The Checkerboard Mailbag 3.0

Welcome to The Checkerboard Mailbag 3.0. Tennessee lit up the recruiting trail, receiving commitments from two defensive backs and a power forward on the basketball court. So much for Rick Barnes and Jeremy Pruitt not being able to recruit.

Let’s chop it up.

Tennessee recruiting its tail off

It all started Friday afternoon, when Barnes received a commitment from Knoxville native Drew Pember. The 6-foot-9, 190-pound power forward from Bearden High School is a three-star, rated as the No. 179 overall player, No. 6 player in the state of Tennessee and the No. 33 power forward in the 2019 class. Pember is the second commitment for the Vols in the ’19 class, joining three-star small forward Davonte Gaines, a native of New York City.

Pember reminds me of the addition of redshirt freshman Zach Kent in the 2017 recruiting class. A guy who has a really nice jump shot but is a project. Pember stretches the floor well as a sharp-shooter from the perimeter. He’ll need to add strength before he becomes a factor for the Vols.

Later Friday afternoon, Jeremy Pruitt received a commitment from four-star defensive back Anthony Harris over North Carolina, N.C. State and Virginia Tech. Harris reigns from Havelock High School in Havelock, North Carolina as the No. 171 overall player in the country and the No. 11 ranked safety.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Harris is one of the best defensive backs in the country and is exactly what the Vols secondary needed – a Rashaan Gaulden type that can do it all. Harris has good coverage skills and elite run-stopping ability that will allow him to compete for early playing time when he arrives on Rocky Top.

On Sunday afternoon, Pruitt and his staff received more good news when Aaron Beasleycommitted to Tennessee. As a three-star athlete from Heard County High School in Franklin, Georgia, Beasley committed to the Vols over the likes of Florida State and Auburn. Beasley is the No. 460 overall prospect in the country and the No. 35 safety in the class according to 247Sports.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Beasley does it all for his high school team, playing tailback and defensive back. At tailback, he rushed for over 1,700 yards and 29 touchdowns while tallying 60 tackles and three interceptions at defensive back. Beasley is slated to arrive in Knoxville as a safety.

Run defense is Beasley’s strong suit. He’s stout in run pursuit, delivers big hits and fills the gaps well. His coverage skills are what he’ll need to enhance in order to be a do-it-all safety for the Vols. 

Question from Jaime Johnson (@TripleOGJamie): What is your favorite Turkey Man call and your favorite Triple O call?

Oh man, what a question. So many options for this answer. How dare you make me decide, Triple O.

As for my favorite Turkey Man call, I would have to say the time he called in and pronounced Jarrett Guarantano as “Guantanamo Bay.” We all fell out of our chairs laughing. This is just one of the many glorious phrases Turkey Man has mouthed. 

I don’t have a single favorite Triple O call, because quite frankly, all of Triple O’s calls are great. My favorite phone calls involving Triple O though, are without a doubt the ones that involve Swain and Triple O going at it about the Bears and the Lions. There is nothing better than hearing Swain dog the Lions for going 0-16 and Triple O labeling Chicago as the Care Bears. Those have been outstanding phone calls.

What you need to know: 

John Kelly signs NFL rookie deal with the Los Angeles Rams

Tennessee fan favorite John Kelly has signed his rookie deal with the Los Angeles Rams as he looks to become a fan favorite with the NFC West power. Following the completion of OTAs, Kelly signed a four-year deal worth $2,603,296. Kelly will receive a guaranteed signing bonus of $188,296. The Rams drafted Kelly in the sixth-round with the No. 176thoverall pick.

Austin Thomas

Former LSU general manager Austin Thomas is headed to College Station to join Jimbo Fisher’s staff. After being recognized as one of the upcoming brilliant behind-the-scenes minds in all of football, his path to be a potential NFL general manager has taken an interesting route. 

In December, Thomas left Baton Rouge to join Pruitt’s first-year staff, until contract negotiations derailed the move. Thomas also backed out of a job with Ole Miss in February. After almost seven months of being without a job, Thomas will be recruiting against the Vols as an Aggie.

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

Chamique Holdsclaw and Mickie DeMoss were inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame over the weekend. Following the induction of DeMoss and Holdsclaw induction, the Lady Vols now have 12 inductees.

Number of the week: 10

Only 10 more Saturday’s to make it through without college football.

Have a blessed week and remember to spread love and peace. Talk to y’all on Friday. 

The Checkerboard Mailbag 2.0

Welcome to the Orange and White Mailbag 2.0. After a busy week or so to end May, it’s been a slow news week for Tennessee. Shocking, I know. Even though it was a slow week, there’s still topics to discuss.

With that being said, let’s chop it up.

