Game By Game Predictions For the Houston Texans In 2020

This Thursday, we all embark on what is undoubtedly the strangest Houston Texans season in my 13 years as a member of the media covering the team and my nearly 20 years as a fan. The weird thing is that I might even be saying this even if we WEREN’T starting out the season amidst a viral pandemic with little to no fans in any of the stadiums. I mean, I just finished up a preseason as one of ten media members covering the team, and I had to get COVID tested EVERY DAY.

Yet, even with all that, this was setting up as an odd season given the stamp that Bill O’Brien has put on this team in his first full year as general manager, which saw him, among several other things, trade away the best wide receiver in the game for a second round pick and a (possibly) overpaid running back three years removed from any type of sustained success.  Like I said, strange year.

So let’s figure out how this is all gonna go, shall we? And how do we do that? Well, if you’ve read my previews here in the past, you know that I divide the 16-game regular season into three buckets. We call this the Pendergast Method, and the buckets look like this:

MUST WIN: These are games that, to have any chance of making the playoffs, the Texans have to cash in on. Worst case, you can have one mulligan, but lose two of these games and you’re probably not a double-digit-win team.

COIN FLIPS: Games that could go either way and will likely be played within one score. To make the playoffs, the Texans need to win more of these games than they lose.

STEALS: Games in which the Texans will likely be an underdog of five points or more against teams that they have historically struggled with, match up poorly with or have to play in a hostile environment in potentially adverse conditions. If you’re going to be a playoff team, you probably need to win at least one of these along the way.

Some years, the Pendergast Method has worked out better than others, but just know that this is the prediction that last year’s preview yielded:

FINAL PREDICTION: 10-6, AFC South Champions, lose in Divisional Round to Kansas City

Not bad!  So where do the games on the 2020 slate stack up when we start applying the Pendergast Method? Well, let’s take a look:

MUST WINS, 2: vs JAC, vs CIN
COIN FLIPS, 11: vs MIN, at TEN, vs GB, at JAC, at CLV, vs NE, at DET, vs IND, at CHI, at IND, vs TEN
STEALS, 3: at KC, vs BAL, at PIT

Now let’s go game by game:

Thursday, September 10 (0-1) — at Kansas City
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +8.5
PREDICTION: Chiefs 37, Texans 31
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: It’s the defending Super Bowl champions, and I’m not sure that the Texans secondary is ready for this type of all out assault this early in the Anthony Weaver Era on defense. These two teams might see each other again down the road.
BUCKET RATING: STEAL

Sunday, September 20 (0-2) — vs Baltimore
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +5
PREDICTION: Ravens 31, Texans 27
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: A totally different challenge in Week 2 than the Chiefs in Week 1, and this one will be closer than the 41-7 thrashing the Texans sustained last year in Baltimore, but I can’t pick them to beat the Ravens yet.
BUCKET RATING: STEAL

Sunday, September 27 (1-2) — at Pittsburgh
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +5
PREDICTION: Texans 24, Steelers 19
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Past iterations of the Texans would not have inspired this type of confidence in me, but I think this group will respond to two close losses like the season is on the line, and J.J. Watt will remind T.J. Watt who the superior Watt is with two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger.
BUCKET RATING: STEAL

Sunday, October 4 (2-2) — vs Minnesota
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans PICK EM
PREDICTION: Texans 27, Vikings 17
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The win over the Steelers will be a sigh of relief, and Deshaun Watson ain’t losing to Kirk Cousins.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, October 11 (3-2) — vs Jacksonville
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -9
PREDICTION: Texans 38, Jaguars 13
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The Jags are basically trying to lose. The Texans will be riding some momentum at this point. Gardner Minshew might actually be drinking before games by Week 5.
BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, October 18 (4-2) — at Tennessee
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +4.5
PREDICTION: Texans 24, Titans 23
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: The Titans will come back to earth in 202 after a trip to the AFC title game in 2019. Ka’imi Fairbairn with the late field goal for the win here.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, October 25 (4-3) — vs Green Bay
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans PICK EM
PREDICTION: Packers 27, Texans 23
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: Aaron Rodgers is on his last stand here as Packers QB. He is still elite, and the Texans secondary is…. not.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, November 1 — BYE
PREDICTION:
If the coronavirus is still a thing, then my prediction is masks and social distancing, baby!

Sunday, November 8 (5-3) — at Jacksonville
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -3
PREDICTION: Texans 30, Jaguars 14
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: This one is stealing, if you’re a gambler. It’s a coin flipper by my definition of a “coin flipper”, but the Jags are going to be BAD, and the Texans will be competing hard at this point, still.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, November 15 (5-4) — at Cleveland
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +2.5
PREDICTION: Browns 27, Texans 24
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: The Browns are actually a sneaky playoff contender this season. Talent is not an issue, and they rightfully ejected on Freddie Kitchens as their head coach after one year. He was a boob.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, November 22 (6-4) — vs New England
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -3
PREDICTION: Texans 23, Patriots 20
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Dare I say that Bill O’Brien has Bill Belichick’s number now? Well, not really, but I do think last year’s win, albeit over Tom Brady, was a breakthrough of sort for O’Brien. this just is not a great Patriots team, and the Texans are getting ready to go on a nice run down the stretch.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Thursday, November 26 (7-4) — at Detroit
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +1
PREDICTION: Texans 28, Lions 17
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Sorry, I can’t buy into Matt Patricia. Texans win.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, December 6 (8-4) — vs Indianapolis
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -2
PREDICTION: Texans 30, Colts 23
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: This will have a “division is on the line” feel to it, and I trust Deshaun Watson more than I could ever, ever, ever trust Philip Rivers.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, December 13 (8-5) — at Chicago
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +3.5
PREDICTION: Bears 19, Texans 13
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: A child, dreary game sandwiched in-between the two Colt games feels like recipe for disaster.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, December 20 (8-6) — at Indianapolis
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans +4.5
PREDICTION: Colts 23, Texans 17
WHY THE TEXANS WILL LOSE: While Philip Rivers is tough to trust, Lucas Oil Field is still somewhat of house of horrors for the Texans.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sunday, December 27 (9-6) — vs Cincinnati
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -6.5
PREDICTION: Texans 34, Bengals 17
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: FINALLY, a rookie QB! It’s the No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow, granted, but still… A ROOKIE QB! The Texans generally feast on rookie QB’s.
BUCKET RATING: MUST WIN

Sunday, January 3 (10-6) — vs Tennessee
SPREAD IF THEY PLAYED TONIGHT: Texans -1
PREDICTION: Texans 26, Titans 20
WHY THE TEXANS WILL WIN: Garden variety Week 17 win.
BUCKET RATING: COIN FLIPPER

Sadly, I think we play this game again…..

