Here we go, and thanks for a slew of great questions.
@jgreesontfp @patrickbrownTFP how soon do we review Spring Rosters ?
We're starting to get some mailbag questions on the Twitter. This is a good thing.
There are three things to look at when examining pre-Spring rosters: Is there talent; Is there experience, especially across the line and at quarterback; Is there depth (meaning of the names you know that have to be replaced, are you at least familiar with the guys next in line; this also could be boosted by a couple of all-world recruits who may contribute sooner rather than later). If we grade the top three SEC teams in each division on a 1-10 scale in each of those three categories, here's the breakdown:
Alabama — 29, with the only non-10 coming from the experience. Yes, the Tide have a lot of experience and a lot of experience on the biggest stages, but of the Tide lose 3-of-5 O-line starters and 2-of-3 D-Line starters.
Texas A&M —26. There is talent (9, highlighted by Johnny Football, future first-round tackle Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans), and most of it is experienced (9). The depth could be greatly increased by a highly regarded recruiting class, but the holes left by top-five picks Luke Joeckel and Damontre Moore equals 8.
Ole Miss — 22. The talent (6) is improving but still lacking compared to the top two. That said, the Rebels could have one of the league's best receiving trios for returning play-maker QB Bo Wallace. The Rebels welcome back a slew of starters on each side— 10 on offense and eight on defense — so experience should be a strength (8), as will depth (8), which will get a huge lift this signing day with the addition of two top-flight prospects that could be starters next fall.
South Carolina — 27. When we picked our too early top 25 earlier this month, we had Georgia ahead of South Carolina. We were wrong. Steve Spurrier has assembled a core of playmakers that get 9s across our scale. Know this, South Carolina likely will start 13 seniors next fall and eight juniors, meaning this group has been through the SEC wars.
Georgia — 25. The Bulldogs could have the nation's best offense, so grades on that side are off the chart. Overall, let's go talent 9, experience 8 (when you lose that much on defense, and that much talent on defense, there are some questions) and depth 8 (UGA has recruited at a near-Bama level for a while, and there will be several folks — looking at you Ray Drew and Jordan Jenkins — who will have their time).
Florida — 20. As close as the Gators were to getting a shot at the whole thing, there are some major losses to the core strengths of Will Muschamp's team. There is talent (8) because, well, there's always talent in Gainesville. The upper-teir experience (6) took a major hit — maybe the second-best hit behind LSU in the league — with five of Florida's elite defensive front seven gone and arguably the team's three biggest offensive threats in Jordan Reed, Frankie Hammond and Mike Gillislee. Depth, we'll go 7, a number that is lifted by an elite recruiting class.
Expected follow-up from EC on the Twitter at about 10:05 a.m.
Dude, what about Tennessee?
OK, we can all agree that no one expects UT to be a top-three finisher in the East this fall. Right? Right.
And the depth chart is a monster reason. Using the above grading, we'd give UT a 6 — and that's being a little hopeful — on talent because there are some elite players (the Vols could be special across the offensive line and at linebacker) but there are some monster holes (the receivers are so new they need nametags and other than Brian Randolph, the secondary is so far behind, we should call it the tertiary). UT gets a 5 in experience because of the value and starts of its strengths at OL, which could be among the nation's best, and LB. Depth is likely a 4, which makes this recruiting class very important because there are immediate holes to be filled in the two-deep. Vonn Bell could be worth an entire point here because of the meshing of talent and need the Ridgeland safety would mean if he picks the Vols.
So UT gets a 15.
But looking deeper at the rosters, here's an entirely too early top five of spring items of interest. And why yes, let's do them in 10 words or less so they are a 5-in-10 by the 5-at-10.
1) QB battle for the spread: Worley or Peterman to lead Butch Jones' Power Spread?
2) Paging a wide receiver: Seriously, Wide Receiver U. has become Wide Receiver Who?
3) Stay healthy: Randolph, Johnson, Maggitt, Tiny, James must be 100 percent
4) New energy? Hopefully Jones can lift the orange funk.
5) Who will lead? New coaches, new leaders; New day or similar struggles?
Any hope UT closes with Vonn Bell or any other big name recruit? We need some good news man.