Good bye Dr. Davenport

The biggest news of the week came when the University announced that it was parting ways with former chancellor, Dr. Beverly Davenport. On Tuesday, Tennessee’s Board of Trustees Audit and Compliance Committee unanimously approved a proposed separating agreement that included a $1.3 million settlement. Tennessee president Joe DiPietro suggested for the move to be made.

The decision comes after a short stint in Knoxville for Davenport. After just over a year as chancellor, the two sides split, determining that she would serve in a faculty role in the College of Communications and Information.

From an athletic standpoint, Davenport will be most remembered for hiring John Currie as athletic director and then having to fire him eight months later due to the Greg Schiano and coaching search debacle.

On the academic side, she was loved by many students and faculty members. Davenport often stood up for both sides. However, Davenport was a poor communicator as President DiPietro stated in his termination letter. The job always seemed too big for her, and that’s not a knock against Davenport. That falls on the administration, starting at the very top, for putting her in a bad position. She never should have been hired in the first place.

Vols in the MLB Draft

On the field, the biggest news surrounded Tennessee baseball when three of its top signees were drafted in the first round.

Jonathan Ornelas, a middle infielder from Peoria, Arizona, was drafted 91stoverall by the Texas Rangers in the third round. Ornelas is the No. 98 overall prospect in the country according to Perfect Game and is the diamond of Tony Vitello’s No. 8 overall recruiting class. The projected slot value for this pick is $622,800.

Aaron Ashby, a left-handed pitcher from Crowder College who threw three no-hitters this spring, was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers with the 125thoverall pick in the fourth round.

The Los Angeles Angels then took William English, a right-handed pitcher from Western International High School in Taylor, Michigan with the No. 151 overall pick.

With the heart of Vitello’s recruiting class back on the market, the Vols first-year head baseball coach has to get back in their living rooms and re-recruit the young men deciding if he wants to make $500,000 or go to school.

“It’s certainly a conundrum,” Vitello said on the Swain Event when asked how he manages recruiting elite talent that may sign a professional baseball contract. “The goal every coach has in recruiting, at least in my mind, is that we can’t come up short in a certain area.”

We can’t put all of our eggs in one basket, in a J.P. Arencibia type catcher, and not have a backup plan if he does sign. Whether it be a really talented walk-on behind him or a returning veteran player or a guy we’re going to pick up the phone and call as soon as this kid decides to sign.”

The signees weren’t the only ones drafted this week. Rising junior pitcher Zach Linginfelter was drafted in the 19thround by the Washington Nationals. According to Vitello, he has told teammates he plans to return Tennessee. 

Catcher Benito Santiago was then drafted in the 34thround with the 1,023rdpick by the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Question from Dylan Palmer (@DPVols97): Where will TK Jr. fit in the new defense?

This is a really good question because in my opinion, it’s one of the two most intriguing questions on the defensive side of the ball entering the season. The other being how fast does it take for J.J. Peterson, the four-star linebacker out of Georgia, to have an impact.

Todd Kelly Jr. had a strong three years to start his career, totaling 150 tackles and eight interceptions. Unfortunately, his senior season was cut short after two games due to a knee injury. As a result, Kelly enters his redshirt season in a weird position.

I’ve long thought that Kelly should be a linebacker based on his build and speed, but with just one year remaining, it seems a little too late to make the switch. At safety, it looks as if TK Jr. sits behind Nigel Warrior and Micah Abernathy on the depth chart. So, I don’t believe he’ll start, but I do think he’ll have a big impact on this team.

TK will provide a great veteran presence for a defense transitioning to a different system. First things first though, he’s got to get healthy. After that, he’ll find a way to have an impact on the football field. He’s too talented of a player not to.

What you need to know: 

Pruitt not concerned about switching to a 3-4

One of the biggest hurdles a new coach faces when taking over a program is adjusting the players to his system. It’s something that Jeremy Pruitt isn’t concerned about as he begins to transition Tennessee’s defense to a 3-4.

"Really when you talk about 3-4 and 4-3, to me there's not much difference," Pruitt said during his interview on The Swain Event on Thursday. "If you watched us play (at Alabama last season), if you watch us play this year, we'll probably be half and half. There will be some games where we're all 3-4. There will be some games that'll be mostly four-down fronts. You've got to be able to do both, to me, if you're going to be dominant on defense. You've got to be able to give the other team various looks that make them have to prepare for both.

Pruitt went on to explain what exactly he looks for in a linebacker, a position that is critical to success in the first-year head coach.

"But as far as an inside 'backer, to me, you're looking for a guy that's instinctive. He can play the blocks. He can tackle from sideline to sideline. He can play all three downs, so you don't have to take him off the field on third down. Outside linebacker, we're looking for pass rushers. That's the most important thing."

Quinten Dormady

On Monday, Houston announced the addition of former Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady. The Texas native announced in January that he would be leaving Knoxville as a graduate transfer. 

