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'X' Says:Random Thoughts from X ….. Recruiting, Football and stuff
It IS Football Season….. Almost
When the incoming freshman class report to campus it signals football is right around the corner. Before you can say 'the summer is hot' SEC Media Days will be here, and a couple of weeks later fall practice begins.
The 2017 signees begin arriving on campus in less than 2 weeks. Really excited to see how some of the signees take to Rock Gullickson's summer conditioning program. Actually, I am anxious to see how the upperclassmen handle it. Right now, Gullickson is the lead dog in changing the mindset and culture of this program.
While there is optimism all the signees will make it academically, truly there are a couple that still have some serious ground to make up.
Recruiting - The Big Picture
Now to recruiting. Tennessee is off to a good start. Other than Tennessee and LSU in the SEC no other school seems to be getting much traction yet. The early 2018 commitments Tennessee secured from top 100 players Cade Mays and Tae Taylor, both Tennessee kids, have helped get this class headed in the right direction. Mays and Taylor have not been bashful about engaging Tennessee targets on social media or at regional skills camps. I believe recent quarterback commitment Adrian Martinez, who I will talk more about below, will be good a recruiting asset as well.
I am not really concerned about the number of commitments or that Tennessee lost a commitment earlier this week. Look at the bigger picture. Look to the prospects Tennessee has targeted and who Tennessee's competition is. From my view, Tennessee seems to be competing more in this cycle with schools like Alabama. LSU, Florida, Auburn, Florida State, Michigan and Ohio State . That is encouraging news. At the end of the post, I will list a few prospects I will be watching over the summer including the schools giving Tennessee its stiffest competition.
Putting the hot seat talk aside, Tennessee has a lot of recruiting momentum. I think getting a commitment from big-time quarterback helps any class but more than the Martinez commitment. The NFL draft plus the somewhat surprising addition of 5th year cornerback Shaq Wiggins have sustained the positive news. Plus, as mentioned up top, this class includes kids that are quite visible on social media. Whether you like it or not recruiting is changing. Certainly having good football skills is the most important attribute to look for in prospects. But, a recruiting class can reap secondary benefits from kids that are social media savvy.
For Coach Jones, he just needs to let this recruiting class come to him. No need to create any fake momentum by reaching for marginal SEC prospects in May. Tennessee has targeted a number of very good players. Finally, after five years, Jones now has a staff of very good recruiters on both sides of the ball. Let those guys do their thing and all Butch Jones has to do is manage and close.
So far so good in this regard. Tennessee has not accepted commitments from four prospects who were ready to go public with their commitment.
Some may argue the commitment of Clarksville native, Shatar McClay is a bit of a reach. In Tennessee’s eyes he isn’t . If McClay's affairs are all in order, McClay will be one of the most hotly-pursued recruits in the state of Tennessee.
The head scratcher so far is taking Florida quarterback prospect Michael Penix's commitment this early when clearly Adrian Martinez was clearly the top target on the board. Honestly though, this staff has quietly killed it in recruiting even though they have been together 90 days.
Martinez et al:
A couple of comments on Adrian Martinez who has been discussed a great deal here. Martinez was one of five quarterback prospects that visited Tennessee for the Orange & White game. He was the top target on a list of very good prospects on Tennessee’s board. Think back a year ago when Tennessee was recruiting 2018 quarterbacks like Trevor Lawrence who committed to Clemson and Justin Fields who committed to Penn State and thought to be the leader at different times for both. Fans were very concerned and disappointed when Tennessee missed on both.
Time will write the story on Tennessee's quarterback future but a case can be made that Martinez may be a better overall fit at Tennessee than either Lawrence or Fields. To me, Martinez has some intangibles in his game you can’t coach. He seems to understand defenses and throwing windows. With a lot of quarterbacks, those things are instinctive and very hard to learn regardless of how much film you watch.
Even if it is unfair to Martinez , the bar has been set high for him. He has publicly compared himself to Josh Dobbs and there are already comparisons to the similarities in his skills and Jarrett Guarantano. I would suggest patience here. He is not even a senior in high school.
Larry Scott & Walt Wells will be better than Mike DeBord & Don Mahoney:
Here is my random football thought. You will see Tennessee make more of a commitment to lining up and trying to out physical their opponents at the point of attack. Tennessee hasn’t done much of that over the past few years . Power running would be welcomed around here. If you want to change your identity as a football team, nothing does that like lining up and running the ball down the throat of the opponent. The combination of Larry Scott and Walt Wells want to establish Tennessee as a power running football team.
Speaking of Walt Wells. It is inexplicable that he had a limited coaching role the past couple of seasons. Not only is he changing the culture in the offensive line room but he seems to have calmed down the all-important mid-state region down when it comes to recruiting. As we have posted here before, Wells has the trust of many key people in the mid-state and has built a solid network of contacts. I’m shocked that Tennessee let him interview with other schools and almost allowed him to sign on with one of its SEC east rivals.
Let Hoke Recruit:
Speed rush defense ends and fortifying the defensive tackle position…… These are two of Tennessee’s most pressing recruiting priorities in 2018. Tennessee is off to a great start with the commitment of Brant Lawless a mid-state defensive tackle who Alabama really wanted. If you are a Tennessee fan, you should take some comfort in the fact Tennessee’s new defensive line coach is also one of the top recruiters in the country. All Brady Hoke needs is time. He brings a track record of getting defensive lineman ready to play in the NFL. Hoke is a solid position coach, well-known as an excellent evaluator and developer of talent, and a solid citizen. Recruiting here will be fine.
Running Back Will be OK:
I was surprised when Jeshaun Corbin decommitted on Tuesday, Actually I was probably more surprised when he committed a few weeks ago. You see at that time, Corbin wasn’t one of the top running backs guys on their board... at least that is what I learned. The running back board is wide open right now.