We feel you.
And to make matters worse, look at the Vols' three biggest rivals — Alabama, Georgia and Florida — and they are dominating the recruiting trail right now.
As for Vonn, this is our educated guess and little more, but we think he goes to Alabama. We think Butch Jones deserves credit for getting Tennessee back into the conversation, because we know for sure that the previous regime had no chance at the newly minted five-star safety from Ridgeland High.
As for closing strong or signing-day flips, well, we think there's a real chance UT finishes second to about five guys big-time targets, and NASCAR and recruiting are the two places that Ricky Bobby's "If you ain't first, you're last" theory is 100 percent accurate. Finishing second in recruiting is paramount to finishing second in a war. There's one winner, and everyone else losses.
And before we get to those guys, we would be remiss if we didn't say that even if the Vols do not land any of these cats, it's certainly not from a lack of effort from Jones and Co., who have apparently been pounding the shoe leather trying to land some stars.
Here are the four stud ducks the Vols are making a last-ditch effort for and where we think they are headed:
Safety Vonn Bell — Alabama
Defensive end Carl Lawson — Auburn
Receiver MarQuez North — North Carolina
Running back Derrick Green — Michigan
In truth, while it won't help the roster, the fact that Jones and UT have made up as much ground on these guys considering the turnover and the casual approach the previous staff took in the high-octane world of recruiting, bodes well for a potentially big class in 2014.
From Sparks Plug
You may have mentioned this along the way, but I don’t see every edition, unfortunately. It seems like nobody in the state of Tennessee remembers that the Titans could have drafted Colin Kaepernick instead of Jake Locker. Would it have meant that the Titans would now be going to the Super Bowl? Heck no, not with the sorry talent on the rest of the team. But it’s nice to think about what the future could have brought.
Locker is a great young man, a hard worker and a talented football player, but he will never have the accuracy or the fastball delivery of Kaepernick – who also runs as good or better than Locker. What a joy to watch that kid...even if it’s bittersweet.
Thanks for swinging by, feel free to stay awhile, don't cost nothing.
And yes, the Titans and the rest of the league could have Mr. Colin "Humpty" Kaepernick in the 2011 draft. In fact, almost every team in the league could have had him since he was taken in the second round, and three teams — New England, Cincy and QB-starved Buffalo — passed on him in the first and second rounds.
But also remember that the Titans took Jake Locker No. 8 overall, and if he does develop into a franchise QB, then that's a great pick. But three spots later, the Texans drafted J.J. Watt, who will likely be named the NFL defensive player of the year for the 2012 season.
But since we love the draft — and you know this — knowing what we know now, how would the 2011 NFL draft be different:
1) Carolina — Picked Cam Newton/Mulligan pick Newton
2) Denver — Picked Von Miller/Mulligan pick J.J. Watt
3) Buffalo — Picked Marcel Dareus/Mulligan pick Von Miller
4) Cincinnati — Picked A.J. Green/Mulligan pick Green
5) Arizona — Picked Patrick Peterson/Mulligan pick Peterson
6) Cleveland trades pick to Atlanta — Falcons picked Julio Jones/Mulligan pick Browns tell Falcons "No way" and pick Jones
7) San Fran — Picked Aldon Smith/Mulligan pick Smith
8) Tennessee — Picked Jake Locker/Mulligan pick Colin Kaepernick or Ryan Kerrigan
9) Dallas — Picked Tyron Smith/Mulligan pick likely Smith
10) Jacksonville — Picked Blaine Gabbert/ Mulligan Andy Dalton
What does this tell us? First, the top half of this draft was nailed by talent evaluators across the league. Second, misses on first-round quarterbacks are more painful than 17-0 meltdowns in conference title games. Third, while we don't know what Locker would be, we surely know that every Tennessee fan from here to Jackson would help him pack to have Humpty Kaepernick on the roster.
And remember, Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers traded up to get Humpty, which further cements Jimmy Harbaugh's genius.
