🏈 Tennessee's remaining questions

And the latest transfer portal talk

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:

  • Questions remaining at the end of Tennessee’s spring practice

  • Rick Barnes on Tobe Awaka’s status + the appeal of Tennessee hoops

  • Tennessee-Kentucky’s BIG baseball series

  • The takeover of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS TO END SPRING BALL

Nico Iamaleava has everyone talking about Tennessee

Tennessee football wrapped up spring practice last weekend and met coach Josh Heupel’s No. 1 goal during the Orange & White game: avoiding major injuries.

The Vols did lose running back Cameron Seldon to a shoulder injury several weeks ago, which has led to talk of looking for help at running back in the transfer portal.

We’ll get to that in a moment… but the Vols had a solid finish to the spring.

Newcomers Chris Brazzell II and Mike Matthews at wide receiver created excitement with their long touchdown catches.

Quarterback Nico Iamaleava continues to create buzz around the program.

“He just looks different,” Driving The Line’s Allan Bell told us on Thursday after attending a UT practice last week.

And Tennessee is receiving talk as a College Football Playoff contender thanks to Iamaleava’s presence, the skill talent around him, and a veteran defensive line.

So what are some of the questions about Tennessee now that spring is over?

Here are three questions that remain as the Vols enter their next phase of the offseason.

🟠 Where’s the depth at running back?

The Seldon injury leaves us wondering how Tennessee’s staff feels about the position.

Seldon probably won’t be available at the start of the season.

That leaves Dylan Sampson as the starter with no proven players behind him.

Seldon really isn’t proven, either, but his talent and opportunity as the backup in the Citrus Bowl created excitement for his potential this fall.

Will Tennessee’s staff feel comfortable with rising sophomore Khalifa Keith, true freshman Peyton Lewis, and redshirt freshman DeSean Bishop handling all of the backup duties behind Sampson?

And what happens if Sampson or one of the other running backs suffers an injury?

Tennessee could look to the transfer portal for help.

But Austin Price of Volquest said Wednesday he would lean toward Tennessee not adding another running back.

That’s subject to change as we don’t know who all will be available.

Stay tuned as we wait for an answer on the running back question.

🟠 How deep is the offensive line?

Four of the five starting spots are set:

• LT Lance Heard
• C Cooper Mays
• RG Javontez Spraggins
• RT John Campbell Jr.

Left guard remains a question (senior Jackson Lampley is the likely favorite) as a few players will battle there in August.

But what happens if Tennessee deals with an injury?

The Vols have A LOT of offensive lineman on the roster.

But how many backup options do Tennessee’s coaches trust?

Dayne Davis is probably one.

We were asked on Thursday’s show what Tennessee would do if Heard suffered an injury?

➡️ Our answer: Campbell likely moves back to left tackle with Davis starting on the right side.

Or Davis could just replace Heard.

But the backup center position remains a question… just like it was a year ago.

Tennessee hasn’t solidified two guard spots yet.

Asking about No. 3 or 4 at that position doesn’t seem like a good use of time.

We might receive some better answers in four months.

But for now, the offensive line’s depth is a question mark.

🟠 Is Tennessee’s secondary ready to go?

The Vols added help with transfers Jermod McCoy, who looks like a future pro, Jalen McMurray and Jakobe Thomas.

But the defensive backfield is still an unknown.

The Vols are basically looking at five new starters in the secondary when comparing to the full-time guys from a year ago.

That can be a good thing — the Vols needed to upgrade the talent and athleticism.

It looks like they’ve done that, especially when some talented freshmen factor in.

But how the group comes together is an unknown.

We know this: edge rusher James Pearce Jr. is one of the best in the country.

And Tennessee’s defensive line looks legit.

That group will try to help the Vols’ secondary as much as possible when the season begins.

We discussed how Tennessee compares to other top teams in the SEC with On3 writer Jesse Simonton, who lauded the help Tennessee has found for Iamaleava. Watch the conversation below.

TOBE OR NO TOBE?

Will Tobe Awaka decide to run it back with UT?

Tennessee forward Tobe Awaka surprised a lot of people last week when he announced he would enter the transfer portal.

But that doesn’t automatically mean Awaka will leave Tennessee.

Coach Rick Barnes confirmed Thursday he’s had a conversation with Awaka about him possibly staying with the Vols.

We respected Tobe a lot and we still do. But oftentimes we’ve had guys tell us that after they had left, they’ve made mistakes. And sometimes in a rush in the moment, people can listen to people and realize that maybe they maybe should have waited and thought it out a little bit more.

