The Monday Mailbag

You ask the questions. We answer them. Everyone goes home happy.

What letter grade would you give Rick Barnes in his first season as head coach at Tennessee? — Tyler

I've had different variations of this question throughout the year, but this is the first time we've been able to sit back and evaluate the entire season to distribute a letter grade. I think Rick Barnes himself would tell you this wasn't an A or B season, especially since he's sitting around at his house preparing for next year as March Madness gets set to begin. With the injuries the Vols experienced by Kevin Punter coupled with the forced reliance on freshmen, I'd give this season a C, mainly because of what Barnes had to inherit and how the team finished in the SEC Tournament. Sure, the Vols had a losing record and dropped some truly awful games to the likes of Missouri, Ole Miss and Arkansas. But wins against Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt against far superior talent helped even things out. The freshmen, specifically Admiral Schofield, showed proved why this team will be great down the road, but it had many problems: defending the 3-point line, blowing leads, stalling offensively without Kevin Punter, etc. Take your pick. But I'm a nice teacher and I've seen what Barnes had to work with. With three of his best players (Kevin Punter, Robert Hubbs and Lamonte' Turner) out for at least significant time (and Turner not allowed to play), I think this is where you'd expect a team of this talent level to finish. They could have won more games on the road without blowing leads, but did anyone expect them to even compete with Butler and Gonzaga? I sure didn't. The future is bright for the Vols.

My greatest worries for the 2017 class are RB and DT. Cordarrian Richardson is off the board and now I hear Ty Chandler is an Ole Miss alum. Cam Akers is a very long shot, so who do you see as realistic hope for this class at RB and are we really heavily in the battle for DT Eric Crosby? — clrlyric

I don't think Richardson, the Scout four-star running back from Memphis who committed to Clemson this month, is off the board entirely yet. It's way too early in the process to already dismiss him to me. Scout four-star running back Cam Akers may seem like a long shot now, but he raved about Tennessee's staff to me in February and will take a serious look at the Vols after de-committing from Alabama. Akers and running backs coach Robert Gillespie have a solid relationship and that will help Tennessee down the stretch. Ole Miss has a great shot at landing Nashville-based running back Ty Chandler. I'd still put Butch Jones' program in contention for him, though. Other names to keep on the radar are New Orleans running back Khalan Laborn and New Orleans rusher Bruce Jordan-Swilling. 

As for Eric Crosby, I think Tennessee has as good a shot as any school right now for his talents. Crosby told InsideTennessee that the Vols had a "great atmosphere" and wants to come back to Knoxville to watch a spring practice. The Vols are in his top five, along with Alabama, Clemson, N.C. State and Virginia Tech.

I am curious, will Shy Tuttle be a sophomore or did he get a medical redshirt? — clrlyric

Tuttle was injured against Georgia in the sixth game of the season, so he did not receive a medical redshirt last season. Right now, he's a rising sophomore.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions, especially IT member clrlyric, who keeps this thing going in the dead period. To send in a question, email cory.a.gunkel@gmail.com, tweet @CoryGunkel, post on the InsideTennessee message boards or yell really loudly.


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