Number of the week: 11

Only 11 more Saturday’s to make it through without college football.

Have a blessed weekend and remember to spread love and peace. Talk to y’all on Monday. 

The Checkerboard Mailbag 1.0

Welcome to the inaugural Checkerboard Mailbag. This is an idea I’ve been wanting to follow through with for a couple of weeks now. With graduation and a proposal in the books, I’m excited to see it come to fruition. 

The intent is for this to be informative, thoughtful and hopefully entertaining on all things Tennessee. I would love for you, the reader, to get involved as well. Shoot me any topics you would like for me to discuss or any questions you want answered. Nothing is off limits and it’ll be posted around lunch every Monday and Friday.

With that being said, let’s chop it up.

The Admiral Returns

While there was plenty of news last week on the gridiron, the most impactful news surrounded the hardware when Admiral Schofield announced that he would be returning to school for his senior season on Tuesday.

Schofield announced two months ago his intentions to enter his name into the 2018 NBA Draft, but elected not to hire an agent in order to be able to return to school. It came as no surprise to Vol fans when Schofield announced his decision to return for one more season, but the decision wasn’t as clear cut as the rising senior thought it would be.

It was going to take a lot for Schofield to remain in the draft, presumably a first round grade, but the feedback he received was better than anticipated. Following a breakout junior season, Schofield impressed in interviews and workouts with teams such as the Cavs, Grizzlies and Nuggets.

His junior season placed him on the radar of NBA teams and now armed with feedback, Schofield has the opportunity to play himself into a first round pick. What exactly are those elements Schofield needs to do in order to be a first round selection next season? It’s simple, continue to do what he’s been doing – continue to improve.

Schofield has always been tenacious on the defensive end of the floor, but the way he has continued to improve offensively each year is what has caught the eye of NBA teams. The 6-foot-5 forward has improved his jump shot tremendously, especially last season as he developed into a perimeter threat. And when he isn’t spotting up, he can back down smaller defenders or blow past bigger ones.

Going through the draft process was extremely valuable for Schofield, but his return to Knoxville for one more season is more valuable for Rick Barnes and Tennessee. Schofield’s return legitimizes the Vols as a preseason Top 10 team and favorites to reclaim the SEC title.

Tennessee bolsters its linebacker depth

It’s not everyday a player announces his decision to transfer and then decide a week later he would remain at that particular school. Though rare, it’s happened to Tennessee twice in the past two years. In 2017, Sheriron Jones announced he was transferring to Colorado only to find himself back in Knoxville two weeks later.

Jones ended up transferring, again, to New Mexico after attending junior college. 

Darrin Kirkland Jr. will look to avoid transferring a second time now that he’s back on campus after initially announcing he would be a graduate transfer. Although Kirkland has been passed up on the depth chart by Daniel Bituli and Quart’e Sapp, his return should be welcomed with open arms.

Yes, Kirkland has been riddled with injuries the past two seasons, but when healthy, the redshirt junior has the ability to be one of the best in the conference. And when you’re in Tennessee’s situation with a roster that lacks talent, you do anything you can to reel him back in. That’s exactly what Jeremy Pruitt did, meeting with Kirkland’s family over Memorial Day weekend to iron things out.

“The injuries have been hard on him, but he wants to be here, and we want him here,” Pruitt told ESPN’s Chris Low. “He can definitely help us.” 

“But Barnes can’t recruit?”

The Admiral returning wasn’t the only good news Tennessee basketball received last week, as over the weekend, four-star center D.J. Burns committed to the Vols. Burns, who reclassified to the class of 2018, is Barnes’ highest rated signee.

A Rock Hill, South Carolina native, Burns picked Tennessee over the likes of South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. At 6-foot-9, 248 pounds, Burns is the prototypical center the Vols have been looking for. He’s the No. 3 overall prospect in South Carolina and the No. 12 center nationally.

Temptations should be tempered on Burns despite being a highly rated signee. He arrives in Knoxville already behind Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander, Derrick Walker and John Fulkerson on the depth chart. Though it’s reasonable to think he could surpass Walker and Fulkerson in camp, it’s important to remember that he’s supposed to be a senior in high school this upcoming season.

What Tennessee is getting in Burns though, is a big man that can do it all. He can pass, he has good foot work, he can finish at the rim and he has a nice little jump shot.

Williams, Schofield, Alexander, Jordan Bowden, Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner are the nucleus of the team right now, but paired with Jalen Johnson and Yves Pons, Burns is the future of Tennessee basketball.

Question from Dylan Palmer (@DPVols97): How does the addition of the new 2018 recruit (Bryce Thompson) affect the depth chart?

This is the easy answer for all incoming recruits because we have no idea how 17 and 18-year-old kids will react to being a part of a major college football program, but we’re in wait-and-see mode.

