Gameday on Rocky Top Podcast

The Gameday on Rocky Top Podcast Returns: 2018 Tennessee Football Preview


[00:00:23] Where’s Jeremy Pruitt?
[00:03:11] What are you looking forward to the most right now?
[00:10:01] The Gameday on Rocky Top Podcast is transitioning to a new feed.
[00:13:29] Are you more “wait and see” now, today, than you were five years ago when Butch Jones was hired?
[00:22:17] What’s the best coaching job in the last 10 years?
[00:30:21] What position group do you think we’ll be talking about the most by the end of the season?
[00:40:51] Thoughts on West Virginia being a 9.5-point favorite, and Tennessee’s chances of pulling off the upset.


Will Shelton: [00:00:14] Welcome in to the Gameday on Rocky Top Podcast. Will Shelton, Joel Hollingsworth Brad Shepard. It is 9:39 on Wednesday night.

Will Shelton: [00:00:23] The good news is the Braves are up 8 to 3 on NATS which is really exciting. The bad news is we don’t know where Jeremy Pruitt is. And so earlier today there was was that have media availability at 5 o’clock.

Will Shelton: [00:00:37] UT canceled it because “something suddenly came up.” We joked before we went on the air that just we have such like spouse abuse syndrome as Tennessee fans. My first thought was did he fall on a helmet. So yeah you know I’m sure we’ll continue on here as as business as usual. But hopefully Jeremy Pruitt’s whereabouts and the reason for his disappearance a few hours ago will manifest themselves while we’re sitting here talking but I’m not the only one. Guys I be like that when I see that and hear that immediately. And there’s been lots people who’ve made of good jokes on Twitter.

Will Shelton: [00:01:18] Mark Nagi tweeted out the picture of Bud Ford from the night Kiffin left.

Brad Shepard: [00:01:24] I was gonna say, my couch is out in my front yard and my lighter’s waiting on go.

Will Shelton: [00:01:28] That said my Tennessee fans by our lighters are always ready so we just see.

Will Shelton: [00:01:36] Before that happened today I was going to lead into this with like is when we talk about what we’re looking forward to like normal. I would enjoy just some normalcy just for a minute even if it’s six and six. Like just normal.

Will Shelton: [00:01:50] Let’s talk about the team. Let’s talk about X’s and O’s. Let’s talk about who are excited about and not have to fight amongst ourselves or be anxious or any of that stuff. But clearly it’s going to take a little bit for it’s going to take some normal. I think here over over a number of seasons for us to get out of this sort of funk of if it can go wrong it will for Tennessee but we’ll start there I guess for both you guys. Is there something in particular with this team this season that you find yourselves looking forward to on our preseason magazine. You know we talked about that it’s we’re not doing bravado or bricks or britches it’s just it’s just football and as folks who write about Tennessee and talk about Tennessee it’s exhausting. The last few years even the good times were really exhausting I think because of some failures by Butch Jones the first couple of years to really make a stronger statement and punched that clock so early in his tenure.

Will Shelton: [00:02:55] But I think just the chance just enjoy football assuming everything is alright with coach just enjoy football and some normalcy is really kind of what I’m looking forward to the most at this point here just a few weeks before kickoff.

Will Shelton: [00:03:11] Joel what are you looking forward to the most right now.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:03:15] You know my heads don’t swimming because I hadn’t heard that news. So you know I’m thinking he’s up in Columbus. I think I’m trying to figure out where Haslam’s plane is. You know I don’t know. So anyway.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:03:30] Can you ask me the question again.

Brad Shepard: [00:03:33] I think we can still get Mike Leach.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:03:36] OK well that’s fine. You know you’re probably right whatever we do. Has he signed his contract. That’s another question. You know they say you asked me what I was looking forward to, I think.

Will Shelton: [00:03:48] Aside from that but you know Butch Jones is available as well.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:03:53] And he’s cheap. Now he’s into he’s really cheap.

Brad Shepard: [00:03:56] Because of what we’re already paying him through. Yeah. All right.

Will Shelton: [00:04:03] Thirty five thousand dollar internship is a pretty good deal. Like I would I would I would have enjoyed one of those earlier in my life.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:04:10] So yeah there would have been nice. So OK here’s what’s been going on with me because of the last 10 years I have I’ve I’ve I’m in wait and see mode like I never have been before.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:04:25] You know just because everything every year you get my hopes up. I got a list of five reasons why everything is going to be hunky dory and then it all comes crashing down and so like this year I’m like well you know I don’t know I can’t really find anything that I’m like super excited about.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:04:40] Today was actually the first day where I started thinking of a couple of things that might actually go right. Because I started looking at the roster and if you look at the improvements that he’s made and the roster in just the short time that he’s been here he’s done a lot. He’s added guys that fit his blueprint a bunch a bunch of guys through recruiting and through graduate transfers and JUCO and then even the guys that are on staff he’s just you know he’s he’s molded them into the people he wants them to be.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:05:15] Hey you you gain weight. You gain height.