Here are a couple targets:
Lyn-J Dixon from Butler, Georgia. Butler is 5’10” 185 lb. prospect. Dixon is quick, runs with exceptional vision, and has good pass catching skills out of the backfield. Tennessee was one of the first schools to offer Dixon and he has been on campus multiple times. Dixon is a three star running back with a 5 star offer list. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Texas, Michigan State, Florida, LSU, Louisville, Georgia, Miami and Ole Miss all in the mix. Dixon is as good a fit for Tennessee’s offense as I have seen in the 2018 class.
Tae Provens, 6'0" 190 lbs., Gurley, Alabama. Provens has family connections to East Tennessee and that seems to have helped Tennessee position itself in Provens’ top group along with Auburn and Southern California. Provens is a bigger running back compared to the other running backs. As bigger running backs are prone to do, he does seem to run more upright. He claims to run a 4.5 forty and looks every bit that fast on film.
I can't discuss running backs without talking about mid state prospect Master Teague. Tennessee is firmly in Teague's top three along with Georgia and Auburn. The longer Teague postpones his commitment the better off Tennessee is here. Tennessee has been playing catch up in the recruitment of Teague since last fall. The best hope Tennessee has is for Teague to push back a decision until the fall to see what Tennessee's run game looks like.
Why Tennessee Only Signs 3 Wide Receivers in the 2018 class:
I have to give wide receiver recruiting in this class an A. Two wide receivers are committed : Tae Taylor from McMinnville who some believe is the top prospect in the state of Tennessee, and Jatavious Harris a speedster from Georgia. Here is where Butch Jones must practice patience. Even though our Head Coach loves to sign wide receivers, he must be selective. Another wide receiver in this class must be a game changer type and here is the reason.
In 2019, the in-state wide receiver talent is as impressive as I can recall. Legitimately, 4 or 5 2019 in-state wide receivers may end up being top 100 players nationally. You don’t want to taint your opportunity to recruit those kids unless you have a chance to sign at a really dynamic guy.
That means there are a number of really good wide receivers in-state this cycle Tennessee frankly probably won’t have room for.
Kids to Watch Over the Next 3 Months:
Over the next 3 months, many of the Tennessee targets noted below will make their college selections. I have listed the kids and Tennessee's competition for each one.
Jeremy Carvin, offensive lineman Cordova, Tennessee. Carvin has an SEC ready body. He has the perfect build for an interior lineman. He reminds me of the interior linemen Alabama recruits that pound defensive tackles into submission for 4 quarters. Carvin is the second best lineman in the state behind Cade Mays. This is a Tennessee -Alabama battle.
Brendon Harris, safety, Chattanooga. Tennessee feels pretty good about Harris but Florida, Ohio State, Auburn, and Alabama are nipping at their heels. Harris has emerged as one of top safeties in the Southeast.
Jaycee Horn, cornerback Atlanta, Georgia. Horn is an athletic, shut down type corner. Tennessee is battling Alabama and Clemson for Horn.
Jordan Davis, defensive end, Memphis. Davis is committed to Alabama and would fill a need in Tennessee’s class as a pass rush end. Normally, a commitment to Alabama would never take a visit to Tennessee but Davis is scheduled to visit campus in June. Florida is involved here as well.
PJ Mustipher, defensive tackle Ownings Mill, Maryland. Legitimately one of the top defensive tackles on the eastern seaboard. Tennessee, Ohio State , Penn State, Alabama all feel good about their chances.
Jacob Warren, tight end, Knoxville, Tennessee. An athletic but raw down the field threat from the tight end position. Tennessee, Oregon, South Carolina here.
James Mitchell, tight end/athlete, Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Mitchell is one of top tight end prospects in country for 2018. Excellent athlete and very capable of playing basketball in college. For football purposes his top three schools are Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Clemson.
Reuben Unije, offensive lineman, IMG Academy, Florida. Tennessee may have a slight lead over Alabama and Florida. Unite has been to Tennessee multiple times and is expected back in June.
Greg Emerson, defensive end, Jackson, Tennessee. Top defensive prospect in Tennessee this cycle. Everyone wants this kid. Tennessee, Ohio State, and Alabama are the top schools right now.
D'Andre Litaker, defensive tackle, Murfreesboro, Tennessee. One of top prospects in state this cycle. Tennessee is trending here. LSU and Louisville are involved.
Richard Jibenor, defensive end/athlete. Tennessee is making up ground but Auburn still leads here. Jibenor would fill a big need at defensive end.
Tobe Umerah, defensive end, Macon, Georgia.. Umerah is committed to Stanford but is listening to other schools including Tennessee. Coach Hoke seems to have struck up a good relationship here early on.
'X' Says:My thoughts on “Orange & White” Day
First, off the top, kudos to the Tennessee coaching staff. Mid-week it appeared the slate of visitors for the weekend would be disappointing. The recruiting visitors as a group ended up being much better than expected. (More on recruiting later.)
Now The Scrimmage:
At a high level…. This team has much more young talent than I thought….
True freshmen have to help on defense and running back early
Tennessee has more talent at the QB position than any other program in the SEC.
No way Quinten Dormady wrapped up the starting QB job Saturday. The game plan (if you want to call it a game plan) was very basic and did not play to Jarrett Guarantano's strengths.
Butch Jones and Larry Scott need to conference call Duke’s David Cutcliffe for advice on managing a 2 QB offense. Duke with Cutcliffe calling the shots has made it work before. You can’t sit Guarantano or Dormady. Dormady may be steadier, but in certain situations Guarantano provides an offensive dynamic defensive coordinators can't scheme for. Both have to play.
Speaking of Dormady. I liked his ball placement to the wide receivers better than anything else he did Saturday. He hit the receivers in stride.