FINAL PREDICTION: 10-6, AFC South Champions, lose in Divisional Round to Kansas City

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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After-school programs will be allowed to operate on-site on if Knox County Schools goes ‘red’

Working parents will have child care relief if Knox County Schools goes “red” — meaning the district switches to virtual learning — under a new plan approved by Superintendent Bob Thomas.

The district has decided to let after-school care providers offer child care during the school day in district buildings when a school or the entire district goes “red,” Thomas told Knox News.

Keeping open options for students to be supervised in schools, even if regular classroom learning is not occurring, is “important, again, for families who work,” Thomas said.

If only one class or grade level at a school goes “red,” the after-school program would not be able to offer school-hours care to the unaffected children in that class or grade because the rest of the school would still be operating as normal.

COVID-19: Get the latest Knox County Schools coronavirus case counts here

State: Tennessee will start reporting COVID-19 cases at the school level

Since the reopening plan was released July 15, the district has faced criticism about where children of teachers and other working parents would go if the district went virtual. Teachers would still be expected to teach while their kids were home also learning virtually, which requires assistance for kids in most grade levels.

This plan could help alleviate the problems if students can be enrolled in child care during school hours.

The Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley has four after-school programs based in KCS buildings.

Bart McFadden, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club, said the district’s decision will allow those clubs to continue serving 200-250 students in a familiar environment, if it becomes necessary. The organization offered summer programming that required masks, social distancing, small groups, hourly cleaning and multiple temperature checks.

“All the safety procedures you see at schools, we’re doing that, we’re actually going a step further,” McFadden said.

Earlier this summer, Muse Knoxville offered space for virtual learning pods. In late July, Executive Director Ellie Kittrell said if the district decided to go “red,” Muse Knoxville would try to expand to other locations to serve more people, including local teachers’ children. 

Working parents have had to put together child care plans since mid-March, when the district and schools across the state were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

When parents had to decide this summer whether to commit their children to in-person or virtual learning, families wrestled with questions about safety, but also logistical concerns about child care.

These concerns carried over once approximately 41,000 of the school system’s nearly 60,000 students returned to in-class learning Aug. 24.

“Working parents’ schedules are not going to change. They still need to be able to work,” McFadden said.

Knox County Schools: All students can have free breakfast and lunch

With the district signing off on in-school care by providers who already operate on site,  families can be sure, McFadden said, “their kids have a safe place to go (that) allows them to function more seamlessly into what could be a very uncertain time.”

Additionally, through the end of the year, all clubs’ programming will be free for families McFadden said. 

Kids Place, Inc. offers after-school programs at nine Knox County Schools, according to Gibbs Elementary School Kids Place, Inc. coordinator Morgan Reed. 

She said final details about what her program is prepared to offer haven’t been finalized, but she hopes to have the program running from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. if KCS goes “red,” and have small group activities, similar to the Kids Place summer program.

“We’re just excited to help parents that are working,” Reed said. “Our program is allowing us to be there for parents when they need us.”

Thrive has an after-school program at Lonsdale Elementary, and Executive Director Clayton Wood said the district’s decision is a huge help for families who can’t stay home with their kids because of jobs or other circumstances.

“We are thankful for the opportunity to continue to provide free child care for families who are in desperate need for it,” Wood said.

Wood said Thrive had seven weeks of summer programming that required social distancing, masks and other CDC guidelines. 

“It gave us confidence going into the fall that we can care for the kids without having an outbreak,” Wood said. 

As of Friday, there are 50 active cases at Knox County Schools, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. There are a total of 662 people in isolation or quarantine.

The dashboard also includes information about district metrics for student attendance, teacher and school staff attendance, bus service interruption, cafeteria staff attendance, custodial staff attendance and the availability of substitute teachers.

Those categories are color-coded green, yellow or red to indicate how well the district is doing in each.

As of Friday, all of those markers are green except custodial staff attendance (yellow) and substitute availability (red). 

Isabel Lohman reports on children — their education, health, welfare and opportunities. Follow her on Twitter @isalohgo. Make our community, our society and our republic stronger by supporting robust local journalism. Subscribe to Knox News at knoxnews.com/subscribe.

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Local Architects Predict Big Changes to Building Design Thanks To COVID-19

When Albert Pope heard on the news that it took four years to develop a mumps vaccine and that it was the fastest a cure for a disease was ever created, he realized COVID-19 would probably be around for the foreseeable future.

As an architecture professor at Rice University, Pope knows he and his fellow architects will have a key role in helping society respond to the long term impacts of the pandemic. Architects across the globe are grappling with how COVID-19 will reshape the way new buildings are designed and how old ones are modified for years to come.

“I don’t think we’ll go back to business as usual,” Pope said.

Two weeks into a fall semester like no other, Rice is in the middle of figuring out how to bring students together face-to-face while still keeping them safe from COVID-19. Over the summer, Rice installed four new 50-by-70-foot massive tent-like buildings in an empty field on campus. These “Provisional Campus Facilities” are designed to accommodate classes of up to 50 students while still allowing for the CDC recommended six feet of social distancing, and are decked-out with air-conditioning, projectors and all the amenities of modern classrooms.

Rice has also installed multiple large metal canopies across campus, providing open-air places for students to gather outdoors where it’s harder to spread COVID-19. “I think a lot of this is an experiment,” Pope said. “We obviously need more space.”

The need for more space and social distancing are the first things that come to mind when local architect Patrick Peters thinks about how architecture will change thanks to COVID-19. “New facilities and facilities that will be reoccupied for face-to-face use are going to have to have extra space, or fewer occupants, or both,” said Peters, who teaches architecture at the University of Houston and leads UH’s Graduate Design/Build Studio.

Peters predicts that buildings like offices which require lots of people to share a communal space will also need to be designed with dedicated areas for health screenings and temperature checks. Much like the way 9/11 made it necessary for airports to create more room for increased security screenings, Peters thinks that the pandemic will lead architects to design areas at the entrances to facilities that are “halfway in, halfway out… kind of a dirty space that’s out of the public domain” to make sure sick individuals can be identified before they interact with larger groups.

Since the coronavirus doesn’t spread as easily in outdoor environments due to increased air circulation, architects are thinking hard about how to get groups to gather in places other than closed-in buildings. Bringing people together outside is something Peters has been working on for over 30 years. He and his students in the Design/Build Studio have created innovative outdoor structures across the Houston area, such as a solar-powered classroom at Alief’s community garden and outdoor amphitheaters, stages and pavilions for schools and other organizations.

“Those projects now seem prescient, because all manner of institutions are seeking to create outdoor workspace,” Peters said. “They’re going to be propelled by this urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic to become much more widespread and much more permanent.”

Architects are also planning for how the rapid increase in remote work brought about by coronavirus lockdowns and stay home orders will change the way homes are designed going forward. In recent years, more and more businesses let their employees take advantage of working from home, but the pandemic has turned the home office from a luxury into a necessity.