Will Shelton: [00:05:19] It’s like The Hulk.

Brad Shepard: [00:05:22] I love that you talk like a caveman when you talk like Pruitt, that makes me so happy.

Will Shelton: [00:05:25] HULK DO BENCH.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:05:28] So yeah he’s doing some stuff right. And he’s doing some stuff. And then also I looked at the injury stuff again today which I know it’s tempting fate. But last year this time I think it was on this day last year or like Hey 2016 the injuries were terrible. That can’t happen again. Right. And of course it did happen again and it was actually worse in 2017. But but this year really it can’t happen again can it? So I think we’re going to have a lot of our good players back there are all be up and macho and making Brad happy. So yeah there’s there’s two things to look forward to right there.

Will Shelton: [00:06:12] You mentioned a couple of things I want to come back to to touch on. Let’s go to Brad.

Will Shelton: [00:06:15] First the stuff you’re really looking forward to at this point as we get into the you know the like there’s there’s practice updates every day except for today and there’s you know there’s like pictures in and here’s who looked good today like this is the time of year for these kinds of exciting sorts of things. What are you looking forward right now.

Brad Shepard: [00:06:36] Brad we know Joel stole stole the first part of my answer because I feel the exact same way. This is the first time that I can ever remember where I’m not cautiously optimistic. I’m not anything I’m just kind of you know.

Brad Shepard: [00:06:52] You know I can sit here and tell you that I like everything about it that I’ve heard so far and I do like a lot of the stuff I like.

[00:06:58] I like that he is kind of a breath of fresh air as far as honesty goes and he’s not sitting here you know pumping rainbows up our tails and that’s that. I like that in a football coach but we don’t we don’t know anything about how he’s going to run the program how the program’s going to look under him. We don’t know really a lot about what our how our offense is going to look. We don’t know how we’re going to transition to 3 4 so quickly or what our personnel looks like in that scheme. So there are a lot of huge ifs and you know a lot of things but you look at on paper and you think you know this team is one big you know square peg trying to be pushed into this round hole of this new scheme or this new coaching regime.

Brad Shepard: [00:07:44] But they knew you know you think well last years square peg was you know the worst square peg that Tennessee’s ever had in the history of the program and everything kind of went wrong. And at the end of the year it was just a matter of how bad it was going to be was it going to be the worst ever. Or you know was it just going to be really really bad. And that’s a bad position for all of us to be in. And so it’s hard to think it’s going to be worse than last year which you know means it’s going to be better. So I guess that’s something to be cautiously optimistic about is that you know it can’t be worse. I’m just like you guys I’m sick of this cycle of hope every few years but that’s kind of what we’ve been.

Brad Shepard: [00:08:29] And you know you just kind of have to hope at this point that that what we had on the magazine is is is true and realistic and legitimate and that’s that we’re back to football coaches that like to talk football and live and breathe football and the players that you know wanna play football and these guys know how to coach football and if that’s the case then I believe they’re going to recruit we’ll enough and develop we’ll enough to eventually win games. So I’m looking forward to the development.

Brad Shepard: [00:09:02] I’m looking forward to as I’ve written a couple of times this offseason you know really kind of seeing some of these Pruitt diamonds and seeing because we’re going to see a lot of apply this year we’re already hearing practice reports about a guy like Cedric Tillman at receiver and JUCO transfer Kenny George or Kenneth George at cornerback and you know just some guys like that Jeremy Banks running back Kurott Garland and Kingston Harris at defensive tackle. Guys that are probably going to get some reps this year. Those were guys that weren’t necessarily heavily recruited so we’ll get it.

Brad Shepard: [00:09:39] We’ll get an opportunity to see what Pruitt’s evaluation skills and development skills are pretty early so I think that how those guys pan out kind of will will give us at least a glimpse into the future. So that’s something that I’m excited about this year. So really just kind of the growth of the program I guess would be the the short answer.

Will Shelton: [00:10:01] Let me let me pause and make kind of a public service announcement that I was supposed to make at the beginning and we got so carried away with where in the world is Jeremy Pruitt thing that didn’t make it so this is for all the years that you have listened to the Rocky ?Top Talk Podcast and the Gameday on Rocky Top Podcast.

Will Shelton: [00:10:17] We’ve been at TalkShoe and this I believe is our 143rd episode at TalkShoe. But is going to be our last episode at TalkShoe and we are moving this bad boy over to a soundcloud spot. And so if if you are listening to this because you got a notification because you followed on TalkShoe and all that great stuff. Awesome. And thanks for listening for all these years and we would love for you to follow us over to soundcloud and I’m going to throw it to Joel to tell you how you can do that.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:10:54] Yeah go to soundcloud and search for Gameday on Rocky Top. It’s really hard.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:11:00] Yeah. So what we’ll have at the Web site do. And the reason we make this announcement and I might actually shift that over and add something to the front end too because I forgot to.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:11:13] But the reason you posted it over it TalkShoe is so when somebody is over there looking for it the last episode has them has the road sign in it you know. So yeah we’ll be over soundcloud. There’s lots of reasons to make the move over there we’re excited about doing it it’s basically just a host but you’ll still be able to find it in all the regular spots too so if you’re subscribed through iTunes or through stitcher or through Google Play it’ll still be available through that you’ll just need to resubscribe to a new feed but we’ll keep reminding you of that.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:11:53] It’s on the Web site. If you ever get lost just come to the Web site. We will hold your hand and help you find your way.

Will Shelton: [00:12:02] Fair enough. A couple of things we touched on there.

Will Shelton: [00:12:06] You know when I say I’m looking forward to football like this team is going to have a lot of problems and a lot of things that we can critique and look at and Pruitt as a first time coach is going to have a lot of those things too and so there will be even with quote unquote real football coaches there will be plenty of those things. I look forward to critiquing those things.

Will Shelton: [00:12:27] It felt like to me the last again even in as little time as possible talking about Butch Jones In this podcast but you know even in 2016 2015 I felt like I had a lot of conversations where things could not be properly evaluated because there was so many people who had already made up their mind about Butch Jones that they weren’t saying things clearly. I feel like the vast majority of conversations we had about Josh Dobbs or at least that I had about Josh Dobbs with people where you would try to say hey man Dobbs is playing it like a level that only Schuler and Manning have played. Statistically people were so pissed off a Butch Jones that he couldn’t really have any conversation like that without that stuff being dragged in. So I look forward to talking about both the strengths and the weaknesses which there will probably be many of this particular football team without having all the baggage of the Butch Jones conversation that we had for the last two and a half to three years.

Will Shelton: [00:13:29] But I’ll say this too when we say that when you guys say that you’re in a bigger wait and see mode than ever. Do you feel like that you are in more of a wait and see mode now than you were this time five years ago and Butch’s first year. I feel like I was more wait and see with Butch’s first team than I am with this team one because Tennessee’s at least won some games the last few years to kind of cleanse the palatte a little bit and to just think these are better again quote unquote football coaches so I’m very wait and see with Pruitt he may just not be a very good head coach. Maybe he’s a great defensive coordinator not a good head coach. We’ll find out. But I think I was more wait and see about Butch Jones five years ago and that collection of talent especially knowing what you lost after 2012. Tyler Bray and all those guys not coming back. I feel like I’m a little less wait and see here with this team is that Joel are you. Are you. Is that a fair comparison. Do you feel like you’re more wait and see or is it just time you know five more seasons of not getting where we wanted to go. Has made you this way.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:14:40] Yeah that’s a really interesting comparison because I feel like Pruitt is a better coach and a better hire.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:14:50] And so from that perspective I’m more confident in him and I remember actually writing something I sort of regretted when Butch Jones was first hired first hired boy really talking Southern there.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:15:13] But yeah. So I was not really optimistic about Butch Jones but it was still early enough in the process that I didn’t think we’d hit bottom. You know so I was still optimistic about the program even though I wasn’t very confident in Butch Jones and now I’m more confident in Pruitt but we just we have so far to go and it’s just I have I’m tired because I’ve done too many reps of hope.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:15:42] You know too many hope reps so I’m worn out. Guys I’m worn out yeah.

Will Shelton: [00:15:48] Are Brad feels and we see in recruiting was a part of this with Butch Jones to where you know no one was overly thrilled when he was hired. The day after we didn’t get Charlie Strong but then Butch one people over in March and April and all that stuff. And so maybe that makes a difference. I just remember that the second game of that first year the Western Kentucky being terrified that we were going to lose to Western Kentucky. And I am normally not this sort of I’m normally not terrified of the Western Kentuckys of the world regardless of the season that’s a game to see because Western Kentucky turned it over on like 17 plays in a row. But you know the sense that a fair comparison for you Brad are you in a similar place in terms of wait and see you than you were five years ago with Butch Jones.

Brad Shepard: [00:16:36] You know I want to say that I’m in a similar place but I think that you hit the nail on the head and you again I mean I know I seem like you know Captain Unoriginal tonight but you really took my talking point there when I mean because I’d given myself such a false sense of security because of the you know kind of wild wildly successful recruiting and early victories that he had especially there that you know the stretch of February when they got Todd Kelly and Jalen Hurd and several those guys were out there kind of back to back that it kind of felt like you know that. And I even wrote that summer. Speaking of things that you wrote that you regret looking back on you know that hey this could be the class that really you know this could be a comparable class to what Saban experienced in the [?] year for Bama I think that we all kind of felt like this is this is the class I mean we we we’re kind of getting everybody we wanted in state. Ended up being a great class. Especially on paper didn’t quite pan out the way we’d hoped for it even though there were a lot of good players in that class.

Brad Shepard: [00:17:47] You know I think that that the recruiting success is by the time the season rolled around I had kind of talked myself into well whatever happens this year. Man we’re rolling toward the future and so I was really optimistic and you know I was kind of and that’s that was kind of you know looking back at it I would like to say I was young and naive and stupid and I probably was younger naive more naive and stupider than I am now. But you know I really think that at that juncture you know I just kind of hope had kind of had kind of taken over and it was more about the future than it was about right then and so there was optimism regardless. To me I mean kind of optimism independent of the football games that season. And so it’s not really that way this year with me because I mean I feel like that you know as as Joel kind of touched on like you know there’s there are some players there. I mean I’m not saying that Tennessee’s got the talent up there to win eight games. I don’t think anybody thinks that they’re going to go four wins to eight wins. But but there are some talented players there and you know I think that we’re all just kind of curious to see if these guys you know are are really good coaches.

Brad Shepard: [00:19:04] What can the team full of you know pretty highly ranked players do with good coaching and that first open scrimmage setting on Sunday. You know Kongbo played pretty well and you know Kyle Phillips is getting a lot of you know quality talk this year. I mean there are some guys along that often front that are kind of getting some buzz early in the preseason. I mean. So there are some things that kind of make you think well maybe these guys you know I mean they’re not going to be four stars and five stars like some of them came in but maybe maybe these guys are not just as as worthless as they’ve looked at times on the field and so I have optimism in that standpoint but I’m trying to just kind of dial it back because I feel like that you know if you write about something for us obviously we’re fans writing about something that we’re passionate about. But you do still kind of want to people to you know value your opinion and for your opinions to sometimes be right. And I feel like over the last two coaching tenures, I’ve pumped a lot of early sunshine that turned out being bullcrap and I don’t want to do that again.

Will Shelton: [00:20:21] Yeah well you know we can.

Will Shelton: [00:20:23] It’s it’s like an AA meeting this podcast because we’re all like I’m Will and I had bad takes. It’s in my nature to give.

Will Shelton: [00:20:32] You know I’ve said that about Dooley and something I wrote earlier this week that you know to this day I will defend saying that because of the injuries in Dooley’s second year and because of the three year recruiting failure that he inherited that we still like it was a very rational thing to say. We need the data from this third year before we can make a fair decision that Derek Dooley sucks or doesn’t suck or whatever but it turns out that you know he did it so that the quick decision ended up being the right one and it’s the same with Butch Jones you’ll find people that after that Florida game in 2014 people that were he lost percentage not a percentage of people who were just out and remained out but he lost something that day that I think he never fully got back or maybe got back for a couple weeks in 2016 and then gave it away real quick.

Will Shelton: [00:21:23] So you know I worry about that from a fan standpoint of the last two guys ended up being so bad in different kinds of ways that early snap judgment even if it was early like it was right. In both cases and so I worry about that if if and when Pruitt struggles this year that you know that may be something that we need to grow out of. But I also want to go back to the point Joel made about injuries and just luck. I know there’s there’s no limit to the things that we can blame on Butch Jones It seems like you know I’ve I’ve heard plenty of people say well we had 50 plus people miss starts because Butch Jones hired bad strength and conditioning coaches and maybe there’s some truth in that. But it’s like they thought all the injuries were because you know the head coach made didn’t do this or change something up or whatever.

Will Shelton: [00:22:17] But there is some degree of we are due for just the math the law of averages suggests we’re due for a better year with injuries. And I want to take that question and pivot it to a thing of saying when’s the last what’s what’s the best coaching job in the last 10 years. Like which one of these years. I feel like it’s been a really long time since we saw a really good coaching job. Even Kiffin, Kiffin really struggled the last game to UCLA never showed a loss. Tennessee was was flat and bad against Ole Miss late in the year after they had kind of got things turned around. I don’t know. I think Kiffin did a great job in parts but I don’t know that I would call his entire 2009 body of work a great coaching job. Tennessee went 7 and 6. So it’s it’s been a long time since we’ve seen quote unquote good coaching and it sort of play itself out. Do you have a Brad I’ll start with you this time. Like when you look back at the last 10 years is there a season that stands out to you where you say OK this was making the best of a bad situation or this was a this was a quote unquote good coaching job is there one that stands out to you as being any better than any of the others in the last ten years.

Brad Shepard: [00:23:40] No because there wasn’t. I mean this is what we this is what we’ve had for 10 years. It’s been mediocrity at best. I mean I do believe that I believe that as you said Kiffin did some good things in 0 9 I believe that you know any offensive line that starts the Sullins twins and you know a defense that that really has has two players and that’s you know Dan Williams and Eric Berry, putting Barry up in the box and him being a completely different player that year but completely still awesome player because of what they did with him and some things that they did as far as you know shutting half the field down and helping develop Crompton and kind of some of those games. The Georgia game stands out. I mean there were some there were some really good coaching jobs for a really a team that really didn’t have a whole lot of talent that it was kind of really struggling from the last few years of the of the Fulmer era when we didn’t really recruit like we know him to be able to recruit back in the heyday. I thought Kiffin did did some good things. And you know I still believe that the the period of time from and was it was at the end of let’s see the end of. I’m terrible with years but the end of 15 through about the Texas A&M game in 16. I mean Tennessee played pretty well at times I believe though it was in spite of their coaching because you know I mean the Northwestern bowl game was was was pretty awesome.

Brad Shepard: [00:25:18] Tennessee looked really good in that game. And I think DeBord did some really good things with the audience as far as you know the run game and that’s my kind of that’s my kind of offense. So there were some good things there but then you look back at just some of the the near misses and the oh my gosh how did they win the game in the first part of the 16. Not only the Georgia and Florida you know crazy wins but especially the Appalachian State where Tennessee got super lucky to come out with the win in that game. I mean you look back at those games and even in our highest you know most exciting times of man this team’s won a lot of games in a row or you know that we were still kind of. It was. It was you could tell it was it was imperfect. There was something amiss. I mean the coaching staff wasn’t just learning how to coach there was not. There were you know. It seemed like Tennessee was winning some games in spite of the coaching staff and they get way down and then come back and you know they couldn’t take the restrictor plates off early and then when they did you know it’s like the talent kind of started showing up. So I really don’t think that was the coaching thing so I guess I will have to say 09 is the only time that I really felt like OK this is you know Kiffin didn’t inherit much and the future looks bright.

Brad Shepard: [00:26:42] I remember talking with Stephen Hargis on the guy’s it’s true day, the Kiffin, you know Hubbs came out and said guys, it’s true when Kiffin took a job at USC on the way home from work that day I spent 45 minutes talking with Stephen Hargis sports editor for The Chattanooga Times Free Press. We were just talking about how exciting the future was how Tennessee was recruiting as well as anybody and some of the recruiting victories that they’d had and that this is really the beginning of something special in the Kiffin wasn’t scared of Urban and he wasn’t scared of Saban he wasn’t scared of any of those guys and that this is the kind of alpha personality that Tennessee needs to have. And then poof he’s gone. And you know you’re hiring Dooley and you’re like who’s this guy. I mean what in from then on it’s just kind of been like an endless cycle of who’s this guy and we just have to kind of talk ourselves into well maybe maybe maybe this is the guy and he’s never the guy.

Brad Shepard: [00:27:40] So yeah that’s kind of where I’m at.

Will Shelton: [00:27:44] Fair enough. Joel, I don’t want to spend all night on this but did anything stand out to you last last 10 years of hey this was this was a good coaching job or do we just agree we just We haven’t seen it.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:27:58] I think Rick Barnes has done an exceptional job.

Will Shelton: [00:28:06] Maybe we can bring back the basketball podcast this year.

Will Shelton: [00:28:08] I think I think Dooley’s I think 10 was a pretty ok coaching job. Tennessee was competitive with Oregon for two and a half quarters and that score ended up being a lot worse than the actual game was. You know a mess at the end of that LSU game kind of taints the whole thing but they’re competitive with LSU, competitive with South Carolina who won the East that year, and then making the switch to Bray and went down the stretch and the North Carolina loss was not the coach’s fault in terms of what happened at the end of that game.

Will Shelton: [00:28:41] So you know maybe I felt like Dooley probably did a little bit better of a job in the first year than we give him credit for.

Will Shelton: [00:28:49] But as we know it didn’t go well after that so that kind of ends up not mattering so. I say all that to say like when you are looking for things to be excited about with Pruitt if these guys do a good job even if it looks like you know 6 and 6 and close games and that sort of stuff we haven’t seen a real good job around here in a long time and Kiffin to Brad’s point again, that UCLA loss was terrible. It was a terrible loss in his second game and the Ole Miss loss was no fun. But I agree like even after that first year even going 7 and 6 I was excited we all were excited. We felt like hey you know this this can be something that works going forward. There were unique things about Kiffin because we had to defend them so much it kind of bound you to him a little closer there I’d say. But you know Pruitt it doesn’t have to be 8 and 4 this year. You know you can there can be some bad losses in there and some heartbreakers in there and you could still come out of this first year if he continues to recruit well you can still come out of the first year feel like you got something good going on. But yeah I don’t think there’s been a unanimous. I’m arguing for 2010. So we’re talking about 11 12 and then five years of Butch Jones where we haven’t felt like hey these guys are getting the most out of what we got it’s been a long time. So again that maybe maybe something to look forward to with this year’s team.

Will Shelton: [00:30:21] Let’s talk a couple of specific things before we go about about this year’s team. We’ll do this again before the season starts so we can talk a little more specifically about West Virginia and some other things but just early on, what position group at the at the end of the year right now at the start of camp this is not a fair time to ask this question but I’m asking anyway. At the end of the year what position group do you feel like we’ll be talking about the most? Is it quarterbacks because of something that Guarantano or Chryst was able to do. Is that a position where there’s a lot of talent that’s going to be coming back for next year that we can be excited about. Is there a unit on this team that we feel like could be legitimately you know good or even an SEC caliber good. Brad I’ll start with you again. What what position group do you feel like at the end of this year that we are going to be talking about the most on this year’s team.

Brad Shepard: [00:31:12] At the end of this year I think that we’re going to be talking the most about two positions I really think that Tennessee has got an S.E.C. stable of running backs and an SEC stable of linebackers and I think that next year you know we could see especially linebackers. So I think next year what we could see is what we’re going to see this year is as Kirkland and the Bituli on the field at the same time. And if you throw in you know Darrell Taylor and you know possibly Kongbo you know Tennessee could go big and go strong and go pretty fast if they put Sapp out there. I mean so I’ve already mentioned some names we’re talking about even with Kongbo leaving this year which I mean who knows what we’re going to get from him this year. I think that they’re going to stand him up and tell them to go to the quarterback which is why he’s been needing to do all along. But after this year what we’ve got is Bituli and Kirkland who are going to be back. I don’t think anybody thinks Kirkland’s going to do enough this year to go pro. That’s that’s two bonafide legit SEC linebackers Bituli especially. So you’ve got those two guys you’ve got Sapp you’ve got Ignont who’s looked really good in fall practice, look decent at times in spring even though he looked horrible in the spring game. That’s four guys you put Jordan Jordan Allen who’s got three years left it outside linebacker who’s shown some flashes. Austin Smith who they like I think a guy it’s really going to be it’s going to turn a lot of heads this year that we haven’t been talking about is DeAndre Johnson who is a sophomore. And then you’ve got you know J.J. Peterson who if he ever makes it to campus is kind of the jewel of last year’s class. So you’ve got a lot of SEC caliber bodies some guys that can play linebacker and can really make a difference there you’ve got size you’ve got speed, enough depth there where you can feel pretty comfortable about going to 3-4 and really being able to throw different different kind of combos out there depending on personnel set. I really liked the linkebacking core I think those guys are going to be a strength of the defense this year. I think that they’re going to get better as the year goes on and they’re going to be looked at as being the team strength going into next year.

Brad Shepard: [00:33:27] At running back are really really really like Tim Jordan. I think that that he kind of had a breakout party in that orange and white game. You know nobody really talked that much about him and now he’s kind of going out there and he and Chandler kind of splitting the carries with the first team so far and fall both those guys are sophomores. They both you know can do a lot of good things. Jordan can run between the tackles pretty well. Chandler’s kind of got that that burst that Tennessee hasn’t had at running back in a long time, and then you’ve got Banks who’s exactly the kind of running back Jeremy Banks the true freshman the exactly the kind of running back that Pruitt likes and you know the guy the guy really hits the hole hard. I mean he spoke with several people who’ve seen him in practice so far and really loves his game and that’s not even you know throwing a guy out there that’s kind of a wild card and that’s Princeton Fant who’s a redshirt freshman who’s 230. I mean and so you know this is a kid that’s 6 2 6 3 230 and we’re not going to see a lot of him this year. But you know he really kind of looks like the kind of big running back that you like to see and he might get some short yardage carries this year, so you’re talking about four legit running backs and that’s even after Madre London leaves after this year which is the grad transfer for Michigan State. So I mean Tennessee’s got some players at those two spots. And you know I’m curious to see interested to see how they developed and if you know if if they are what I think they’re going to be moving into 19.

Will Shelton: [00:35:01] Joel is there a group that you are particularly looking forward to or one you think by the end of the year especially will be one that we’re talking about more than others?

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:35:09] Yeah I think going into the season the most promising one is the linebackers for all the reasons that Brad mentioned. There’s a good argument for the running backs but I think their performance is probably a little too dependent on the offensive line which we just don’t know about. They could be good but that’s another thing I’ve been saying for too many years in a row. So I’m not going to say it this year. So I’m going to take a different direction and go out on a limb and say that the unit we’ll be talking about most at the end of the season is the secondary, the cornerbacks especially because they’re the ones with the most to prove going into the season. They’re in good hands with Pruitt and they’ve got talent. And Alontae Taylor seems like the real deal. So you know they could have a special season and if they do then they’re going to be the ones that we’re talking about at the end.

Brad Shepard: [00:36:04] Yeah that’s a good point too because Bryce Thompson is is legit too and they like Trevon Flowers so that’s three freshman. Yeah that’s that’s that’s a good point.

Will Shelton: [00:36:16] It’s interesting to me. You know just trying to judge this sort of team in preseason compared to some others because you expect again when you’ve got a first year coach that you’re going to have some struggles and those sorts of things but it really, Brad wrote earlier this summer about we haven’t had a mass exodus we haven’t really had any exodus other than maybe a couple of guys going to the NFL that surprised us. And you don’t have a corner is the only place where Tennessee probably relying on a freshman is going to be one or maybe both of their best options. So you’re not going to have stuff we’ve already talked about on this podcast. Lane Kiffin playing walk on starting walk-ons the offensive line in his first year. Derek Dooley starting freshman on the offensive line as well. You know we were worried about Tyler Bray dying back there behind some of those guys because he weighed 10 pounds or whatever the case may be. And Pruitt doesn’t have to start first with them and they can run Baylen Buchanan and Marquill Osborne and some of those guys out there. But again it’s early in camp but I think Alontae Taylor especially then maybe Thompson to just might be your your best option. We saw with Butch Jones put Cam Sutton and Malik Foreman out there, but there’s not for a first time or first year coach. There is not the same level or at least the same quantity of what we’re going to plug and play freshmen in all these spots and that will give us a huge upgrade. So you know on that point you feel better about where Tennessee is. It’s just that the last time we saw all of these guys who weren’t freshmen. They went 4 and 8. And you know that’s the thing about we everybody throws 4-8. The bigger thing is is how they went 4-8. You know Tennessee was non-competitive against Vanderbilt and Missouri at the end of the year. And really you know struggling to beat Southern Miss and those kinds of things, so it wasn’t just the record it was a total lack of competitiveness with most of the teams in the November portion of their schedule. So I don’t know that that will be part of what we learn is you know it is on the high side of things maybe a lot of it was coaching and injuries and those two things are rectified and Tennessee can go out there and be competitive with almost everybody they play. On the down side of things, maybe we just don’t have a lot of good football players and that’s why we went 4-8 and struggled so much last year.

Will Shelton: [00:38:47] So I don’t know throw out, too, see you play the game with so many of these things. If we find a quarterback and if we can keep that quarterback upright I think wide receiver wide receiver is one of those where you know you’ve got two really good options in Juaun Jennings and Marquez Callaway and then it’s one of those. We’ve said this about a number of positions throughout the years. It’s one of those one of these guys has got to be good right. Like that whole slew of receivers Brandon Johnson Jordan Murphy Latrell Williams Josh Palmer all those guys like one of those guys has got to be good like you know. I think Helton we we wrote about this Tennessee has been thrown a running back so much the last five years we forget what a true number 3 wide receiver can look like in an offense. And I think we will remember that very quickly with Tyson Helton. So I think that’s he could lose.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:39:40] And the tight ends.

Will Shelton: [00:39:40] Yeah and Wood-Anderson too. You know we’ve we’ve had Tennessee you fall in love with a tight end so many years and so many times. It doesn’t actually pan out or they don’t get used or you get excited about Luke Stocker or Ethan Wolf for a second or two and then they just don’t. They don’t utilize him as much in the offense. But you know I think there’s even if we’re talking about Jennings and or Callaway maybe flirting with the NFL if things go really well there’s a lot of guys there that I think will have a lot of opportunities to get involved in the passing game and so I think that’s that could be one as well. So there you know you can you can make an argument for running backs and wide receivers and linebackers. You can make an argument that the defensive line could be good this year but then all those guys are going to graduate. That’s that’s a that’s a next August we’ll talk about that. That’s a huge problem for next year. And then secondary. Like we said going into freshmen growing up as the year goes along there are some options here for what could be units that we’re talking about at the end of the year having a chance to make a real difference in the SEC in 2019.

Will Shelton: [00:40:51] Last question here again we’ll be back before West Virginia and talk about them more specifically but just just to take the temperature at this stage. I saw West Virginia at nine and a half today West Virginia was favored by nine and a half. I think Bill Connelly’s got to give Tennessee a 35 percent chance to win in the games. That’s outside the old five to 30 window which is exciting for a long time reader of this blog and inside jokes. But once if you had to put a percentage on on Tennessee’s chances against West Virginia coming up because I feel like nine and a half if Tennessee goes to Charlotte and loses by 10 points I’m probably going to feel alright like that. That’s a level of competitiveness with a top 20 team that we for the most part didn’t see at the end of last year and historically haven’t seen a whole lot of in the last 10 years. So you know do we feel like Brad I’ll start with you do you feel like that line is I guess how do you feel about West Virginia minus nine and a half. And if you were throwing a percentage around to say I give Tennessee X percent chance to win this game. How do we feel here on August 8.

Brad Shepard: [00:42:05] I guess I would probably say I would probably say around 40 percent I mean but you know that’s again I mean it just kind of I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what Tennessee has. I mean I think that I don’t think we know what what we’re going to be. And I’ve watched a lot of a lot of now of course the West Virginia West Virginia minus Will Grier the last year was brutal by them and they’re going to have Will Grier and David Sills and all those guys in it. You know it really stinks for Tennessee that there’s that West Virginia strengths are really going to kind of play in the hands of their you know their favor because it’s Tennessee’s weaknesses. Tennessee’s going to have to be able to get to the quarterback and be able to put some pressure on Grier and right now. I can’t tell you anybody that that will consistently get to the passerfor Tennessee and then also you know those those freshman corners that we’re talking about are there those young corners are going to have to you know guard one of the two or three best receiving corps in the country so you know I could see a shootout. But then also you know I’m not sure that that West Virginia’s defense is that West Virginia’s defense can really stop Tennessee if Tennessee is you know kind of hell bent on running the football and can do that well and we don’t know we don’t know if they can or not. And we don’t know very much about how we’re going to look or what we’re going to be. So it’s hard to say. And I think that’s probably why you see that line. Everybody knows that they’ve got Grier and Sills and and nobody really knows what Tennessee has but I think Tennessee cover think Tennessee covers and I think that it’s a possibility that they go in and win that game. But you know it’s big. Though it’s first game of the year it’s a big swing game I really think that that’s that’s one of those games along with Florida that are just kind of sitting there. That Tennessee you know really could get. I would not pick Tennessee in that game. But you know who knows. I mean it’s an intriguing matchup. And any other year Tennessee would be favorite game but you know Grier and Sills are going to be really tough to stop or even slow down.

Will Shelton: [00:44:26] Joel How do you feel about nine and a half and I know obviously we’re several weeks away from a stats heavy preview and all that stuff but you know you Brad says 40 percent. You have an early guess on how you’d feel about that?

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:44:39] You said Connelly had it at 35 percent.

Will Shelton: [00:44:42] Connelly has it 35 percent. Yes.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:44:45] I think that between 35 and 40 that sounds about right. Ten points sounds maybe about right. Nine and a half. So the thing is we know what West Virginia is going to look like. You know there are going to be good Sports Illustrated I think had them in the top 10 and their most recent top 25. Grier is supposedly a Heisman contender. So you know they’re good. But we know, and that is what I find so interesting. Just like what Brad said. We don’t know anything about Tennessee at this point. This is Pruitt’s first game as a head coach. Don’t really know that much about Helton. So you know when you don’t know a team you can steal a half of a football game before the other team can even get their bearings. You know because Grier. Greer is going to throw and if he throws in Alontae Taylor’s direction thinking well there’s a true freshmen over there and you can get an interception that can make a big difference in a game. And you know if they spend a whole half of a game trying to figure out where the weaknesses are then you can make the game pretty close. So I wouldn’t be surprised really to see Tennessee pull it out or to make it close or competitive. But just knowing how West Virginia is, how good they are, how powerful they are on offense, you know you can’t give Tennessee the edge. And I think 10 points is about right. But the other thing is like Brad said, too,nobody’s really talking about West Virginia’s defense and I’m not sure he’s very good at all. So I don’t know. I just can’t wait to see the game to be honest. It should be fun.

Will Shelton: [00:46:46] And educational and again you know tying this thing together I just will learn a lot. We got no data points at this point in time. And I also think again we’re not us. Vegas has it at 9 1/2 This isn’t like is he going to Oregon and being a 20 x whatever point underdog where you feel like we’re going to get steamrolled out here and it could have I mean West Virginia could roll us up. They might. But I think there is again 30 to 40 percent where you want to put them. You can entertain something still so even after four and eight season even playing a top 20 team in a neutral site with freshmen corners and all that stuff. Tennessee still in the ballpark of entertaining something and that’s good that’s that’s exciting. So there again to me I think we’re overall. Just for me personally it feels like we’re in a little better place than we were five years ago when we started this whole thing with Butch Jones. Again, Pruitt could could be a disaster. I don’t know.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:47:49] He could be not here.

Will Shelton: [00:47:49] Yeah yeah. We still don’t know where he is. They just need you know if someone needs to explain to him you know how the last ten years have gone around here and just or just explain. Anyone working in the sports information department over there should know how the last 10 years have gone just just give us something more than “something suddenly came up.”.

Joel Hollingsworth: [00:48:17] Maybe he had food poisoning and that’s what they were trying say.

Will Shelton: [00:48:22] That’s fine. Tell us he had food poisoning. Describe it in excruciating detail the more detail the better. You know that’s that’s that was the missed opportunity with the old fell on a helmet thing as it should and should have asked for more details. And you know the seen where that went.

[00:48:36] So anyway so hopefully you know well we of a football coach and this is a relevant podcast for your listening ears. But we will. We’ll be back again like I say before the season really gets rolling. But we we again it’s exciting even in the midst of everything we’ve been through to talk football and to talk Tennessee with a new coach and new opportunities and all that stuff. So again if you listen to this on TalkShoe you. Thanks. We will be available on soundcloud and lots of other places iTunes and Google Play and all that stuff. You can always find us at Gameday on Rocky Top dot com. You can find plenty of other great stuff. Joel does, there are lots and lots of good things being written and created about Tennessee on the Internet every day. All three of us have been doing this for more than a decade. That wasn’t always the case. But these days there’s lots and lots of good stuff out there about Tennessee. Joel does a great job every day capturing that stuff and putting it out there it’s a great read every single day to keep up with what folks are saying about Tennessee. All of us obviously are still hard at work after all these years and these years of losing in frustration doing the very best commentary and analysis that we can do. And we really appreciate your time and your readership and your ear and all that good stuff. We’ll be back again here in the next few weeks as we continue to count down towards kickoff. For Joel Hollingsworth and Brad Shepard, I’m Will Shelton and this is the Gameday on Rocky Top Podcast.

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Will Shelton
Will Shelton

I like how the robo-transcript does not believe we pause for commas in our speech. A fair assessment.

Brad Shepard
Brad Shepard

This is incredible. Haha


Awesome, I can’t believe it’s already football podcast time