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.