“It probably would have taken another ten years for this amount of transition from the office place to the home, or to realize a hybrid model,” Pope said. “It’s now happened virtually overnight.”

“Remote format will no longer be something that was temporary. It’s going to be part of our menu of choices,” said Peters, which he believes will spur home designers into creating living spaces that have fluid, adaptable spaces that can be set up for both working from home and for virtual education so that multiple members of a household can be on video calls at the same time. “I know in my own household, we have three and sometimes four different Zoom or Teams or Skype calls or meetings happening simultaneously, and those don’t work well if they’re all bleeding across each other,” Peters said.

Pope and Peters have both thought a lot about how the way cities operate influences architectural design, and vice versa. Naturally, they’ve considered what could happen to the way cities are designed if the massive shift to remote work seen during the pandemic becomes permanent. After COVID-19 has been dealt with, will people scarred by the psychological impact of facing down a highly contagious life-threatening disease be willing to voluntarily gather in large urban areas, especially if those same people aren’t expected to regularly come into a central office?

As long as a treatment or cure for the coronavirus gets developed in the next few years, neither Peters nor Pope believe that COVID-19 will spell the end of the modern city as we know it. “What I don’t expect is a mass migration away from concentrated urban centers, because I think that the draw to those spaces is so strong,” said Peters.

Even if folks don’t have to clock-in at the downtown office every day, he thinks that eventually the draw of nightlife, fine dining and the arts will cause people to head back to urban areas en masse. “I suspect there will be some slowdown to that activity, but I would expect it would continue once some preventative or therapeutic is broadly released.”

He also believes that even businesses that allow employees to work remotely most of the time will still ask architects to design large office spaces because he expects corporate leaders will still see the value of bringing large teams together on occasion. “I can’t predict the future,” Peters said, “but I would expect that those high-rises will make sense in the long term, because the opportunity to bring their staff together — even if it’s not every day or all at once — will still be a desire.”

“I don’t think the city will wither and die, because I think the fundamental need for proximity won’t ever go away,” Pope said. “That’s how we really survive: by working together, even in this digital world.”

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Houston Restaurant Weeks Lasts Through September

Houston Restaurant Weeks has been extended through the entire month of September and Houston foodie fiends are ecstatic. While many restaurants are continuing their HRW menus through the month, it’s best to check first before venturing out. The list of participating restaurants and their HRW menus can be found on the HRW website.

We reached out to some restaurants around town about their menus and our list reflects the abundance of diverse cuisines, from casual take-out to fine dining. Many of the restaurants are offering their HRW menus to go for curbside pick-up and delivery. We recommend using some common sense about what travels well and what doesn’t so that a special meal isn’t a messy disappointment.

Houston Restaurant Weeks was founded in 2003 by local media personality and philanthropist, Cleverley Stone. Stone passed away in May 2020 from uterine cancer, a diagnosis she was open about with her fans in order to impress upon women the importance of getting regular medical exams. Her last wish was that Houston Restaurant Weeks would continue after her death because it is the largest annual fundraiser for Houston Food Bank, having raised more than 16.6 million dollars since it began.

Her daughter, Katie Stone Cappuccio, took up her mother’s mantle this year with a few minor changes. Due to the crushing losses incurred by the restaurant business during the pandemic, the contribution from each prix-fixe menu is one dollar, down from the previous years’ donations of $3 to $7, depending on the menu price. This allows restaurants to attract customers with the HRW menus while giving them the ability to benefit financially from the event in a time when they need it most. Many restaurants have also extended the HRW menus for take-out and delivery.

Hit the saffron trail at Aria Persian Grill.EXPAND

Hit the saffron trail at Aria Persian Grill.

Photo by Owl Photography Studio

Aria Persian Grill
12303 Westheimer
832-781-4829
ariapersiancafe.com

This small, family-owned restaurant recently opened in mid-May during the height of the pandemic. This is its first HRW participation and a great way for newcomers to Persian cuisine to experience the fresh flavors. For lunch, guests can start out with appetizer choices such as cucumber yogurt, a mixed vinegar pickle of carrots, cauliflower, cabbage and garlic or the herb plate, a salad of fresh herbs, walnuts, olives and feta served with flatbread. The $20 lunch meal also includes a choice of the Koobideh kebab, made with ground lamb and beef or the Jooje, a kebab of grilled chicken breast. The $35 HRW dinner menu includes a choice of two starters and an entree. For dinner, there’s the Soltani plate with koobideh and barg (beef tenderloin) or the Vaziri, a combination of koobideh and jooje. The dinner menu also includes a dessert course with choices of saffron rice pudding, saffron pistachio ice cream or saffron chai mocktail. Word is the pistachio ice cream is not to be missed.

The Cleverley at Brennan's is a vegetarian option.EXPAND

The Cleverley at Brennan’s is a vegetarian option.

Photo by Kimberly Park

Brennan’s of Houston
3300 Smith
713-522-9711
brennanshouston.com

Brennan’s has a lot going on this summer with its new executive chef, Joey Chavez, his five-course tasting menu and a special $99 Wine and Dine dinner menu for two which includes a three course meal and a bottle of wine. However, it is also extending its HRW menu so Houstonians have an extra month to make it to this New Orleans-inspired institution. Guests can choose its elegant dining room or pretty courtyard for dining. There’s a cool front coming next week so that’s a pleasant option.

The $45 HRW dinner menu at Brennan’s includes a first course with options like its famous Snapping Turtle Soup, Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, Shrimp Remoulade or Salmon Belly Tataki. The Pan Seared Crispy Frog Legs can be substituted for an additional five bucks.

Brennan's strawberry mille-feuille is berry pretty.EXPAND

Brennan’s strawberry mille-feuille is berry pretty.

Photo by Kimberly Park

Entree choices include Grilled Gulf Fish, Wood Grilled Filet of Beef, New Orleans BBQ Head-on Shrimp and Honey Ham Brined Pork Loin. There are a number of desserts from which to choose including Creole Bread Pudding, Bayou City Petit Beignets and its popular Brennan’s Bananas Foster.

Brennan’s also has a two course $20 HRW lunch menu on Thursday and Friday plus a weekend $20 HRW two-course brunch. The restaurant has created a vegetarian and gluten-free entree in honor of Houston Restaurants Weeks’ founder. The Cleverley is a dish of eggplant caviar, cornmeal fried roasted eggplant, mushroom rice and Ponchartrain sauce. It is available on all three HRW menus.

H Town Restaurant Group: Three of Hugo Ortega’s restaurants are offering HRW menus. Xochi is still temporarily closed.

Backstreet Cafe uses Texas Gulf shrimp in this iconic Southern dish.EXPAND

Backstreet Cafe uses Texas Gulf shrimp in this iconic Southern dish.

Photo by Paula Murphy

Backstreet Cafe
1103 S. Shepherd
713-521-2239
backstreetcafe.net

Houstonians love this restaurant not only for Hugo Ortega’s cuisine but also for its shaded patio. H Town Restaurant Group has also been very firm with its COVID safety protocols. For Houston Restaurant Weeks, the cafe is offering a variety of menus. The Classics ($35) offers a choice of appetizers like duck spring rolls, tortilla soup or a wedge salad. The entree course includes options such as red corn chicken enchiladas, braised beef short ribs or Texas Gulf shrimp and grits. There are two desserts to choose from: butterscotch bread pudding and hazelnut chocolate banana pudding.

Backstreet Cafe's white wine menu features chili-rubbed scallops.EXPAND

Backstreet Cafe’s white wine menu features chili-rubbed scallops.

Photo by Paula Murphy

For guests who prefer a curated menu, there is a White Wine Menu ($35) and a Red Wine Menu ($35) with optional wine pairings. The White Wine option offers a three course meal beginning with lobster chowder, followed by chili -rubbed scallops and topped off with a summer peach and huckleberry crisp. For red wine lovers, the menu starts with smoked chicken hash, grilled steak for an entree, ending with a chocolate tart. The wine pairings are an additional $26.

The Vegetarian Menu ($35) offers an heirloom tomato panzanella salad, then Eggplant Parpadelle and Texas goat cheesecake for dessert. The Brunch HRW is offered Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with items such as migas and salmon tacos.

Caracol's Canita de PeurcoEXPAND

Caracol’s Canita de Peurco

Photo by James Heard

Caracol
2200 Post Oak Boulevard
713-622-9996
caracol.net

Caracol is also offering different HRW menus so there is something for everyone. The $45 dinner menus range from seafood feasts to carnivore comfort food. The Entre Las Olas ( Between the Waves) starts with an amuse bouche of watermelon gazpacho then a first course of fish tamal with Veracruzana sauce. The entree is a dish of pan seared scallops with hoja santa sauce and the dessert course features a beautiful and colorful Pastel de Mango y Pistachio. The cocktail pairing is $26.

Another HRW menu Nuestro Estilo (Our Style) starts with the same amuse bouche followed by Mango Habanero Ceviche. The main course is Canita de Puerco, a meaty bacon-wrapped pork shank. This prix-fixe menu ends with Flan Horchata. The Classics Menu  offers a starter option of wood-grilled pork rib or oysters followed by entree choices like butterflied fish filet, slow-cooked short ribs and sauteed shrimp. The fire-roasted lobster is a luxury substitute for an additional $20. Dessert can be Churros Rellenos with dulce de leche or Mexican-style french Toast with brandy-infused cherries and ice cream. Add wine parings for $26.

The Vegetarian Menu begins with Ensalada Verano, a salad of heirloom tomatoes, roasted corn, Mexican squash dressed with hoja santa. The entree is a wild mushroom tamal and the dessert is El Coco, a coconut and chocolate lover’s dream.

Caracol has a less expensive brunch menu ($20) on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It begins with gazpacho and offers entree choices such as chilaquiles, fish tacos and wood roasted ribs.

Hugo's cocktail Chihuahua CampfireEXPAND

Hugo’s cocktail Chihuahua Campfire

Photo by Paula Murphy

Hugo’s
1600 Westheimer
713-524-7744
hugosrestaurant.net

Hugo Ortega’s namesake restaurant offers a number of Oaxacan  and Mexican regional dishes on a variety of HRW menus. The Vegetarian ($35) starts with squash blossom soup, followed by a watermelon salad, with an main of sopes with beans, cheese and Mexican squash, ending with corn and cottage cheese dumplings and caramelized pear. The wine pairing is $24.

There’s also the Street Foods menu ($45) with Tostada de Ceviche featuring the catch of the day plus braised suckling pig for an entree. The dessert is gaznate, a crispy horn with a coconut filling. The wine pairing is an additional $26.

The Spirits of Mexico ($45) offers lime cured shrimp, slow-cooked short rib with duck fat potatoes and clay pot coffee flan. An agave pairing is available for $25.

Hugo’s offers an HRW brunch menu ($20) Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. beginning with a choice of squash blossom or chicharron soup with a number of entree choices including Huevos Poblanos, Tacos de Birria, Carnitas and Tacos de Papas. The brunch dessert is tres leches.

Kin Dee's interior is modern and exotic.EXPAND

Kin Dee’s interior is modern and exotic.

Photo by Elvis Campos

Kin Dee Thai
1533 N. Shepherd
281-826-2655
kindeethaicuisine.com

This recently opened Heights restaurant is offering four courses for an amazing $35. Guests can choose between Papaya Sal, Mini Salad Wrap or the Golden Basket for the first course. The Golden Basket is stir-fried chicken with sweet peas, corn, onion in a golden cup. For the second course the options include Chicken Satay, Grilled Pork Skewers and Grilled Thai Meatballs. The third course choices are Spicy Pork Sauce Noodle Soup, Red BBQ Pork Dry Noodles, Southern-style Green Curry with gluten-free rice noodles or Northern-style Curry with egg noodles and a choice of coconut chicken quarter, chicken breast or tofu. The fourth and final course offers Mango Sticky Rice, Coconut Ice cream with Thai-style topping, or Thai Toasted with Pandan Cream.

The Beet Salad at Maison Pucha is a work of art.EXPAND

The Beet Salad at Maison Pucha is a work of art.

Photo by Cristian Pucha

Maison Pucha Bistro
1001 Studewood
713-637-4976
maisonpucha.com

This French-style bistro gets some Ecuadorian flair from its sibling owners, chef Manuel Pucha, pastry chef Victor Hugo Pucha and general manager/beverage director Cristian Pucha. Anyone on social media, especially any food-lovers sites, has seen the praises of this restaurant’s HRW menus and the multitude of foodie photos. And, its HRW menus offer Houstonians the opportunity to savor some beautifully cooked and presented dishes for reasonable prices.

Salmon gets gussied up at Maison Pucha.EXPAND

Salmon gets gussied up at Maison Pucha.

Photo by Cristian Pucha

The lunch menu, available Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., is $20 and offers three courses, beginning with first course choices such as hummus and vegetable terrine, beet and goat cheese salad or tomato gazpacho. Guests can substitute the Shrimp Ceviche “Ecuadorian Style” for an additional five dollars. The second course includes options like “C.C” Tofu Thai Salad, which is gluten-free and vegan. There’s also Applewood Smoked Atlantic Salmon and Chicken Fricassee. Steak Frites can be had for an extra five dollars.
The dessert choices include Crepes a l’Orange, C.C Heights Garden Fruit Medley and Pistachio Vanilla Creme Brulee. The souffle with Ecuadorian chocolate, passion fruit creme angalise and homemade vanilla ice cream is a seven dollar upgrade.