This week I want to question you about Cuonzo Martin and the Tennessee basketball team. Simply put, they struggle scoring the basketball and coming up with stops late in games. The whispers have already started. You know what I’m talking about. Can Cuonzo get the job done? Is he the right man? Now I for one am not one of them. It’s way too early in the season and in his tenure to even begin thinking of that. But this is a family-oriented show and I feel like you allow us to talk about anything within reason. Just for argument sake, let’s say UT finishes at .500 this year and gets a berth to the NIT where they lose in the first round by a score of 29-28. Then next year’s team resembles this year’s team with a slight improvement. We all know that Bruce Pearl is still a living legend in Knoxville. His show cause penalty is set to expire at the end of next season. I know this is far-fetched but is it out of the realm of possibilities that UT would welcome back Pearl with open arms?
We pride ourselves on being an open forum that any topic is approachable as long as A) It's not politics, that's for the inmates at Clay's asylum; and B) Meets the Family-oriented, interweb-based nature of our mission.
This qualifies and we're game.
But to start, we must admit, we're a big, Big, BIG fan of Cuonzo "The Conz" Martin, and that has not changed despite the current struggles of his basketball team. Let's examine what we know:
• We know that "The Conz" inherited a mess after the Pearl debacle and Martin made last year not only bearable but exciting.
• The struggles of this bunch are not necessarily about X's and O's as much as they are about putting the ball in the basket. Air-balled free throws and missed lay-ups down the stretch in the loss at UK. Turnovers late in the loss at Alabama. Last night's close-again-but-losing-again effort at Ole Miss.
• Entering the season, the Vols top three players were Jeronne Maymon, Jarnell Stokes and Trae Golden. Since October, we've now learned that Maymon's injuries were far more serious and he'll miss the entire season. Stokes is a sophomore by grade but plays way younger at times. Golden has been kidnapped by a tandem of aliens, Manti Te'o's imaginary interweb "friend" (not that there's anything wrong with that) and a host of Angry Birds. If we had told you before the season that Jordan McRae would be scoring 14.5 a night and Josh Richardson would add more than eight a game, that would be considered a big-time contributions from options 3-4 or 4-5.
• In an effort to grow whiskers, Skylar McBee has forgotten how to shoot.
Those may seem like excuses, but we seem them as symptoms of a team that is underperforming.
And for anyone who thinks The Conz should be on the hot seat, you must answer this question: Who are you going to get that's better? Pearl is simply not an option to return in Knoxville. Not now, and it truth, we're not sure if that ever would be acceptable considering all the baggage that would arrive at the Knoxville Airport.
Plus, other than this team's struggles offensively, look at every other part of this program under The Conz: There have been no off-the-floor incidents, something that was relatively common under Pearl. The Conz has landed as many five-star prospects out of high school — Stokes and freshman-to-be Robert Hubbs — as any UT coach since Jerry Green. This bunch plays hard, and that deserves to be mentioned when discussing 18-22-year-olds who are not having as much success as they may have expected.
We may have over-answered and there's no debating that these Vols have underwhelmed, but we believe The Conz is The Guy for UT.
Now for a new, rapid-fire addition to the maibag, where the answers are a sentence or you get your money back:
Would you draft Manti Te'o?
Not in the NFL, but he's got to be No. 1 in a fantasy draft, right?
Did you get my Final Four picks?
Yep, you are in, and we'll post all of the entries later today.
From Sarah H.
Is there anything that surprises you about sports stories?
Great question, and we should likely explore this more, but when the range goes from Penn State to the expected fall out of the next big name to be linked to PEDs, we'll say, yeah, we still get occasionally surprised (and the Te'o stuff definitely did).
Who was your favorite player growing up?
Wow, let's see — baseball started as Steve Garvey (the father of our country) and became the best Dodger at the time (Pedro Guerrero to Hershiser to Piazza etc.); football was Bo from as early as we can remember; basketball was Chris Mullin and Charles Barkley.
Who you got in the Super Bowl? You've made me a lot of extra spending "entertainment" this year, thanks.
We're leaning toward the Ravens right now, but we'll have our official pick next week (and hopefully you heeded our warning to get on the Ravens at plus-4.5 early this week).
Thanks gang, and feel free to discuss any and all of these. And for those of you that still want to enter the basketball contest, just send us your Final Four by the end of BID-ness today, and you are in.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...