But Tobe, obviously, we all respect him and love him for what he did for us. But if he feels he’s got to go through the process, he needs to do it. But with that said, we’re not waiting because we’re going to move forward and build this roster as quickly as we can.’

Tennessee started that process by adding Hofstra transfer Darlinstone Dubar, who should help Tennessee as a scorer and shooter from the wing.

Barnes said Dubar is excited to play defense with Jahmai Mashack and Zakai Zeigler.

“He’s got the right mindset and he wants to get better,” Barnes said of Dubar.

And Tennessee will look for more help in the front court as Awaka waits to make his decision.

Charlotte transfer Igor Milicic Jr. visited Tennessee earlier this week and is also considering Baylor and Nebraska.

Other names will pop up, too.

“I can tell you our phone rings off the hook because people want to be a part of this,” Barnes said. “I just got a text from one of my former players — said a guy that just put his name in (the transfer portal) said he wants to talk to you guys.”

It’s a new college sports world.

Some people like it; some people hate it.

But anyone coaching in it better adjust.

Rick Barnes has done that.

We talked more about Dubar’s impact and other players Tennessee could pursue with Grant Ramey of Volquest. Check out our conversation below.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 Here are some spring superlatives to close out Tennessee’s spring football.

🏈 The state of Virginia signed a new law allowing to schools to pay players for their use of name, image and likeness.

🏈 Steve Sarkisian considered the Alabama job for “about 60 seconds” before deciding that Texas was the right spot for him.

🏀 How did Jontay Porter end up getting himself banned from the NBA for life?

🏀 Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to an eight-figure deal with Nike that will include a signature shoe.

Great story here involving Toronto Blue Jays fans and their star outfielder George Springer, featured in our Attaboy segment on Thursday.

THE VOLS GO FOR FIVE STRAIGHT

Tennessee will take its home run show on the road this weekend

Tennessee’s baseball team is preparing for a big road series at Kentucky.

Kentucky doesn’t usually create the same anticipation in baseball as such SEC programs as Florida, LSU or Vanderbilt.

But it’s Kentucky that’s sitting atop the SEC standings and ranked in the top 5 in the national polls.

Kentucky knows this home series against Tennessee is a statement opportunity.

Two years ago, Tennessee was the top team in the country when the Vols went to Lexington and lost two of three.

This year, Kentucky is the higher ranked team (by one spot, per D1Baseball) looking to build on its 14-1 conference record.

A few things to know entering the series:

◼️ Tennessee leads the nation with 101 home runs this season
◼️ Kentucky has given up three runs or less in five of their six SEC home games
◼️ The Wildcats lead the SEC in stolen bases and will challenge UT’s pitchers
◼️ Tennessee is going for its fifth straight series win in SEC play

Kentucky and Tennessee are projected as the No. 4 and No. 6 seeds, respectively, by D1Baseball.

Is Kentucky really that good?

We’re about to find out… while UK might be asking the same about Tennessee.

This series will matter a lot to both teams.

We previewed the series with Ben McKee, who covers the Vols for GoVols247. Listen to our chat below or anywhere you get your podcasts.

MORE ON MATTHEWS

Watch out for more of these players from Mike Matthews

It’s always a good idea to be careful when hyping up a freshman in college football.

Sure, there are players like Eric Berry, Derek Barnett and Trey Smith who show up and make a huge impact immediately.

But those guys represent the exception, not the rule.

That’s why this section begins with caution before turning to the hype.

Mike Matthews, mentioned above in the first section, arrived on campus for the spring semester with all kinds of accolades.

He was a high school All-American, a five-star prospect by the recruiting sites, and the MVP of the Polynesian Bowl.

Still, he’s a freshman.

But his long touchdown catch in the spring game and the talk behind the scenes is bringing credibility to the idea of Matthews making an immediate impact.

“He’s special,” Jayson Swain said on Monday’s show. “I see why he was a five-star.”

This doesn’t mean Matthews will be a Day One starter.

Brazzell and returning veterans Bru McCoy and Squirrel White will make that challenging.

So will everyone else in Tennessee’s deep room of receivers.

But expect Matthews to make an impact on Tennessee’s offense this fall.

He looks too good not to.

BIG PUSH FOR LLS

We’re in the final two weeks of our fundraising campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

LLS helps:

• fund research to help fight blood cancers (and other forms)
• support cancer patients and their families
• advocate on behalf of — and with — blood cancer patients and their families to make change that will address the serious burdens of these diseases

First of all, thank you to everyone who has donated and offered support for the campaign!

If you’re still interested in helping, here’s a link to the fundraising campaign.

Also, sharing the link to anyone you think would be interested in supporting the cause can go a long way.

This QR Code also takes you directly to our fundraising page.

Thank you again.

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