game for about a week and a half after Wednesday night’s contest against Florida A&M. With finals upcoming at the University of Tennessee, the basketball team is focusing on academics for a bit.

          With the break in action on the court, Tennessee’s coaches have some time to go make some visits on the recruiting trail. Along with visiting five-star power forward Paolo Banchero on Friday, the Vols sent an assistant to go see UT’s top point guard target in the 2021 class on Thursday.

          Per Jake Weingarten of Stock Risers, Tennessee sent an assistant coach to see five-star in-state point guard Kennedy Chandler on Thursday.

          According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Chandler is the No. 15 overall prospect, No. 2 point guard, and No. 2 prospect in the state of Tennessee in the 2021 cycle. Chandler plays for Briarcrest Christian over in Memphis, the same school as a couple Vol football recruiting targets in the 2020 class, defensive tackle Omari Thomas and running back Jabari Small.

          Tennessee has had a strong relationship with Chandler for a while, and several UT coaches have gone over to Memphis to visit the five-star. Chandler took an official visit to Tennessee’s campus on October 25th, the same day as the aforementioned Paolo Banchero was also in Knoxville for an official visit.

          Click the image above and use the coupon code UT20 to get 20% off your Barnestorming tee while supplies last!

          Along with his offer from the Vols, Chandler also holds scholarship offers from Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan, Syracuse, and others.

          Though he’s just 6-foot-1 and only a junior, Chandler is already a match-up problem for teams. He’s quick and can create his own shot at all three levels of the court. Chandler is capable of hitting threes but tends to use his quickness and play-making ability to drive to the hoop. Once there, he’s good at finishing, but he can also dish the ball back out and find open teammates. He has good vision and exceptional passing ability all over the court. He looks like an absolute star as a floor general. He still needs to work on his consistency as a three-point shooter, but everything else about his game is superb.


          As a sophomore for Briarcrest Christian, Chandler averaged 19.5 points, four rebounds, 3.6 steals, and three assists per game according to MaxPreps. He was also voted TSSAA Division II Class AA Mr. Basketball this season. This season, Chandler is already averaging 29.6 points a game.

          During the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League in April through July, Chandler played for the MOKAN Elite squad. In 19 total games during the EYBL, Chandler averaged 14.7 points, 5.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals a game while shooting 50.5 percent overall, 31.1 percent from three, and 72.9 percent from the free throw line according to D1Circuit.com.

          The Vols don’t currently have any prospects committed to them in their 2021 class, but UT did just sign one of the top fall signing period classes in the 2020 cycle. Tennessee got signatures from five-star guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson and four-star small forward Corey Walker in the fall signing period last month. Four-star point guard Santiago Vescovi committed to the Vols late last month as well, and he’s expected to try and enroll at UT in January and join the team this year.



            (Photo via @Pp_doesit on Twitter)

            Tennessee’s football coaches are going hither and yon to visit recruits now that the regular season is over, but they aren’t the only coaches on UT’s campus going across the country to visit prospects.

            According to Jake Weingarten of Stock Risers, Tennessee’s men’s basketball program will be sending an assistant coach over to Seattle, Washington to visit with five-star power forward Paolo Banchero on Friday.

            Banchero and his high school team, O’Dea High School, begin their 2019-20 season on Friday. Tennessee will have a presence at the game when the top junior power forward in the country takes the court for the first time this high school basketball season.

            According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Banchero is the No. 1 power forward and No. 3 overall prospect in the 2021 class. The only recruits ranked higher than Banchero are small forwards Jonathan Kuminga and Patrick Baldwin Jr.

            Tennessee has made Banchero a huge priority in the 2021 cycle, and the Vols are positioned well with the star forward. Banchero included the Vols as one of his top nine teams back in mid-September along with Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Memphis, Georgetown, Washington, and Baylor.

            Gonzaga already visited Banchero on Monday of this week, and both North Carolina (Dec. 11) and Duke (Dec. 16) will make a trip to see Banchero in the next couple weeks as well.

            The Vols hosted Banchero on an official visit on October 25th when the football team played South Carolina. Banchero was on his visit at the same time as five-star 2021 point guard Kennedy Chandler, too.

            Banchero has a good relationship with Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes already, and he detailed that in a post on USA Today High School Sports. Banchero is running a blog for USA Today High School Sports, and he mentioned being impressed by Barnes in a post.

            Click the image above and use the coupon code UT20 to get 20% off your Barnestorming tee while supplies last!

            “I think the coolest conversation I had with a coach recently was when I talked to Coach Rick Barnes from Tennessee,” Banchero wrote.” We just talked about everyday stuff, and then he asked me if I had a girlfriend. I told him yes, and then he said is she cute. Haha!

            “Of course, I said yes, and then he said he was sure she wouldn’t mind me coming to Knoxville, Tennessee. I thought it was cool that we talked about things like that other than basketball. That’s what I like most about getting to know these coaches.”

            On the court, Banchero is a phenom. He has smooth handles for a big man, and he already possesses a variety of offensive skills other than just powering ahead in the paint and finishing at the rim with dunks. He has a good release on his jump shot, and he has the ability to fight through traffic and make difficult shots look easy. On defense, he shows good movement and the ability to guard the paint well. He’s quick for his size and has superb awareness and basketball IQ.

            Banchero played for Seattle Rotary in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League this spring and summer, and he was a standout during the AAU circuit. In 18 total games with Rotary in April, May, and July, Banchero averaged 22.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game according to D1Circuit.com. He shot 49.6 percent from the floor and 77.3 percent from the free throw line on 154 free throw attempts. He posted two triple-doubles and nine double-doubles during the EYBL.

            The five-star won MVP of the NBPA Top 100 Camp this summer and won Underclassmen of the Year in the Nike EYBL.

            Tennessee doesn’t currently have any commitments in the 2021 class, but they signed three prospects in the 2020 cycle and have another 2020 recruit committed to them currently. Five-star guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson and four-star small forward Corey Walker all signed with the Vols, and four-star point guard Santiago Vescovi is currently committed to UT and is expected to try and enroll in January.



              Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

              No. 21 Tennessee cruised to a 29-point victory over Florida A&M on Wednesday night, defeating the winless Rattlers 72-43 to extend their home winning streak to 31 games.

              The Vols had five different players score in double figures, and UT’s freshmen were featured heavily in the contest. No single Vol player saw more than 30 minutes of game action, and all four of Tennessee’s freshmen played at least 15 minutes against the Rattlers.

              After the game, head coach Rick Barnes met with the media to discuss the play of his freshmen, the career night of Olivier Nkamhoua, his team’s defense, and much more.

              Here’s everything Barnes had to say after the game:

              Two of Barnes’ freshmen also met with the media after Tennessee’s win. Here’s full video of Olivier Nkamhoua and Davonte Gaines: