The Monday Mailbag

It's that time again. You know what to do. Ask the questions, we'll answer them. Let's get this party started.

Who do you expect (if anyone) to be have a surprise breakout year? — novol

You’ll be happy to know there are plenty of candidates for this slot as Tennessee prepares for its best season in nearly ten years, but if I have to pick one person, I’m going with the guy who’s shown me flashes of brilliance in the past. That man is Marquez North. North was the first freshman to start for the Vols at wide out since Marsalis Teague in 2009 and became an All-SEC and Freshman All-American in the process with a team-best 496 yards. Last year he was also leading Tennessee in yards (320) and yards per catch (10.7) before an injury against Alabama ended his season. As we’ve said before in this space, the Vols need a wide out to become that consistent sure-handed star many SEC teams have become known for, and the former Scout four-star has that ability. Plus his name will create so many atrocious headline puns. I can’t wait.

We all know that off tackle and middle linebacker are the biggest question marks. Have the coaches had thoughts of freshmen like Drew Richmond and Darrin Kirkland doing the job or are the upperclassmen getting it done? — linemanvol72

There’s no doubt both the names you mentioned will vie for serious playing time in the two-deep this season. They’re simply too talented not to make an immediate impact. Kirkland is coming off a pectoral tear that happened when he was bench-pressing 335 pounds in a winter workout session, which is more manly than the time I broke my arm falling off a Goped when my cowboy hat blew off my head and I tried to catch it as a 10-year-old. This is a guy with a literal photographic memory whose 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame and knowledge of the game will put him firmly in the mix for a shot to be starting middle linebacker despite missing spring practice. Richmond was a highly coveted blue chip prospect who is already big enough (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) to make some noise in the SEC. He was the No. 1 offensive tackle in Tennessee for a reason, and he’s athletic and strong enough as an offensive lineman to battle it out with Brett Kendrick and Dontavius Blair for one of the tackle spots if Kyler Kerbyson locks down the other side.

After everything shakes out, how many kids do we sign next year? — slowrunnertn

The magic number right now is 18. As suspensions shake out or players decide to leave the program, that number could grow. But right now, I'm going with 18.

Other than wide receiver, running back seems to be the position garnering the bulk of the interest in recruiting discussions. Will Tennessee be a factor in Jordan Stevenson's recruitment in the next couple of weeks? Considering the comments from Tavien Feaster from Orange Carpet Day about Butch Jones telling him that they would sign just one 2016 running back, would we risk losing Feaster in an attempt to bring in Stevenson? — TuckerVol

If you watch the highlight tape of Jordan Stevenson on YouTube you’ll know why pretty much every college program with an open spot is salivating to get him on campus after he was denied admission into Wisconsin this week. He makes dubstep music sound good.The guy is a monster whose vision and cut ability is at an FBS level already. Tennessee was reportedly one of the schools Stevenson was interested in, and if he’s talking, I’m listening. As for Tavien Feaster, this is what the No. 2-ranked running back in the South Region and Clemson commit said after Orange Carpet Day:

“He (Butch Jones) said that I was going to be the only back that they would take in 2016.”

With B.J. Emmons committing to Alabama and Elijiah Holyfield leaning away from the Vols, Feaster has become a top running back target for Jones and company. But I don’t think courting the former Wisconsin commit behind the scenes will hurt Tennessee’s chances of landing Feaster, who appeared to have an unbelievable time on campus and is seriously considering the Vols. From what has been said of Stevenson’s recruitment as of late, though. Nebraska and Alabama have taken the lead on the former Badger signee.

Thanks for all of your questions. To send in a question of your own, email cory.a.gunkel@gmail.com, tweet @CoryGunkel, post on the InsideTennessee message boards or yell really loudly.


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