Really like this offensive line when healthy. My money is on Jashon Robertson at center, Trey Smith at one guard, and Drew Richmond at one tackle as starters. The competition for the other two spots will be interesting to watch. Though this is months away, don't be surprised if Tennessee tries to redshirt a couple of their more experienced offensive lineman who may not break the starting 5 to offset graduation losses the offensive line will suffer in 2018.
If what we did see from the limited play of the QBs is a forecast of the future, the tight ends will be a big part of the passing game this fall.
Back-up tight end Jakob Johnson has improved significantly from last season.
Really like the potential of our young receivers. Jennings is the lead but the next 4 up (Calloway, Williams, Johnson, and Byrd) are either sophomores or freshmen. All are athletic and just need seasoning.
Even though he is six weeks away from being on campus, there is already much expected of incoming freshman running back Ty Chandler . He is already penciled in to be a big part of the offense. He better be ready to go come September 4.
The biggest concern is at defensive end. Our first three guys up (Phillips, Kongbo, and Taylor) haven’t done much since they have been on campus. And, behind those three, none of the backups have played a snap in the SEC. Injuries here would be tough to overcome.
In terms of the defensive tackles. It was hard to evaluate them. Most of the tackles that will be depended on didn’t suit up Saturday.
On one series I saw sophomores Daniel Bituli, Nigel Warrior, Marquill Osborne, Austin Smith, and Darrell Taylor on the field together. All sophomores, all expected to be big time contributors, and all inexperienced. These kids need to play through their mistakes in 2017. Let them make those mistakes early and be ready for the SEC slate come late September.
I see the defense, especially at linebacker and defensive back, morphing into a much faster and more athletic groups.
In the secondary, Tennessee really needs to solidify the cornerback spot. The safety spot has a chance to be very good. At corner, you could see a true freshman or graduate transfer in the mix for significant playing time.
I saw enough from true freshman Shon Reid, a linebacker, and DeAndre Johnson, a defensive end, to know what they will contribute next season. Before they leave, I expect both to be good players at Tennessee.
The first line players must stay healthy. Health of the defensive line may mean the difference in 7 & 5 and 9 & 3 or better.
Overall, I come out of the spring more encouraged than I was before spring practice started.
On Orange & White game eve, Florida all purpose running back, Jeshaun Corbin, verbally committed to Tennessee. Corbin, a four star running back, was sold by the staff on taking on a role similar to the one Alvin Kamara vacated. Watching his film, I see why the staff likes him so much. His high school team used Corbin as a wildcat quarterback, slot receiver, running back, and kick returner. As a junior, Corbin scored 19 touchdowns and amassed close to 2,000 all-purpose yards. He had 25 offers including Clemson, Florida State, Florida, Auburn, and Miami. Corbin is a really nice pickup.
Saturday Tennessee picked up two additional commitments. Early in the evening Tampa, Florida quarterback Mike Penix publicly committed to Tennessee. If you have read my posting about Penix you know my thoughts here. I think he has a chance to be a good quarterback in college but he is very raw. He is athletic with a good arm and a more accurate thrower than I originally thought. Oregon and Arizona, both high octane spread oriented offenses were recruiting Penix. I think Tennessee winds up with two quarterback signees in this class and I have fully expected for some time for Penix would take one of the two spots. If Tennessee has their way the other QB in this class will come from Bakersfield, CA.
Other than being from Florida, the recruitment of Corbin and Penix have a couple of other interesting tidbits in common. Tennessee has been recruiting both kids for over a year. Tennessee offered Corbin and Penix both when both had offers from what I would refer as "sub Power 5 programs." Corbin to some extent has become one of the hottest running back recruits in the South. Penix is a little more under the radar, but the offers from Oregon and Arizona should stand out to you.
Later in the evening, Georgia athlete/wide receiver Jatavious Harris made his commitment to the Vols public. I really like this pickup. At 6’2” 185 lbs, Harris is a long, athletic looking prospect. Though most colleges are recruiting Harris as a wide receiver, I’m not so sure Tennessee doesn’t give him a look at defensive back too when he gets to campus. Harris is an explosive athlete; that is another kid who will get a look as a return specialist in the kicking game.
In closing, I like the way recruiting is trending. These kids Tennessee is taking on offense are function of Larry Scott’s mark on the coaching staff. I hope he gets a couple of years to see how these kids perform in his system.
The one position I have a concern about is defensive end recruiting. However, given that Brady Hoke’s forte is recruiting and that he has been on staff for about 2 months, I believe things will pick up here in the next few weeks.
I like the fact our recruiting efforts appear to locked in on the states of Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia. Florida is interesting. The competition is fierce if only the Florida schools were involved. Tennessee is more than holding its own against all those schools right now. Think you'll start to see many of the higher rated kids on Tennessee's instate board start making decisions here over the next 6 to 8 weeks.
Love you Tony B.
Hang in there my friend.
Orange & White Game Visitors:
Tennessee will have a good group of visitors this weekend. The group will not be as large as previous Orange & White game turnouts but don't be concerned. Throughout the spring, Tennessee has hosted a large number of unofficial visitors, many to watch the Saturday scrimmages. Too, Tennessee competing with other spring games this weekend and various high school events like track meets and baseball.... and the weather is not going to cooperate. With that said, a good group of key targets plan to be in attendance.
The weekend visitors are a quarterback-centric group. Arguably Tennessee’s top 4 quarterback targets are scheduled to be on campus including Cammon Cooper , Michael Penix, Jalen Mayden, and Adrian Martinez. Another top QB target, Brevin White, was on campus the early part of the week. If Tennessee had their way, 4 quarterback prospects would not be on campus at the same time. However, in the spring schedules are what they are, and Tennessee will make the best of it. Mayden and Martinez have both seen their recruitments explode over the past two weeks. Martinez and Mayden are at the top of Tennessee’s group I believe.