The creme brulee comes with petite madeleines.EXPAND

The creme brulee comes with petite madeleines.

Photo by Cristian Pucha

The $35 dinner menu, available Tuesday through Sunday beginning at 5 p.m., offers three courses with many of the same items as the lunch menu but also options such as Vegetable Bouillabaisse, or a C.A.B. Petit Filet Mignon. Guests can substitute Hudson Valley Seared Foie Gras as a starter for an extra $7.

The $20 brunch menu is available Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and offers three courses with similar choices to the lunch menu plus additional items such as French toast with bourbon vanilla custard and fresh berries and Maison Eggs Benedict with a green plantain patty and espelette hollandaise.

There are plenty of meat and vegetarian options at Phat Eatery.EXPAND

There are plenty of meat and vegetarian options at Phat Eatery.

Photo by Chuck Cook

Phat Eatery
23119 Colonial Parkway
832-913-6382
phateatery.com

This Malaysian restaurant from chef Alex Au-Yeung is offering a four-course $35 HRW meal, available daily for lunch and dinner. Guests can whet their appetites with a choice of roti to start. There’s the very popular Roti Canai, Indian flatbread with curry dip or the roti with chicken dip. There’s also the roti with beef rendang. The second course offers beef, chicken or tofu satay, Salt and Pepper Calamari or Kerabu Prawn, a cold jumbo prawn with pickled green papaya and mango in a tangy nyonya sauce.

For the third course, diners have Beef Rendang, Malay Chicken Curry and Coconut Prawn from which to choose. There’s also a gluten-free and vegan Curry Vegetable Casserole made with King mushroom, shiitake, eggplant and green beans.

For dessert guests can try one of the housemade ice creams such as the Ube, Panadan, or Durian flavors. There’s also the Kaya Pancake which can be made vegan on request.

Reservations are a good idea.

No one can resist juicy meatballs in marinara.EXPAND

No one can resist juicy meatballs in marinara.

Photo by Jeremy Parzen

Roma
2347 University Boulevard
713-664-7581
romahouston.com

Shanon Scott’s restaurant has Angelo Cuppone in the kitchen making authentic Italian dishes in a romantic, cottage in Rice Village. Whether guests choose the comfortable patio or the cozy dining room, they will enjoy the casual, yet elegant atmosphere and unpretentious cuisine. For HRW, the restaurant is offering a three-course dinner menu for $35. Diners can begin with Polpette di Manzo, meatballs in marinara with mozzarella, pecorino and basil. Or opt for the Mozzarella in Carrozza: crispy, lightly breaded and fried mozzarella. There’s also the option of the Suppli alla Romana (rice balls with green peas and tomato sauce) or the house salad with a light vinaigrette.

The second course offers choices such as Orecchiette alla Arrabiatta, pasta in a spicy tomato sauce or Fettucine alla Bolognese. There’s also its popular Spaghetti Carbonara or the smoked gnocchi with shrimp in a saffron sauce. For the third course, guests will have to decide between a breaded chicken breast with roast potatoes and mushrooms, seafood soup with shrimp, clams and mussels, filet of salmon atop citrus-braised cabbage or a short rib stew.

Guests should also check out its website for wine specials. The restaurant offers dine-in and take-out plus delivery through UberEats, Favor and GrubHub.

The Pink Matcha Cake at Tobiuo is something a little different.EXPAND

The Pink Matcha Cake at Tobiuo is something a little different.

Photo by Patrick Dang

Tobiuo Sushi and Bar
23501 Cinco Ranch
281-394-7156
tobiuosushibar.com

This Japanese restaurant is offering a $45 prix-fixe menu with three courses. Diners can choose between Hamachi Kosho, Wagyu Tataki or Diced Shrimp for a starter. For the second course, there’s sashimi (gluten-free is available), a ten-ounce New York Strip or an eight-ounce pan seared salmon. Dessert options include Brownie Mousse Cake, Banana Meringue or the pretty Pink Matcha Cake.

Walk-ins are welcome but it’s best to make reservations.

Hawaiian Pancakes at Traveler's Table are a tropical treat.

Hawaiian Pancakes at Traveler’s Table are a tropical treat.

Photo by Kirsten Gilliam

Traveler’s Table
520 Westheimer
832-409-5785
travelerstable.com

This unique restaurant offers diners a culinary passport to explore foods from around the world. Its HRW brunch menu ($20) has two courses. The first offers choices such as homemade biscuits with honey butter and jam, Cafe Sua Da Coffee Cake, Morning Churros or a tropical fruit plate with sweet coconut cream. The second course features options like the Custard Lava French Toast with jackfruit creme angalise, Hawaiian Pancakes with guava Chantilly cream, Cajun Eggs Benedict, Indian Eggs Masala and Kimchi Egg Fried Rice.

For the HRW dinner prix-fixe, guests can begin with Brazilian cheese bread, chicken karaage or Peking-style duck gyoza. Entree choices include Soft Shell Crab Pad Thai, Butter Chicken, Beef Cheek Ravioli and Viet Cha Ca, turmeric-dill grilled fish with vermicelli. Dessert offers sweet treats such as Mango Lassi Panna Cotta, New Orleans Bourbon Bread Pudding and Hawaiian Haupia Coconut Pudding.

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After cancelling scrimmage due to low numbers Saturday, Tennessee Vols practice Monday

Tennessee’s football team practiced Monday, two days after coach Jeremy Pruitt had to nix plans for a scheduled scrimmage.

Pruitt said Saturday that UT had 44 players unavailable. He added the team had “seven or eight” players with active cases of COVID-19, while more than two dozen other players were unable to practice because of contact-tracing protocol that requires them to quarantine. Additionally, a few players are unavailable because of injury.

Monday was the 11th practice of the preseason.

There is no scheduled media availability Tuesday.

The Vols are scheduled to practice again on Wednesday. 

SEC rules mandate that anyone who had a high-risk contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 is required to quarantine for 14 days. A high-risk contact is defined as prolonged close contact (greater than 15 minutes within 6 feet) during the period of infectivity. 

Testing negative for COVID-19 does not shorten or remove the 14-day quarantine period.

“The contact tracing and the numbers, as they add up, it’s been very tough to be able to prepare a team to play,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said Tennessee has had 48 players who have, at some point, been required to quarantine for at least 14 days because of contact-tracing protocol. Of those, he said, three tested positive for COVID-19.

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Former Knox commissioner Mary ‘Bee’ DeSelm dies at 95

Mary “Bee” DeSelm, well-known community leader, particularly on behalf of education while on the Knox County Commission in the 1980s and at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, died Sunday at Shannondale health care center at age 95.

DeSelm and the late Mary Lou Horner were elected to the old County Court in 1976, the first of their gender in modern history to serve on the body that evolved into County Commission in 1980. The West Knoxville library branch building bears DeSelm’s name.

