🏈 Talking Tennessee's defense

More balance for Josh Heupel's Vols?

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • Why optimism is climbing around Tennessee’s defense in 2024

  • College sports is about to join the pro sports ranks

  • A decision from Chaz Lanier should (we think!) come soon

  • Tennessee’s baseball and softball teams continue their run

THE DEFENSIVE VOLS

James Pearce Jr. continues to lift the optimism of Tennessee’s defense

Tennessee’s offense has created a lot of the Vols’ offseason buzz. 

But UT’s defense continues to create chatter about the team’s potential for 2024. 

Jesse Simonton of On3 joined Josh and Swain this week after updating his SEC team rankings.

Simonton ranked Tennessee No. 6, right behind Missouri and in front of LSU.

He pointed to Tennessee’s defense as a reason the Vols could make a jump this fall. 

“I think what Tim Banks has done — how they’ve kind of built up that defensive line. You get James Pierce back, who I think most weeks of Tennessee’s schedule, he might be the best individual defensive player on the field. And so, if they have gotten those cornerback and secondary pieces right, which is TBD, I think this is a unit that can take a leap.”

The status of Tennessee’s secondary is the biggest offseason question for the Vols’ defense. 

They’ll start talented cornerbacks Rickey Gibson III and Jermod McCoy and have a fourth-year player in Andre Turrentine starting at safety. 

Tennessee also brought in other transfers and talented freshmen to help build depth in the defensive backfield. 

But it’s an unproven group with big expectations. 

Turrentine didn’t seem concerned about the lack of experience when he joined us on Wednesday. 

What has he seen from Tennessee’s young secondary?

“I’ve seen the ability of playmaking. I don’t want to say that we didn’t have that before, but these young guys coming in and the guys that we’ve gotten that are transfers in the last couple of years or so are playmakers. … We have some young guys that are inexperienced that may not understand every aspect of the game or where they need to be when they get a certain key, but the playmaking ability has skyrocketed.”

Playmaking is common talking point in Tim Banks’ defense — to get the ball back to the offense.

If Tennessee’s secondary can reach its potential — something we won’t know until the fall — we’ll see the Vols’ best defense since Josh Heupel arrived as head coach. 

It will help to have a defensive front that’s deep and talented. 

Nico Iamaleava and Tennessee’s offense will lead the way during conversations about UT’s playoff hopes this fall. 

The play of the defense, especially on the back end, might end up settling it.

Check out our full conversation with Jesse Simonton discussing Tennessee and the SEC below.

PROFESSIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETICS

We’re about to enter a new era in college football. 

The expected settlement involving the NCAA and multiple antitrust cases is underway following approval from the four power conferences. 

Some info: 

◼️ Nearly $2.8 billion in back damages
◼️ All Division I athletes dating back to 2016 are eligible to receive a share of back pay
◼️ Schools are expected to begin sharing revenue with athletes by the fall semester of 2025

The focus of this story will turn to the last part: revenue sharing with athletes.

Schools will begin paying players, completely changing college athletics as we’ve known it. 

Some info from Ross Dellenger of Yahoo Sports

The revenue-sharing deals with athletes will be classified as NIL agreements, with schools providing funds for the use and broadcast of a players’ name, image and likeness — a concept at the heart of the House case. Other non-NIL forms of payments are an option.

Though plenty of questions linger around this new system, institutions will be permitted to share with athletes as much as $22 million per year. That figure, still very much in flux, was derived from 22% of an average of power conference revenues. The cap includes exceptions as a combined $5 million in Alston-related money and additional scholarships can be counted toward the total.

There are other details to get figured out, including the possibility of ending scholarship restrictions and implementing roster limits.

There are plenty of questions that still need answers.

• What will be the total cost of all this and how will some schools pay for it?
• Is private equity about to jump into the college game?
• What are the Title IX implications?

There’s also the question of how the money will be split up among former players.

Attorney Steve Berman told ESPN that a series of formulas devised by a sports economist will be used to decide how to split the $2.7 billion in damages among more than 10,000 former and current athletes. He said some money will be split evenly among all members, but other parts will be allocated based on the athlete's market value. Metrics such as career snap count or a player's star rating in recruiting might determine their payout, he said.

Gathering data to plug into that formula could be a complicated process, and Berman said he's hoping schools will provide "granular data" rather than requiring players to submit claims by themselves.

The settlement terms provide a 10-year window to fully pay out the $2.7 billion. Berman said each player in the class will get an annual check worth 10% of the money they are owed. He said Wilken will approve how much money will go toward attorneys' fees.

This doesn’t automatically end future lawsuits involving college sports, and a lot of work has to be done to finish out this story.

But it’s a major step in the changing world of college sports — one that will never look the same as it once did.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 The post-spring SP+ rankings came out this week with nine of the top 16 teams located in the SEC. (ESPN+ link)

🏈 TNT Sports will air select College Football Playoff games after reaching a five-year deal to sublicense games from ESPN.

🏈 Here’s a post-spring Top 25 from Mark Schlabach of ESPN. Tennessee’s Week 2 opponent NC State is higher than you might expect.

🏀 See where ESPN has Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht in the latest NBA Mock Draft.

🏀 Could Charles Barkley take the “Inside The NBA” crew independent as TNT will lose its NBA rights following next season?

⚾ Technical difficulties will make “robot umpires” in MLB unlikely in 2025.

🤔 A challenge that might interest Knoxville leaders following an impressive Knoxville Summit that took place last week.

🎧 Check out our interview with Tennessee senior center Cooper Mays.

FINAL SHOT AT CHAZ LANIER

Tennessee hopes Chaz Lanier will bring this shooting to Knoxville

This should be the final update about the recruitment of transfer Chaz Lanier. 

The former North Florida guard visited Tennessee earlier this week after taking trips to BYU and Kentucky. 

For a week or two, Kentucky was talked about nationally as the favorite for Lanier. 

That’s no longer the case. 

The talk out of Tennessee has indicated UT’s coaches are confident in their chances of landing Lanier. 

Tennessee reportedly has a competitive financial offer and to go along with a program that’s easy to sell. 

Lanier is a Tennessee native and knows he could be the final piece in recreating a championship roster for the Vols in 2024-25. 

Disclaimer: Lanier choosing Tennessee would not guarantee any on-court success.

He’ll also face comparisons to Dalton Knecht that would be difficult for any transfer to match.  

But Lanier’s ability to shoot and score at multiple levels would help the Vols replace Knecht and round out Tennessee’s transfer class.

Alabama and Auburn will be strong again next season, and Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky will all have competitive rosters. 

Another contender could emerge, just as South Carolina did last season.

But Tennessee on paper should have a team capable of competing with anyone in the league. 

Nothing is done until it’s done, especially in the NIL era. 

Look for Lanier to (hopefully) announce something soon. 

And don’t be surprised if it’s Tennessee. 

TENNESSEE’S NEXT TITLE CHASE

Tennessee softball is two wins away from the WCWS

🥎 Tennessee’s softball team will host Alabama this weekend in the super regional.

Tennessee will need two wins to return to the Women’s College World Series.

Here’s the schedule for the best-of-three softball series Tennessee vs Alabama:

Game 1 Friday, 4 PM (ESPN2)
Game 2 Saturday, 2 PM
Game 3 Sunday, TBD (if necessary)

⚾ Tennessee baseball stayed alive in the SEC tournament with a 7-4 win over Texas A&M on Thursday.

The win also means Tennessee avoided an 0-2 showing in the SEC Tournament.

Kavares Tears had three hits, including a home run, and four RBIs in the Vols’ win.

Tennessee will play Mississippi State on Friday night with a scheduled start of 7:30.

If the Vols win Friday night, they’ll advance to the semifinal round to play Vanderbilt on Saturday.

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