The running back visitors are a little murky though two of Tennessee’s top targets will be here. North Carolina prospect Jamal Currie-Elliott and Alabama prospect Tae Provens will be here. Both PROSPECTS have Tennessee in their top groups. Tennessee recently has picked up some momentum with Provens. With Currie-Elliott it looks like Tennessee, Oregon or Virginia Tech. It is unclear whether top running back target Master Teague from the midstate will be here Saturday.
Wide receivers targets Tyree Oggs-Kellogg from Alcoa and and Georgia prospect Jatavious Harris (as well as committed prospect Alontae Taylor) will be on campus. Tennessee is thought to be the leader for both Kellogg and Harris.
Tennessee 2018 committed offensive lineman Cade Mays and Ollie Lane will be on campus. In-state targets Jerome Carvin from Cordova and Tanner Antonutti from Antioch as well as IMG Academy prospect Reuben Unjie are scheduled to attend. Carvin and Unjie are both 4 star prospects and being recruited by most every program in the Southeast. Tennessee probably has spots for two more offensive linemen in this class to go with Lane and Mays . Carvin and Unjie sit at the top of Tennessee's offensive lineman board.
Interior D Line:
Tennessee will go heavy on defensive ends and tackles in 2018. PJ Mustipher and Alim McNeil, two of the their top defensive tackle targets, have been on campus in recent days but will not make it back this weekend. However, Tennessee is expecting two other top defensive tackle targets in midstaters in DeAndre Litaker and Brent Lawless. Getting Lawless and Litaker back to campus for the Orange & White game is key.
Defensive end is another story. Still recruiting work to be done here. In-state athlete/defensive end prospect Cam Jones will make the trip in from west Tennessee. Jones plays both receiver and defensive end for St. Benedict High. Tennessee is recruiting Jones as a defensive end/linebacker. Also, Marietta, Georgia, defensive end Azzeez Ojulari and family plan to be on campus. This is a big visit for Tennessee. Ojulari is a top 150 type prospect nationally and a top 10 defense end. Ojulari is a national prospect and already has offers from Georgia, Auburn, Oklahoma, Clemson and others including Tennessee.
The most intriguing prospect of the group is Jacquez Jones a linebacker from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Physically, Jones is exactly what you want in a linebacker. Jones is 6’1” 225 lbs. Linebacker in 2018 is an area of need for Tennessee. Jones has emerged as the top target at linebacker on Tennessee’s board. Jones is a sideline to sideline linebacker with excellent closing speed. Jones has a nice connection with a number of Tennessee’s 2017 signees and 2018 commitments. If signing day were Wednesday, Tennessee would be my favorite to land Jones.
One For The Thumb:
Tennessee commitment Shatar McClay from Clarkesville, Tennessee, will visit. McClay is a dynamic athlete. He looks like a more aggressive version of 2017 Tennessee commitment Theo Jackson. McClay is a tall, rangy athlete with good ball skills and is a big hitter. If McClay has everything in order in the classroom he is a big pick up. Additionally, safety prospect Quindarious Monday and mid-state cornerback Jaylon King both holding Tennessee offers are “maybes” for the weekend.
All for now
'X' Says:Random thoughts on spring practice & more.
Kind of ready for spring practice to be over. Coaches need to devote their time to building on the good momentum they have in recruiting, and Tennessee doesn’t need to sustain any more injuries.
Seems to be a malaise around the spring game. I believe the last month of the 2016 regular season, the so-so finish to recruiting, some of the off-the-field comments by the head coach, question marks raised by NFL scouts and talent evaluators concerning the lack of coaching players received here, and the media restrictions placed on the football team are all factors.
The Next Several Weeks:
From here until August, it is all about conditioning and recovery from injury.
Enough has been discussed about the quarterback battle. As expected, nothing will be decided until August. That is, unless one of them decides to take his ball and go elsewhere. That is possible but I doubt it. My guess is both will play in 2017. Other than Josh Dobbs, which is an outlier, Jones' offense over his career has a propensity to get quarterbacks hurt.
Strength & Conditioning = Stronger & Better Conditioned:
While this has been often discussed, most of the Tennessee kids have adapted well to the new strength and conditioning program. Tennessee now has big guys who look like football players and not big guys who play football. Big distinction here.
Saturday Check Out The Changes In:
Most notably, Todd Kelly Jr. , Cortez McDowell, and true freshman DeAndre Johnson have changed their physiques since January. Really surprised Tennessee went for one complete cycle with a bonafide strength and conditioning coach.
Physically, Trey Smith looks ready to play an SEC game tomorrow
With that said, the coaches are waiting on a few kids to completely buy in to the new strength and conditioning program.
As Deep As A Conversation With Basilio:
Depth will be the issue with this team. Tennessee doesn’t have a scholarship running back that would be physically at full strength if Saturday were a regular season game. If Saturday was a “for real” game, Tyler Byrd would probably take the first snap at running back.
Wide receivers Marquez Calloway and Latrell Williams have taken advantage of their opportunities this spring. First, both have stayed healthy through 13 practices. Next, they have developed good chemistry with both quarterbacks and both have the speed to stretch the field. Tennessee will count on both this fall.
What Goes On Behind Closed Doors....
The “closed portions” of practices have been physical and tough love has been dispensed.
The “strength” of the offense coming out of spring ball is the offensive line followed by the wide receiver group.
Offensively, the most important off-season issues are getting John Kelley and Jauan Jennings healthy and ready to go for 12 games.
Quarterback battle is not the only position battle to watch. I understand some believe Jashon Robertson has emerged as the #1 center ahead of Coleman Thomas. Too, Trey Smith has a legitimate chance to start at tackle or at guard.
Tennessee does not have a #2 running back or a #2 tight end right now. Through 13 practices, a #2 running back did not emerge (see Tyler Byrd above). When the lights come on for real, Tennessee is but one snap away from relying on a true freshman running back…. one that is not on campus right now.
