UT athletics: Points to ponder

Marvin Westwestwords

Basketball points to ponder:

  • You are what your record says you are. Tennessee went 11-8 against conference foes. Vols were 2-0 against Vanderbilt.
  • NCAA tournament participation, such as it was, earned Rick Barnes a $200,000 bonus. Only great agents negotiate extra pay for a coach doing what he is supposed to do. Producing one of 68 teams for the big dance is not a sensational accomplishment.
  • Official reaction to the mugging of John Fulkerson was total silence … not one peep from UT athletics director Danny White or SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. Hmmmm.
  • Haunting country song: “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

Football points to ponder:

  • Restoration of Volunteers, if doable, figures to be a long-term project. The team will undoubtedly acquire a different look but results may not be immediately inspirational. Patience, please.
  • Speculation regarding forthcoming probation and other penalties is a waste of time. The NCAA lives in a fog, is slow as smoke and is far less predictable than the stock market. Examples: North Carolina academic fraud and FBI recording of LSU baskets coach.
  • Is there is any connection between alleged recruiting violations at UT and Eric Gray being held out of the season finale – and his immediate transfer?
  • Josh Heupel thinks football should be fun.

A look at spring

Tennessee and March Madness didn’t go well together. Do not despair. The shock will eventually go away.

Football is waiting at the starting gate. As soon as all virus tests are negative, the Vols will begin implementation of Heupel’s up-tempo offense. Spring practice will be a dual rush job, learn fast, play fast.

The meeting-room search for a new quarterback started earlier. The coach wants someone who can quickly process what he sees across the line of scrimmage and make smart decisions swiftly.

As is often the case, a quick mind is even more important than quick feet. Sound judgment is critical. It will help if the chosen quarterback has leadership ability, a strong arm and passing accuracy. It will help some more if he can run for key yardage and flee in emergencies.

On a different patch of grass, defensive coordinator Tim Banks and close associate Brian Jean-Mary will try to find or create linebackers. This may not be mission impossible but it is the toughest challenge on the drawing board.

Previous starters Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch are in the transfer portal. Truthfully, they weren’t good enough in 2020. That could have been because of their limitations or it could have been poor coaching. The position definitely deserved part of the blame for the 3-7 record.

If the all-clear health signal comes in time, Thursday will be pro day at Tennessee. NFL people, no more than three from each franchise, will gather for a closer look at Trey Smith, Bryce Thompson and Josh Palmer. They are the Vols who would have been invited to the traditional combine meeting if there had been one.

Scouts will get to evaluate size, strength, speed, reactions and agility of potential draft choices in person instead of just on film. They’ll conduct virtual interviews and psychological testing.

More astute observers will try to discern why Smith did not make the Associated Press all-America team. They will decide if ESPN analyst Mel Kiper is correct, that Trey is only the fourth best guard in the draft.

The pros saw Smith and Palmer at the Senior Bowl. Thompson information is based on game and practice video. He is giving up his senior season for a head start on the money.

This is a safe summation: Trey Smith was Tennessee’s best offensive lineman. Josh Palmer was Tennessee’s best receiver. Bryce Thompson was Tennessee’s best defensive back.

Let us skip the guesswork as to whether any future pros are in orange. Heupel has inherited a roster with holes.

Linebacker was more than enough of a problem before Martavius French and Aaron Willis got tangled up in the Stokely Hall incident. Based on very fuzzy reports, a resident opened an apartment door and five large people walked in. They took something. Nobody wants to talk.

UT police eventually charged four football players with misdemeanor drug possession. They are under indefinite suspension.

Several other linebacker hopefuls are not in trouble. Jeremy Banks and Aaron Beasley might be the best available. None in the group are sure all-stars. There are whispers that Crouch might change his mind, back out of the transfer portal and remain a Vol.

It would help if somebody emerges as a running back. Present but not yet ranked are junior college import Tiyon Evans and returnees Jabari Smith, Dee Beckwith, Jaylen Wright, Tee Hodge and Len’Neth Whitehead. Somebody in that group might end up at linebacker.

Evans, 5-10 and 220, has been very tough to tackle in times past – in a different league. He averaged 8.82 yards per carry at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas (from whence cometh Alvin Kamara).

Many considered Evans the nation’s No. 1 junior college running back. He has more experience than all the other candidates combined.

Smith ran with quickness and determination in limited opportunities last season. Beckwith is an unusual size for a running back, taller than ex-Vol Jalen Hurd.

We eagerly await quarterback comparisons. We’ve seen Harrison Bailey and Brian Maurer but not in this offense. We have not seen former Virginia Tech starter Hendon Hooker and the talented Texan, Kaidon Salter.

Another point to ponder: Think how exciting the next month should be for them.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com.

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