The main reason being, we have no clue what position Bryce Thompson will play. The former Virginia Tech and South Carolina commit played running back, wide receiver and defensive back at Dutch Fork high school in South Carolina. Thompson excelled in all phases, but college is a whole different ball game as we all know.

It’s safe to assume Thompson won’t be playing running back though. With that being said, with the current status of Tennessee’s depth chart, the Vols could use him at both corner and receiver. He’s a guy that will likely spend the first week or so of camp going back and forth between position groups.

Once Thompson settles on a position, it won’t be long before he makes an impact on Saturday. He’s athletic as they come. Athleticism that Tennessee desperately needs.

Go Away Gruden

Jon Gruden continues to toy with Tennessee. This time, it’s with the addition of Tennessee’s longtime video coordinator Joe Harrington. After 27 seasons with the Vols, Harrington is taking a similar job with the Oakland Raiders.

Harrington played a huge role behind the scenes setting up the team for success on the field by advancing cutting-edge virtual reality technology, having an extensive library of film and providing video clips for the players and coaches. He was named the SEC Video Coordinator of the Year, awarded from the College Sports Video Association, in 1996-97, 1997-98, 2002-03 and 2016-17. Harrington had turned down other professional jobs in the past.

What you need to know: 

Game Times

Kickoff times for Tennessee’s first three games were announced late last week. As a word of advice, go ahead and begin to prepare as we are all going to melt.

Tennessee will face West Virginia at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS in Week 1 before returning home in Week 2 to face East Tennessee State at 4 p.m. ET on the SEC Network in the home opener. The Vols will then take on UTEP and former Tennessee quarterbacks coach Mike Canales at noon on the SEC Network in Week 3.

Nick Senzel

Former Tennessee baseball star and current top Cincinnati Reds prospect Nick Senzel rejoined the Louisville Bats – the Reds’ Triple-A team – last week. Senzel had missed most of the month of May as he dealt with the side effects of vertigo. 

Since his return, Senzel is 5-for-20 at the plate with 4 RBIs.

Grad Transfer

The SEC passed a transfer rule on Friday that will now allow graduate students and players on teams with bowl bans to transfer within the conference and play immediately. 

This comes as great news for Tennessee, as it will have a direct impact on the Brandon Kennedy situation. Kennedy had reportedly been interested in transferring to Auburn or Tennessee, and with the SEC’s decision on Friday, he’ll be able to do so without restriction. 

Zach Kent

The 6-foot-10 forward out of Delaware received his redshirt according to an update of Tennessee’s official roster. Kent appeared in two games last season, scoring a grand total of four points. 

He likely won’t play heavy minutes this season with the logjam in front of him, but if he can extend the floor with his shot on the perimeter, he may find himself playing some extensive minutes. 

Number of the week: 12

Only 12 more Saturday’s to make it through without college football.

Have a blessed week and remember to spread love and peace. Talk to y’all on Friday. 

Orange and White Weekend Primer

Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your weekend following the Vols.

Men’s Basketball:

Tennessee @ Iowa State

Head coach Rick Barnes and the surging Volunteers travel to Ames, Iowa State to face the Cyclones in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday afternoon.

The Vols have won five of their last six games and are currently tied for third in the SEC. Iowa State isn't the strong resume building contender it’s been in the past, but a road win against a Power 5 team should still prove valuable for Tennessee’s seeding in the NCAA tournament. 

Look for a backcourt matchup against the Cyclones’ leading scorer Lindell Winnington. The freshman guard is averaging 16.2 PPG, including a 30 point performance against Baylor on Jan 13. 

The Vols and Cyclones tip-off at 4 p.m. on ESPNU on Saturday.

Women’s Basketball

Tennessee @ LSU

Head coach Holly Warlick and the Lady Vols will also hit the road this weekend for a Sunday afternoon matchup against LSU. 

After starting the season 15-0, the Lady Vols dropped three of four in a brutal stretch that included match-ups against perennial powers Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Mississippi St, and a road win over defending national champion South Carolina.

Tennessee should have no trouble with the young Tigers, who have just one senior on the roster.

The Lady Vols and Tigers tip off at 1 p.m. on SEC Network on Sunday.

NFL Pro Bowl

Wrap of you weekend watching two former Vols compete with the NFL’s best in the 2017 NFL Pro Bowl. 

Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who was one of the surprise stories of the league this season with 13 touchdowns and 1,554 all-purpose yards. 

Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson joins Kamara with his first Pro Bowl selection. Jackson had a career year with nine sacks and four forced fumbles. Both players were knocked out of the playoffs in the Divisional Round.

The Pro Bowl will kick off Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. on ESPN.

 Photo Cred: Knoxville News Sentinel

Photo Cred: Knoxville News Sentinel

Love and support pours in for Tennessee All-American Antone Davis.