The outlook is not much better at tight end. Jakob Johnson would be the first up if Ethan Wolf went down. Johnson is a serviceable blocker but he is not the downfield threat Ethan Wolf gives the offense. The back-up tight ends behind Wolf and Johnson are athletic but physically not ready for the SEC grind.
Defensively, the fact that defensive tackles Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie participated in more spring drills than anticipated is encouraging . Both should be full go by August. Alexis Johnson showed enough improvement this spring that coaches now believe he can play at this level. Add Quay Picou and Kendall Vickers along with 3 incoming true freshman tackles to provide depth… the tackle spot is solid.
The defensive staff with 2 new additions, and only 8 weeks of work together is much closer to being on the same page than the defensive staff was last season.
Defensive end is a concern. Tennessee will rely on Darrell Taylor, Jonathan Kongbo, Kyle Phillips, and Mykelle McDaniel to play key roles at end. All have missed parts of the spring because of injury. Injuries are not the only concern. Tennessee lost a significant amount of production from defensive end. The returning guys are unproven. True freshman DeAndre Johnson has shown enough this spring that you can expect him to play this fall. At least one of newcomers Ryan Thaxton, Matthew Butler, or Latrell Bumphus will be counted on to provide depth. You can make an argument Bumphus might be needed more to shore up the tight end spot than defensive end.
My opinion here.. Tennessee is going to be very good at linebacker and defensive back. Darren Kirkland, Daniel Bituli, Austin Smith, Cortez McDowell, and newcomer Shanon Reid from the nucleus of a solid linebacking group. Add newcomers Will Ignont and Solon Page as well. The group is solid and athletic.
At some point next season, I expect the light to click on for Nigel Warrior. He has a chance to be as good as Tennessee has had there. Maturity and work habits need to improve. Marquill Osborne and Justin Martin have a chance to be a nice set of cornerbacks. Tennessee recruited well in the secondary in 2017. Those kids will have a chance to contribute early.
Tomorrow...I'll have a report on the visitors expected in for the weekend.
'X' Says:'The quality and quantity of high school football talent within the state of Tennessee for the 2018 recruiting cycle is exceptional. By last count Tennessee has extended scholarship offers to as many as 24, 2018 in-state prospects. It is reasonable to believe Tennessee expects to fill many of its positional needs in 2018 with Tennessee kids.
However, the quarterback and running backs are positions where frankly Tennessee must recruit beyond its borders to meet its needs. Of course, both positions are high profile positions and the absence of a defined target list at each position creates angst among fans.
For both positions, I would caution fans that it is still very early in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Butch Jones has made over his staff. Tennessee has significantly upgraded its coaching and recruiting ability including adding a long overdue quarterback coach and breaking in an offensive coordinator new to the SEC. Prospects need time to develop connections to coaches as much as the coaches need time to develop their chemistry.
So far, Tennessee has cast a wide net and extended offers to some 10 to 15 prospects at the quarterback position. Even more scholarship offers are out to running backs. Today, I don't see Tennessee as a clear leader for any one prospect at either position. The good news is there are a handful of prospects at each position that have Tennessee in their top rung of schools.
Below are 5 or 6 prospects at each position that seem to be trending toward the top of the board. As spring practice closes and coaches can hit the road to evaluate these kids you will begin to hear Tennessee mentioned as a favorite with some and others will drop off the list. Many of the prospects below are planning visits to coincide with the Orange & White game. You never know what prospect or prospects mentioned below may be ready to verbally commit by then.
QUARTERBACKS: Don’t be surprised if Tennessee signs two quarterbacks in 2018. Tennessee has 4 very good quarterbacks on campus going through spring practice. There are only so many snaps to go around. Player movement at this position between now and next year should not come as a surprise.
Justin Fields. (6’2” 210 lbs., Kennesaw , Georgia). Fields is the one who got away from Tennessee. He was thought to be Tennessee bound last spring; however, used the fact Tennessee is one of the few power 5 schools without a quarterback coach and Butch Jones' tenuous job status were used against Tennessee by rival recruiters. Fields then committed to Penn State and looks to be solid on that commitment. Fields is similar in athleticism to Josh Dobbs with a better arm at this time in their respective careers. Tennessee, now with a bonafide quarterback coach, is trying to get into the mix for Fields. So far, their attempts have met with limited success. I listed Fields here because Tennessee was his presumptive leader a year ago. Tennessee is still trying to get him on campus. Coach Canales is rebuilding the bridge back to him. If Fields is interested, he vaults to the top of the board.
Adrian Martinez (6”3” 205 lbs., Fresno, California). Martinez is committed to California but Tennessee has emerged as a legitimate threat for Martinez’s commitment. Martinez is a dual threat quarterback with a good arm and good accuracy. He does not have elite speed but he has quick feet and seems to have an innate ability to make would be tacklers miss. With so many prospects, Martinez’s tape is making the rounds. In the last few weeks schools like Alabama, Miami, and Oregon have all extended offers to Martinez. He is visiting Tennessee for the Orange & White game.
Jarren Williams. (6'3" 195 lbs. Gwinnett, Georgia). Love Williams’ tape. He is a Georgia kid who committed to Kentucky very early on. Since committing, Williams has emerged as a top quarterback target for southeastern schools like Tennessee, LSU Louisville, North Carolina, and West Virginia. He is raw but the quarterback talent is undeniable. His athleticism and throwing ability are easy to spot on his tape. Tennessee likes this kid enough for me to list him in the top group.
Michael Penix, (6'2" 185 lbs. Tampa Bay Technical School, Florida). Penix has an existing relationship with offensive coordinator Larry Scott from Scott's time in the Tampa area plus Tennessee has a number of Tampa area kids on its roster who communicate with Penix regularly. He is a nice prospect. He is athletic and is a good fit for the Tennessee offense. The things I worry about as I watch his film are arm strength, is he just a great athlete playing quarterback, and will he put in the work required to become an SEC quarterback.
