SEC Media Days kicks off today in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s like a much-needed little booster shot, giving college football fans just a little extra juice that you’ll need to make last through the start of fall camp.
The SEC Network will devote more than 30 hours of coverage to the event this week, primarily with its appropriately-named SEC Now: 2017 SEC Football Media Days television show from 12:30-5:30 each day.
Up first is Arkansas, LSU, and Good Ole Rocky Top. (The schedule the rest of the week is here.) Each team brings its coach and three player representatives to the event to sweat under the spotlight and heavy-breathing of about 1,000 sportswriters. In a season without stars, it’s hardly surprising that Tennessee went with seniority in tapping seniors Kendal Vickers, Jashon Robertson, and Emmanuel Moseley to say the right things in front of the microphones today. Generally, these guys are well-coached and will do exactly that, and they’re even getting advice from guys who’ve been there and done that like VFL Chris Walker:
“Engage the reporters,” Walker said. “Don’t get offended at questions that you get asked, because we always have to answer questions and sometimes answer tough ones. I think it’s one of those things where you enjoy the process and the opportunity you get to represent your university.”
If you are tempted to think that the reporters are especially prescient this week because their pre-event “X things to watch for at SEC Media Days,” just remember that they will be the ones asking the questions and thus directing the agenda. Mike Griffith did an especially good job with this, not only asking the questions, but also both predicting the answers and reading between the lines to interpret them. John Adams, though, makes you cock your head like a dog looking at a ceiling fan, wondering exactly what he’s doing. Is it snark? Good-natured humor? There’s enough truth in there to make you wonder about everything.
Anyway . . . by all means, expect these things to be addressed:
- Lack of star power. As a couple of recent tweets from Bobby Rader pointed out that none of the preseason magazines have the same players on their covers, and even the SEC Media Guide punted on the issue and just showed an obscure group of faceless, numberless players. That could be a very good thing for team chemistry, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Expect the coaches and players to spin it positively. Also expect a few references to 1998, when Tee Martin took over after Peyton Manning was off to the NFL.
- The quarterback battle. Will it be Quinten Dormady or Jarett Guarantano? Might it be both? When will they know? What criteria will they use to make the decision? Expect many words and no real information.
- Update on injuries and what they’re doing to prevent this year what happened last year. Recently, Jones has downplayed the ability of a strength and conditioning coach and program to decrease injuries, and he’ll likely do that again. But he’ll also probably talk about the importance of gaining weight and strength and that they’ll be better in those areas this fall. He’ll also likely rattle off the players who have gained weight and make several references as to how Rock Gullickson is improving the program this summer.
- How does everyone feel about Jones being identified by several news outlets as being on the hot seat? I may get this verbatim: “We have the best fans in the nation, and we like the expectations. It’s why you come to a place like Tennessee.” Points to anyone who can communicate that thought in a unique way, though. They may even get a blockquote from me this evening.
- Further comments on Jones’ earlier “Champions of Life” comment. I wouldn’t expect Jones to walk this back very much but instead to clarify by adding more detail. It may lead to eye rolls from the cynical sports writers, but as several are beginning to point out, it’s much more important that the message resonates with players and their parents, and if Jones is saying these things to that audience and getting the results on the recruiting trail that he’s currently getting, then he’ll get no eye rolls from me.
- The impact of the staff changes. These guys — Mike Canales, Walt Wells, Brady Hoke, Kevin Beard, Charlton Warren, and even Larry Scott, who is in a new role this fall — are all essentially the backup quarterback, someone you love because he hasn’t had the opportunity to make any mistakes yet. They’ll all get glowing reviews today.
- The impact of the John Currie and Phillip Fulmer hires. How many times have you heard someone say bad things about their bosses in public? Right. (I actually think the nice things they’re saying about these hires are also true, for whatever that’s worth.)
- The offensive line. I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it again: these guys are as experienced, talented, and deep as they’ve been in a long time, and if they’re stronger and nastier to boot and can stay healthy, it’s going to go a long way toward having the Vols exceed muted expectations this fall.
We’ll be following along when the Vols step up to the plate, so stay tuned here and on Twitter.