The Monday Mailbag

You ask the questions, we answer them and everybody goes home happy.

Who has surprised you this spring? — novol 

A couple of names come to mind: Eli Wolf, Quart'e Sapp and Vincent Perry to name a few. The one guy who keeps sticking out in my mind though is Rashaan Gaulden. Every Saturday scrimmage it seems like he makes an eye-popping pass breakup or pad-crunching hit that leaves the sideline letting out a collective "ohhhhhhhh." He's got the speed to play safety and craves contact, so it's fun to watch him roam the middle of the field just waiting on a poor receiver to become his next victim. The former nickelback has plenty of work yet to be done as he re-learns the position he blossomed in during high school, and Shoop knows he's still got to teach Gaulden the intricacies of the position from a mental standpoint. If Gaulden keeps playing like he has this spring, though, the one position on the defense with question marks may turn into an exclamation point.

Has the passing game really improved? It bothers me that Butch Jones is still saying, "The throw game must improve!" What say you? — majorvolfever

Here's the dirty little secret (that isn't a secret at all): Tennessee doesn't need to have an out-of-this-world passing game for the Vols to compete for the SEC crown in 2016. Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord aren't going to ask Josh Dobbs and company to do anything they can't, so you won't have the need to chuck it down the field a ton with two potential 1,000-yard backs behind Dobbs. If we're being honest, the "throw game", as Jones loves to say, looks much the same as it did last season. The Vols have a handful of talented receivers, the most experienced returning quarterback in the SEC East and an offensive line that proved itself last season despite losing key players. The opportunity for success is there. The problem, however, is sometimes everything just looks out of sync. Jones was highly displeased with his passing attack Saturday, and it's not one faction of the unit that is holding the rest behind. Sometimes a receiver drops a catchable ball. Sometimes Dobbs overthrows an open man. Sometimes the offensive line has a breakdown that leads to a sack. It happens. But if Tennessee wants to truly be an elite team next season, downfield passing accuracy has to improve greatly. Jones wants his team to throw it when they want to — not when they need to. 

In reading or listening to Butch Jones comments during spring practice, I get the sense that the team is improving, but he wants more. Listening to and reading the comments from other media members who have watched practice, I get the sense that this is an extremely talented team. My question - Do you get the sense that Butch Jones is downplaying what he is seeing on the practice field? — TuckerVol 

This is what I think: Butch Jones is a football coach, and those guys are never satisfied with anything. Ever. Nick Saban wins a national championship, cracks a slight grin and then turns back to scream at someone on the plane ride home about how his defense gave up a third-and-15 with 44 seconds left in the game. He understands the pressure and expectations are sky high this season and, in my humble and oftentimes wrong opinion, is trying to keep things in perspective and push his team to continually get better. Most good coaches are able to do that, especially during a time like spring practice when motivation can sometimes be a problem. 

What's going on with Chris Ogden? — Joe K. 

It appears the Vols assistant is heading to join his friend Chris Beard at UNLV as associate head coach, leaving Rick Barnes with an opening on staff to replace his former player and eight-year assistant coach. Sources close to InsideTennessee have confirmed that Ogden is likely leaving for Las Vegas, so now Barnes gets to hand pick Ogden's successor. The Knoxville News Sentinel has reported that Tulsa assistant coach Michael Schwartz will be the targeted replacement. Schwartz joined the Golden Hurricane in 2015 after four years as associate head coach at Fresno State.


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