Cammon Cooper, (6'3" 215 lbs., Leti, Utah). Of all the quarterback prospects on Tennessee’s board, my opinion is Cooper, a left-hander, has the quickest release and best throwing arm of them all. However, Cooper reminds me more of Quinton Dormady than a Josh Dobbs. He is an excellent quarterback prospect who is mobile enough to escape pressure but doesn’t look to make plays with his legs. Not sure how good of a fit he is for Tennessee's offense.
Jalen Mayden, (6'3" 200 lbs. Sacshe, Texas). Of all quarterback prospects on Tennessee’s board, Mayden may be my favorite. If Tennessee needed a kid to come in and play in 2018, Mayden would be my pick. He is another lefty but he looks completely at ease and in control of his team’s offense. He has a good throwing arm, quick release, and is accurate with ball placement. As a runner, he is fast and has quick feet. Though he makes a lot of plays with his feet, he is not a “run first “ quarterback. Mississippi State, Baylor, Georgia, Ohio State and Tennessee seem to be ahead of other suitors right now. One note, Mayden will be in Knoxville for the Orange & White game.
Noticeable by their absence are three quarterbacks prospects with Tennessee offers. I left them off intentionally. Justin Rogers I believe is headed to LSU, Joe Milton is headed to Florida, and Arkansas quarterback prospect Gerry Bohanon is a better wide receiver prospect than quarterback prospect for college purposes.
From the list assuming Fields sticks with Penn State, Mayden or Martinez, both four star prospects, would be at the top of my list.
Once Tennessee gets beyond John Kelly, Tennessee does not have a capable or proven running back to rely on. Unfortunately, half way through spring practice, the backups have not taken a step forward this spring to ease these concerns. Here is hoping incoming freshman Ty Chandler can learn the playbook and blocking schemes sufficiently to contribute early. As with the quarterback position, expect Tennessee to take 2 running backs in 2018.
While the quarterback board has 4 to 5 prospects all mentioned above that have seemed to separated themselves, I can't say that for the running back position. The running back board seems to shift every couple of weeks. I will say one thing. Tennessee hasn’t been shy about offering running backs. One more thing …..when looking at running back targets, Alvin Kamara is the standard. His skill set meshed perfectly with what Tennessee wants to do on offense even though it took the former staff a year and half to figure it out. Running backs with Kamara’s skill set will flourish in Tennessee's offense.
Tennessee's Top Running Back Prospects As Of 4/5/17:
Lyn-J Dixon from Butler, Georgia. Butler is 5’10” 185 lb. prospect. He carries a lot of that weight in his lower body. Dixon is quick, runs with exceptional vision, and is fast enough (haven’t seen him get caught from behind). Another thing that is very important is that Dixon has good skills catching the ball out of the backfield. Tennessee was one of the first schools to offer Dixon and he has been on campus multiple times. Dixon is a three star running back with a 5 star offer list. Schools like Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Texas, Michigan State, Florida, LSU, Louisville, Georgia, Miami and Ole Miss all in the mix. Dixon will be a visitor for the Orange & White game. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to make a decision. Dixon is as good a fit for Tennessee’s offense as I have seen in the 2018 class.
DeShaun Townsend, 5'11" 190 lbs. Naples. Florida. Another South Florida prospect with all kinds of connections to Tennessee. Townsend is what you look for in a running back. He is tough enough to run between the tackles, can make people miss with his quick feet. He has measurables galore (speed, strength, explosiveness). The Florida schools have taken notice of Townsend as have Arkansas and UCLA.
Christian Turner, 5'10 185 lbs., Buford, Georgia. Turner is another running back who fits the mold of Kamara at least in my opinion. He doesn’t possess the top end speed (or that is the way it looks on tape) compared to other running back prospects. Watching his tape though I see why Tennessee likes him. He is gets in and out of his cuts quickly and runs with good vision. Right now, Turner’s top group includes Tennessee.
Jamal Currie -Elliot, 5'11" 190 lb. Durham , NC. Tennessee has made Currie-Elliot’s top three schools along with Oregon and Virginia Tech. In terms of stars and ratings, Currie-Elliott is probably the highest profile back on the board. He is the top prospect in North Carolina and one of the top running backs in the country. RIVALS has Elliott-Currie rated a s a 4 star prospect and one of the top 250 prospects in the country. Currie-Elliott is a dynamic back. While Oregon seems to be slightly ahead of Tennessee, Tennessee by no means out of this recruitment.
Tae Provens, 6'0" 190 lbs., Gurley, Alabama. Tennessee was one of the first schools to offer last spring. He camped at Tennessee last summer and returned for a February 2017 junior day. Though he grew up in Alabama, Provens has family connections to East Tennessee and that seems to have helped Tennessee position itself in Provens’ top group along with Auburn and Southern California. Provens is a bigger running back compared to the other running backs. As bigger running backs are prone to do, he does seem to run more upright. He claims to run a 4.5 forty and looks every bit that fast on film. Provens is planning to be in attendance for the Orange & White Game.
Master Teague, 5'10" 200 lbs. Smyrna, Tennessee. Teague is the one in-state running back Tennessee has a legitimate chance to sign. I give Tennessee a lot of credit in 2018. They have identified 10 to 15 in-state prospects being recruited by schools all over the country. Tennessee has let these kids know recruiting them is a priority. With that said, Tennessee has been surprisingly tardy in making Teague a priority. Now, Tennessee is now playing catch up to SEC rivals Auburn and South Carolina. There doesn’t seem to be any question Teague is going to be a national recruit. In addition, to the SEC schools, Ohio State and Clemson seem close to offering Teague a scholarship. I think Tennessee struggled in its initial evaluation on just how good a fit Teague was for the offense. Teague is a bigger back who excels running between the tackles. Teague runs a 4.5 forty and can outrun defensive backs. Physically, Teague looks like an SEC running back while still a junior in high school. He reminds me a lot of incoming freshman Ty Chandler. Teague has been coached well. He runs with good body lean and follows his blockers better than most seniors to be in high school.