Her son, Richard DeSelm, said Monday that his mother was battling dementia and Alzheimer’s for years and her body got to the point that she gave out.

“Bee DeSelm has been a role model and mentor to me,” former Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, who served on County Commission with DeSelm in the 1990s, had said in an earlier interview and reiterated her thoughts Monday.

“When I ran for Knox County Commission in 1990, she invited me to her home and shared campaign strategies and commission responsibilities.  During my eight years as a county commissioner, I watched Bee take on the status quo and ‘good ole-boys’ in her quiet but determined way. She always stood up for what was right and equitable.  She is a role model for women in politics and for all people in service to their community.”

DeSelm was honored in 2014 by the YWCA Knoxville during its annual “Tribute to Women” event when 30 women were highlighted who had impacted the community in the past 30 years.

In 2015, this writer had a column on a speech by Knoxville historian Jack Neely, who said Lalla Block Arnstein was the first woman on the old Knox County Court, although the media in 1976 said DeSelm and Horner were the first women elected. In discussing this later with DeSelm, she said to me, “Does that mean we have to give all those honors back?”

She also said she had heard another woman had been elected to County Court but never did verify it. Turns out Arnstein was elected to County Court to represent the 12th District on Aug. 7, 1924, with members called magistrates, justices of the peaces or squires.

DeSelm moved to the Shannondale retirement community of Knoxville following the death of her husband, Hal, in 2011. He was a retired professor of botany and ecology at the University of Tennessee.

DeSelm was born Mary Elizabeth Hersee but was always known in Knoxville as Bee. She and her husband grew up in Columbus, Ohio, knowing each other in junior high school. He was in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II while she went to nursing school at Ohio State University. After the war, her husband earned degrees at Ohio State.

They came to Knoxville in 1956 after two years at Middle Tennessee State University. Their two children are Diane D. Overcast, Marietta, Ga., and Richard DeSelm, Chapel Hill, N.C. There also are four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Richard DeSelm said he will always remember how loving and steady his mother was.

“She was pretty direct and sometimes that didn’t feel so good as a kid. She treated us honestly and fairly and made us do things on our own. I grew up learning with good role models from my mother and father, knowing mostly right from wrong, knowing the value of hard work. Both parents demonstrated that. She was fiercely moral, and I’d like to think I carry that attribute in my life,” he said.

He also said he was impressed with her attitude through her demise. He said he had not been able to visit since March 8 due to COVID-19 and then Shannondale staff contacted him and his sister to say the end was near and they visited on Sept. 2. She was unable to talk, he said..

On a last phone call, he said she gave out a “giant” laugh. “I don’t know if I could keep such an outlook. Maybe she was oblivious to her condition. She had a bit of uplifting spirit about her. … I was very impressed with her ability to stay more positive than not. I never heard her complain,” he said.

DeSelm was a nurse for 10 years and then was religious education director 12 years at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Among the many awards she received was the Religious Service Award from The National Conference, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews, which said in 1995: “She believes that one’s purpose in life is to work to make one’s community serve the needs of its people. She has done this through her church community, not only as president but also as religious education director and as chair of the committees on caring, FISH, finance and membership.”

The work through the church showed her sense for decency and justice, said the Rev. Chris Buice, senior pastor at TVUUC, in an earlier interview. And she parlayed the leadership skills learned there into bigger and bigger issues, he said. He remembered one commission meeting at the City County Building where an issue on gay and lesbian rights was being discussed, with some in the crowd growing raucous. 

“Bee was the moral center. I was in the room. She asked (for everyone) to be respectful to each other and speak respectful to each other. Some people were playing to that energy, pandering. She was the grown up. The tone of it was terrible,” Buice said.

The first political campaign Bee DeSelm was active in was that of Victor Ashe, when he ran for the legislature in 1968. He was running for the state House, where he served before being elected to the state Senate and as Knoxville mayor.

“He referred me to Martha,” DeSelm said in 2013, referring to Ashe’s mother, who helped him with his campaigns and influenced DeSelm’s interest in eventually seeking office herself. She also credited her active work with the League of Women Voters for her interest in politics.

After being elected to Knox County Court in 1976, DeSelm served until 1998, when she decided not to seek re-election. During her years in office, she was on the Education Committee and chaired it until she got caught in the middle of some in-fighting over the election of the commission’s chairman. She was among those helping to lead the county to achieve a single school system in 1987.

After she left commission, she and her husband were among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that came out of a term-limit controversy for Knox County officials in 2006-07. A jury found the County Commission had violated the state’s “Sunshine” Law in making appointments to succeed 12 term-limited office holders; the commission was forced to re-do the appointments.

The DeSelms lived in Sequoyah Hills until they decided it was time to downsize and moved to Hamilton House. She continued to live there after her husband died and then she fell. She went to Shannondale’s assisted living unit for physical therapy and to recover from her fall and then moved into an apartment. As her health declined in recent years, she moved from the apartment back to assisted living and then the health care center.

She also was a member of the Leadership Knoxville Class of 1990, Community Leadership Class of 1995, Domestic Violence Task Force, Community Alternatives to Prison Board, Metropolitan Planning Commission, Historic Zoning Commission, American Cancer Society Public Issues Committee and chaired the Public Affairs Committee of The National Conference.

Richard DeSelm said his mother will be cremated. The plan is to place the ashes next to their father’s at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in a private service. The family is hoping for an in-person public service later.

Georgiana Vines, retired News Sentinel associate editor, may be reached at gvpolitics@hotmail.com.

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Why is Jarrett Guarantano still with the Tennessee Vols? Let him tell you.

Why is Jarrett Guarantano still here?

It’s a question we’ve all wondered throughout the past 11 months. He answered that question Friday.

Guarantano’s Tennessee Vols career has had its sterling moments, but also enough adversity, failures and criticisms to send a player scurrying to the transfer portal.

But the fifth-year senior is still standing as Tennessee’s starting quarterback. He’s here because this is where he wants to be.

“I’m looking at a big thing on the wall that says ‘This is Rocky Top,’” Guarantano said Friday during a Zoom interview while taking stock of his surroundings inside UT’s media work room, “… and those words and just this place mean so much to me.”

Rocky. That’s a fitting word to describe Guarantano’s Tennessee career.

Before he even appeared in a game, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit criticized Guarantano’s sideline demeanor during the Vols’ 2017 season opener against Georgia Tech after Quentin Dormady won the starting job. Guarantano later replaced Dormady as starter, and he became a piñata behind a porous offensive line for two seasons. Losses mounted.

Guarantano worked under four different offensive coordinators, each with his own system, throughout his first four seasons. Nonetheless, he entered last season exuding confidence.

The good times didn’t last.

Guarantano’s shaky performance played a hand in back-to-back losses to Georgia State and BYU to open last season. Criticism of the Vols quarterback reached a fever pitch. He said he experienced death threats, and his sister, also a UT student, received mean messages. He lost his starting job. Needed as a backup against Alabama, he fumbled near the goal line after deviating from the designed play. His head coach offered a tongue-lashing and tugged on his face mask upon his return to the sideline.

Many wondered whether that might be it for Guarantano’s Vols career. Instead, he responded by playing some of the best football of his career. He became a spark off the bench and helped launch a six-game winning streak to close the season. In November, he regained the starting job, and he rallied Tennessee to a comeback victory in the Gator Bowl.

“When it’s all said and done, it was refreshing to watch him be at his lowest of lows and then rebound,” quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke said.

What Jarrett Guarantano would tell his younger self

Transferring is as easy as it has ever been in college football. Without much trouble, a player can have his name entered into the NCAA transfer portal and be gone in a flash. Five of the projected starting quarterbacks at SEC programs are transfers.

Joe Burrow, an Ohio State transfer, led LSU to a national championship last season and won the Heisman Trophy. And Justin Fields became one of the nation’s best quarterbacks at Ohio State after transferring from Georgia.

Guarantano has his degree. As a graduate transfer, he would have been eligible to play at another school without sitting out.

Instead, he chose to continue a Tennessee career that has featured enough twists and turns to fill a memoir.

“I was thinking about my journey here, and there is no place that I would rather be, honestly,” Guarantano said. “Of course, there’s been ups and downs. In life, you experience many ups and downs, so it was nothing for me. There were some things I had to grow and learn from, and I wouldn’t undo any of this.”

He would, though, like to go back in time and offer his younger self some words of caution: Becoming a quality college quarterback is a process. Don’t rush it. Don’t expect success to come easily.

Guarantano admits there were times in his life where results came naturally. He had his choice from a who’s who list of college football programs after a stellar career at Bergen Catholic in New Jersey. He committed to Tennessee in a video from Times Square.

If he thought success would transition to college without any hardships, he was mistaken.

“When I went to college, there were some things that I had to overcome,” Guarantano said. “There were some things that I had to learn for myself. Those things allowed me to work harder and become more mature as a person. Those are some invaluable lessons that I learned, and I’m thankful that I actually got a chance to learn them.”

Why Jarrett Guarantano feels more comfortable

Tom Brady is having to learn a new playbook for the first time since his rookie season after transitioning from the Patriots to the Buccaneers. In August, Guarantano commented on Twitter in response to an ESPN story that detailed how Brady was struck by the challenge of learning a new playbook.

“Mhhhhh…,” Guarantano wrote.

Guarantano knows all about learning new playbooks.

Now, for the first time in his Tennessee career, he’s working within the same offense for consecutive seasons under second-year offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

“It feels way more comfortable,” Guarantano said. “I feel like my mind’s not going 100,000 different places. I have a pre-snap read, post-snap read, and being able to really, truly understand the offense’s ins and outs, it allows me to move faster. It allows me to see things come open way quicker and deliver the ball more on time and accurately.”

“There’s just a lot less indecisiveness,” he added.

Guarantano said his teammates see that he’s more comfortable in the offense. That, in turn, gives them more confidence.

“I’ve always felt like I was a smart football player, but being able to have Year 2 under the same offense, it allows me to kind of show it a little bit,” said Guarantano, a 25-game career starter.

Weinke said Guarantano has developed into “a functional thinker.” He processes information and executes the play at a faster pace.

“His anticipation, in my opinion, has probably been the brightest spot that I’ve seen from a year ago,” Weinke said.

No one questions that Guarantano has an SEC-caliber arm.

He reiterated that last season against Missouri, when he threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns. The previous week, he completed 7 of 8 passes in a relief performance to rally the Vols past Kentucky.

But he’s Jekyll and Hyde. Too often, he has hamstrung the offense, like in last season’s loss to Florida, when he threw two interceptions before getting benched.

Last winter, Guarantano targeted his inconsistency and his leadership as two areas he wanted to improve.

“That’s really been my focus,” he said.

He also committed to improving his physical tools. He bulked up and returned to campus this summer weighing 228 pounds. Last season, Tennessee’s roster listed him at 213.

Guarantano worked with quarterback coaches Tony Racioppi in New Jersey and Quincy Avery in Atlanta after Tennessee’s spring practice ended after two sessions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guarantano worked on his pocket movement, foot quickness, passing accuracy and ball placement.

“I was motivated as ever,” Guarantano said. “I didn’t have the season that I wanted to have last year. Going into this one, I know I want to have a big year, so it wasn’t hard for me to wake up every morning ready to work.”

Guarantano wants to be at Tennessee.

Now, he wants to play to the level he believes he can.

“I’m lucky to be a Tennessee Vol,” Guarantano said, “and I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at blake.toppmeyer@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake’s subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.

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Tennessee Vols pass defense will face the biggest challenges in the biggest games | Adams

 The Tennessee Vols secondary should be practicing with a sense of urgency. Its play could prove pivotal in UT’s biggest games.

The Vols will play five teams — Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and Auburn — that are ranked in the Top 25 of the Amway Coaches Poll. All five of them will test UT’s pass defense.

The test became more difficult when the SEC announced its revised, conference-only schedule. Texas A&M and Auburn both have experienced quarterbacks and receivers.

UT has experience of its own at cornerback, which should help against the passing attacks coming its way. 

Bryce Thompson, an All-SEC candidate, and Alontae Taylor have two seasons of starting experience. Kenneth George also has starting experience, and Warren Burrell started some last season as a freshman. One of Tennessee’s most acclaimed signees in the 2020 class  — Key Lawrence of Nashville — should contribute as a freshman.

There’s also experience at the back end of the secondary, which will feature safety Jaylen McCollough and nickel back Shawn Shamburger.

UT’s secondary will need help from its defensive front. The Vols lost their best pass rusher in outside linebacker Darrell Taylor, who had 8.5 sacks last season.

Perhaps, Kivon Bennett and Deandre Johnson can become more prominent in UT’s pass rush. Tennessee also could use more of a push from its returning front three of Greg Emerson, Aubrey Solomon and Darel Middleton.

Their play could be as crucial as the secondary’s against Tennessee’s toughest opponents.

Alabama

The Tide will have one of the best wide receiver tandems in the country in Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith. Smith had 68 catches for 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Waddle has averaged 18.1 yards on 78 career catches.

Both are projected to be taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Quarterback Mac Jones should benefit from last season’s experience. He started four games after All-American Tua Tagovailoa was sidelined by a hip injury in November.

Waiting in the wings will be freshman Bryce Young, a five-star recruit who would give Alabama a running threat at quarterback.

Auburn

Sprinter Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams combined for 100 catches last season. UT should remember them from their trip to Auburn two years ago.

Schwartz, considered the fastest player in the SEC, showed off his speed on a 76-yard touchdown reception. He also carried the ball three times for 44 yards. Williams had five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.

Eli Stove will give sophomore quarterback Bo Nix another experienced receiver. Nix, a former five-star recruit, started as a freshman.

Florida

Florida’s receivers will be especially troublesome because of their size.

Tight end Kyle Pitts, projected as a first-round draft choice, is 6-foot-6. Wide receiver Trevon Grimes, who chose to forgo the NFL Draft and return for his senior season, is 6-5.

Pitts had 54 catches last season for 649 yards, and Grimes had 33 receptions for 491 yards. Both made big plays against UT. Pitts had four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Grimes had two catches for 60 yards.

Florida’s offense is in good hands on the passing end, too. Quarterback Kyle Trask returns after completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.

Georgia

The Bulldogs might not have as many proven receivers as the other four nationally ranked teams on Tennessee’s schedule. But sophomore wide receiver George Pickens will present a huge challenge after starring as a freshman with 46 catches for 727 yards.

Pickens’ athleticism and penchant for acrobatic catches enable him to routinely win one-on-one matchups.

No matter which heralded quarterback — either Southern California transfer J.T. Daniels or freshman D’wan Mathis — wins the starting job, Pickens will be his favorite target.

Senior Demetris Robertson, who had 30 catches for 333 yards last season, will give the Bulldogs another experienced receiver.

Texas A&M

Quarterback Kellen Mond already has 34 starts entering his senior season. He can count on wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon, who had 66 catches for 872 yards last season.

Mond also will have the benefit of throwing to  tight end Jalen Wydermyer, who had 32 catches and scored six touchdowns last season as a freshman.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or john.adams@knoxnews.com. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.  

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A.D. Players Updates its Season in a Video Announcement

As the pandemic continues, local theater groups rejuggle their already juggled schedules, pushing shows back later and later into the 2020-21 season— or in some cases — all the way to the next.

The latest is the announcement by A.D. Players Executive Director Jake Speck and Artistic Director Kevin Dean that they will be moving some plays farther along into the year and dropping some others from the lineup entirely, with the possibility that they could be picked up in a future season at the George Theater. 

Speck and Dean delivered their news by video, beginning with the announcement that the world premiere of Apollo 8 moves from the fall to the spring, replacing Is He Dead. “That’s right, Is He Dead is now dead. But don’t worry, we will resurrect it in a future season,” Dean said.

Another premiere and their winter holiday offering  — The Christmas Shoes — will move a year later to the same spot in the 2021-22 season.

However, as Speck pointed out, they discovered by doing their recently completely gala that they can safely pull off concerts with masking and social distancing in the George. As a result, they are extending their engagement with Michael Ingersoll’s Artists Lounge Live.

John-Mark McGaha will sing Stevie Wonder’s songs in concert in October.

Heidi Kettenring will sing Karen Carpenter songs for the Merry Christmas Darling show in December.

Perhaps the best news for devoted theater goers is that A.D. Players will be producing a series of radio plays. The first, called Radio Mystery Theatre, will debut in the fall and feature characters such as Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. .

There will be a world premiere of A Cattywampus Christmas during that season, a story of two women — one from Houston and one from Minneapolis — who exchange homes over the holidays and what happens from there. (Yes, it’s a comedy).

People who already have tickets to the two rescheduled shows are asked not to call the box office but to wait for the box office to contact them. 

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Deshaun Watson Signs Massive Four Year, $156 Million Extension

Saturday was a very busy day, if you’re a Houston Texan fan, or anybody who is part of Deshaun Watson’s family tree or inner circle. We could see the figurative smoke coming from NRG Stadium on a Watson contract extension on Thursday, when the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted this:

Then on Saturday morning, we got this very thinly veiled sign from Deshaun that good things were happening:

Then came the news:

HALLELUJAH!

So it’s a four year extension ($156 million in new money with $11 million guaranteed) on the two years that already remained on Watson’s deal, so he is tied to the Texans through the end of the 2025 season. Truth be told, if things go as well as both sides hope, there will be another extension done long before 2025. That’s how things go in the NFL. Any way you slice it, this is great news for Texan fans, and a well deserved reward for one of the bright, young, shining stars in the NFL.

Some quick hit thoughts on this monumental bit of Texans news:

Good deal for both sides
As Rapoport pointed out on Thursday, the template for Watson’s deal was never going to be the 10 year, nearly half a BILLION dollar deal that Patrick Mahomes signed earlier this summer. That deal was unique, and honestly cedes quite a bit of control to the Chiefs. The four year extension Watson is signing is a logical bump up in annual salary and guaranteed money from Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, and it allows Watson to hit the jackpot again by age 30, at the latest. On the Texans end of things, they now have their franchise quarterback, a true superstar, locked up through 2025 at a rate that was only going to increase had they waited to pay him.

Good day for Bill O’Brien
From purely a perception standpoint, this was tremendous news for Bill O’Brien, who has had a turbulent offseason as general manager of this team, to say the least. This should put to bed any lingering questions over what Watson thinks of the direction of the team, and what he thinks about O’Brien. Watson is “in” on the culture that O’Brien and EVP of Football Operations Jack Easterby are building. This crosses off the final to-do on their list before the start fo the 2020 season, aside from cutting the roster down to 53 and assembling the 16-man practice squad.

This WILL make roster building in future seasons more challenging, though
When it comes to the salary cap numbers on this deal, there is good news and somewhat challenging news. Before we get to those observations, here are the numbers year by year, for Watson’s six years under contract, 2020 through 2025, respectively:

The good news is that for this season and next season, the numbers are very friendly to the team. Next season, 2021, in particular, is crucial for Watson to have a cap friendly deal, because the salary cap is expected to DECREASE for the first time in history, due to the inevitable drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus and attendance in stadiums being reduced or eliminated altogether. The challenging part for O’Brien will come in years 2022 through 2025, when they will need to rely more on young players on rookie deals and ring chasing veterans to fill out the roster. It will be tough to just reward guys who aren’t Pro Bowlers AS IF THEY ARE Pro Bowlers. Nick Martin, Whitney Mercilus, and Zach Cunningham are all guys who got paid near the top of their position group, and each has yet to make a Pro Bowl.

How must some other fan bases feel seeing this news?
Think of the teams that had a shot at making Deshaun Watson (or Mahomes, for that matter) their franchise quarterback. How do you feel, if you’re a Bears fan reading this Watson news, just one day after the Bears determined that Trubisky would indeed start Week 1 for them. In other words, you used the second overall pick in the draft (traded up for it, actually) to get a guy who was in a battle for his position in Year 4. Watson went ten picks later. How about Jags fans (all nine of them)? Your team just CUT the running back they used the fourth overall pick on in 2017, eight selections before Watson. How about the Browns, who traded the pick to the Texans that they used to draft Watson? How’s Baker Mayfield treating ya, Cleveland?

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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