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Former Vols would come in handy at Tennessee

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Tennessee’s class of transfers has already proven to be excellent. It could be better.

With the transfer portal closing on Tuesday, pickins’ can be pretty slim amongst the remaining players looking for new homes. All the top schools, including Tennessee, have already evaluated players and judged the impact that any player could have on their program. However, it might be time to take a second look.

Former Vol defensive end Tyler Baron has drawn plenty of fan criticism for leaving to be a Cardinal in the first place. Plus, there has been speculation that Baron wasn’t very keen on working under Rodney Garner, the Vols’ demanding defensive line coach. The Cardinals also lost (or couldn’t afford) defensive back Wesley Walker. Per multiple media reports, both players are expected to transfer to an unknown destination.

Why not Tennessee?

First, let’s place all emotions to the side. Strictly based on Baron’s performance, he would have a positive impact during games for the Vols, as long as things are groovy during practice and off the field. As for Walker, well, he plays defensive back, which is seemingly always a problem area under Josh Heupel, who is entering his fourth season as the Vols’ head coach.

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As for Baron, there is plenty of depth at defensive end and EDGE rusher. Therefore, one could make an argument that there’s more risk than reward in bringing him back, especially if he was a malcontent at Tennessee, which some have reported was the case. However, Baron’s effect on team chemistry isn’t a concern. Why? Because the Vols have such good team culture right now that no one could player could be a fly in the ointment.

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Baron, who has just one year of eligibilty remaining, registered five sacks last season so the productivity should be there as long as an improved attitude comes in tow. Did things get so bad with Baron that they can’t be fixed or are things so good at Tennessee that they don’t need another disruptive pass rusher? That would be a shame. Those units are best with depth when they come at waves against an offense. Baron could certainly fortify that depth.

Bringing back Baron would also provide a little bit of fan equity, as if Heupel needs that. There would be some that would cheer Heupel on if he brought back Baron because he’s from Knoxville and Catholic (Tenn.) High School, which happens to be a significant school on the Vols’ recruiting rounds. Bringing back Walker would provide some experience to a secondary that has none. Walker also played at talent-rich Ensworth School in Nashville, which is another key school for the Vols in recruiting.

Heupel, along with most of his contemporaries, doesn’t rely on the transfer portal during the spring period because players don’t have enough time to learn a new system. Baron and Walker probably still have their playbooks.

To be clear, this is not some sympathy notion for the former Vols who left for the Cardinals when, apparently, things were imploding. Don’t take Baron or Walker to be nice. Do it because it makes Tennessee’s football team better.

With any sort of proposed return, there would be stipulations. Both players would have to be on their best behavior. Otherwise, they’re gone. There’s no room for anyone on Tennessee’s roster that isn’t intent on improving the program. Are Baron and Walker able to do that? It’s worth the shot.

Tennessee already has a strong transfer class, led by the No. 1 transfer in the nation, offensive tackle Lance Heard. It could get better. Baron is ranked as the second-best transfer available. Walker is rated No. 12 in the nation. Now is the time for all parties involved to swallow some pride.

At some point, Tennessee has to make decisions based on getting better and not getting by. In other words, less experienced players will understandably get the nod in close position battles, which seems to be the directive among defensive backs in particular. Tennessee lost a slew of players from its secondary last year, but seems okay with a youth movement that is predicated on better talent.

About the only reason I can reasonably point to as why not to take another player in the spring transfer portal is if the Vols have roster management issues. In other words, have they exceeded their 85 scholarship limit. Well, if that’s the case, then Baron and Walker can come back as “walk-ons” with NIL money. In other words, there wouldn’t be a difference in what Baron and Walker were accustomed to. Plus it’s fair to ask them to wear the walk-on tag for leaving the Vols.

I’m certainly not into handouts and understand those that would never take a player back from the transfer portal. That’s why I would have to have a sit-down meeting with any player in the spring transfer portal. How’s the attitude? Good? Okay let’s play football. With a rejuvenated Baron and Walker on board, the Vols will be able to play just that much better.

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