The good news is Tennessee has picked up significant momentum in Teague’s recruitment of late. Teague is expected to be on campus to watch the scrimmage on Saturday.
Check back the week of the Orange & White game. Tennessee is expecting a number of their major 2018 and 2019 targets to be on campus. We'll have a list and will let you know if you should be on commitment watch.
Till then I wish you...
'X' Says:Tennessee picked up number 28 on Tuesday evening as St Thomas Aquinas (STA) receiver Josh Palmer publicly committed to the Vols.
Palmer grew up in Ontario, Canada. After his junior season, he moved to Fort Lauderdale, living with relatives, to attend STA in hopes of improving his football skills by playing against better competition than he faced in Canada. STA traditionally plays as tough a schedule as any high school program in Florida.
Palmer started out as STA's third string receiver. Due to injuries, by mid-season his was their Number 1 receiver and he did not disappoint. He ended up with over 30 pass receptions , averaging more than 15 yards per reception, and scored 8 touchdowns. With that basically half-season performance Palmer earned Florida Class 7A All-State second team honors. By the way, his high school team, STA, won the Florida Class 7A state championship.
Palmer physically reminds me of Da'Rick Rogers. He stands 6'2" 200 lbs. Of the four wide receiver prospects committed to Tennessee, he looks the most physically ready to play from day one.
Palmer was rated as the 13th best wide receiver prospect in Florida. By the end of his senior season he held over a dozen offers. When he was playing in Canada, Michigan was thought to be his college destination. Upon moving to Florida, Palmer and Michigan kind of parted ways. At the end, Tennessee bested Penn State and UCLA for Palmer. Ohio State tried to jump into the mix and get him to visit this weekend but my understanding is after committing to Tennessee he has shut recruiting down.
From my perspective Palmer instantly becomes is one of best pickups in UT's class. Physically he is ready to play. He has played against very good competition. He has great hands, is physical, runs good routes and has been coached well at STA.
28. That is how many commitments Tennessee has as of Wednesday one week for National Signing Day
7. The number of commitments Tennessee has for the state of Florida this cycle
25. The number of kids Tennessee can sign next Wednesday.
5. The number of prospects I believe are still realistically on Tennessee's board.
3. 3 of the 5 remaining targets are defensive lineman. Tennessee will make room for any one or more of the three
Ever Changing Moods:
The commitment list will shake out over the next couple of days . Everyone is doing it. Alabama has just made some space earlier in the week. All teams do it.
More To Come:
I will be back Friday with a few notes about the remaining targets and get everyone set up for the finish. Don't be surprised if a couple kids show up to visit this weekend out of the blue.
In closing, Tennessee "has a chance" to finish this class off much stronger than I thought 2 weeks ago. The last two commitments Tim Jordan on Monday and Josh Palmer on Tuesday are very good pickups .. don't get hung up on stars.
'X' Says:In General
After all these years, Basilio and I have reached common ground on an issue. I too believe our head football coach can be saved. For all of Coach Jones' game day mis-steps, failure(s) to get his team ready to play in season defining games, and his continual knack for picking fights at the most inopportune times with the media, the guy pours his heart and soul into the Tennessee job. A competent and impartial Athletics Director can do two things for Coach Jones: tell him what he needs to hear not what he wants to hear, and help him improve his public persona.
Even though Coach Jones has room to grow as a head coach of an SEC football program, there is something that is indisputable. Butch Jones has a recruiting message he is selling to kids, the message is connecting, and kids are buying in.
The Trey Smith commitment:
Look no further than last Monday in Jackson, Tennessee. After the disappointment of the Vanderbilt game, which still bothers me, the program got a significant shot in the arm when the consensus number 1 prospect in the state Trey Smith committed to Tennessee. Smith's commitment was important on so many levels. Depending on the service you follow, Smith is a high 4 star or a 5 star prospect through some services. Regardless of star rating his offer list spoke volumes about his potential. Alabama wanted him. Ohio State made his decision tougher than expected. Notre Dame , Michigan, Florida and literally every power 5 school would have taken his commitment. Moreover, landing the number one prospect in the state gives Coach Jones just a sliver of breathing room heading into 2017 after a so-so 2016 football season. This staff spent 3 years recruiting Smith. To be honest, over a year ago, Jones took sole responsibility for Smith's recruitment. Smith enrolls in January. If he is physically advanced as some suggest and with winter workouts and spring practice under his belt, it would not be a reach to see Trey Smith in the rotation in 2017.
Speaking of Early Enrollees - Defense:
Tennessee is in the midst of makeover. Since football season has finished up and coaches could get out on the road recruiting, Tennessee has parted ways with three defensive line commitments, a linebacker, and a defensive back. You see a theme here? The defensive side of the ball is getting retooled. I don't believe the makeover is over yet.
Tennessee has added two nice defensive prospects to its class and like Trey Smith both will be on campus in January Shannon Reid is a linebacker from Fort Myers, Florida, who choose Tennessee over Clemson, Michigan and LSU. I really like Reid. He is lean but his film shows that he is fast and aggressive and those are things you can't teach. This is a prospect you would expect to contribute immediately own 2017 on special teams. As poor as the linebacker play has been, Reid will get a shot in the spring to make the rotation.
On Monday, Tennessee picked up a commitment from Florida defensive end prospect DeAndre Johnson from Southridge High in South Florida. Johnson played his senior year at a defensive tackle and recorded double digit sacks for his state championship team. Tennessee projects Johnson as a speed rush end. At 6"3" 235 to 240 lbs and all the uncertainty with depth along the defensive line, I will be intrigued to see how Tennessee uses Johnson in 2017. Johnson is a solid prospect from a solid program. Very nice pickup.
What is on the horizon - Defense?
Over the holidays, two of Tennessee's key remaining defensive targets will make their college decision.
Yusuf Corker: Corker is a smooth, athletic defensive back from Stockbridge. Georgia who is set to make his college decision on December 26th. Watch this kid's film and look at his offer list. Schools such as Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Michigan, Michigan State, Virginia Tech , Florida, Ohio State, and Georgia all want him. To heck with ratings, the mere fact all these schools have been recruiting Corker is enough for me. Right now, Tennessee and South Carolina seem to be at the head of the pack with Michigan State a close third.
Matthew Butler: Butler 6'3 260 lb strong side defensive end from Garner, North Carolina. Rated as a three star prospect, Butler has outplayed his rating. Tennessee projects Butler as a both a strong side defensive end who can slide inside to play tackle from time to time. Tennessee likes it shot with Butler though some think he could opt to stay close to home and play for NC State. South Carolina is a bit of a dark horse here. Butler is a solid prospect who plays hard from whistle to whistle.
The 2016 defensive class commitments are a work in progress..
As mentioned above, it is very likely additional names will fall of the current commitment list with an emphasis on upgrading the defensive side of the ball. Shannon Reid and DeAndre Johnson were upgrades. With the addition of Reid and Johnson, Tennessee has a solid core of defensive prospects committed. In-state kids like Maliek Gray (who may be the plum of the class), defensive end Latrell Bumphus, and the sleeper of the class) safety Theo Jackson are keepers; as are uber-athletic kids from Georgia like defensive end Marquez Bembry and linebacker Solon Page; there are few better 2016 linebackers committed to SEC schools than Alabama linebacker Will Ignont who is committed to Tennessee; Florida defensive tackle Kivon Bennett has a chance to be a very good SEC defensive lineman while the defensive backs from Louisiana Terrell Bailey and Cheyenne Labruzza are very solid prospects. Still work to be done on defense especially across the defensive line. More to follow in the coming weeks
My personal opinion is you are witnessing Butch Jones and Bob Welton change or modify their recruiting evaluation profile for defensive prospects to fit the profile Bob Shoop wants for all three levels of his defense.
You hear me Basilio?????
Oh yes... the quarterback
Texas quarterback Will McBride committed to Tennessee Tuesday evening after a whirlwind recruitment that saw him visit two Tennessee schools in the span of 72 hours. McBride fills the 2017 quarterback need in this class. Let’s face it Tennessee had to have a quarterback.
Tennessee has been spoiled over the past two seasons because Josh Dobbs hasn't suffered any major injuries causing him to miss playing time. He has been injured but has been able to play through those injuries. In this offense, quarterbacks get hurt.
Also, Tennessee is in the very early stages of a sure to be both an intense and intriguing quarterback battle between two hotshot prospects that will last until September. If one of the kids happens to win the job in the spring, what if the other kid decides to move on? McBride would then be a Sherion Jones sprained ankle away from being the next quarterback up in 2017. Taking a commitment from McBride was a calculated well thought out decision and is one Tennessee had to make.
McBride is intriguing. Tall, skinny kid with a good arm. What I noticed from watching his film is he throws a nice ball and is accurate with his throws. He is a quarterback that is athletic enough to run the ball. He is not an athlete playing quarterback who looks to run first. Big difference. Good pickup. Here is hoping McBride gets a quarterback coach as a Christmas present from Tennessee.
It is all but certain Tennessee will be making staff changes in the near future. Butch Jones needs to hire who he wants. This upcoming year is critical for him at Tennessee.
Lets be real though. Butch Jones and four other staff members do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to recruiting.
Let’s hope he takes this opportunity to supplement his core group of talented recruiters with other talented recruiters that have experience beating SEC schools for players.
Next week my Cam Akers update
'X' Says:Tennessee landed yet another commitment for its 2017 recruiting class as Warren County High school (McMinnville, Tennessee) standout K'Rojhn (K-Ron) Calbert publicly committed to the VOLS Wednesday afternoon. Calbert is rated a 3 star prospect but I don't put much stock in the rating. Because of injury early on in his high school career, Calbert didn't have a body of work for the recruiting services to evaluate prior to his senior season.
Calbert suffered a knee injury during his freshman season. The surgery wasn't successful. He suffered a couple of setbacks and winded up missing the next two seasons recovering from the surgeries. All the time he kept growing. With no body of work on film, Calbert worked the camp circuit this past summer and immediately started receiving interest. Tennessee evaluated Calbert during the summer and monitored his play and health during his senior season, Calbert is 6'6" 280 lbs. He can run, he is athletic , has quick feet, and plays with a mean streak. If Calbert hadn't been setback by injury early in his career, he would likely be a top 10 prospect in the state of Tennessee not the 25th rated prospect. In short, Tennessee got a really good prospect here who has a chance to be a top level SEC player. While Calbert may only have a 3 star rating, Butch Jones just landed by all accounts a five-star athlete.
Calbert projects as an offensive lineman probably a tackle. He may get a look at defensive lineman though Butch Jones likes to collect offensive lineman the way he collects wide receivers.
Tennessee bested schools like Florida, Mississippi St, Oregon, South Carolina Missouri, Louisville, Illinois, and South Florida for Calbert. For a kid who grew up a Tennessee fan, once Tennessee offered, it was really only a matter of time before he committed.
So here we are two weeks of regular season football remaining. Tennessee has 26 commitments and a top 10 recruiting class. In my humble opinion, this class still has work to be done before it’s a finished product.
Offensively, the top remaining target appears to be in-state lineman Trey Smith. There are some services that rank Smith as the top lineman in the country for 2017. Smith will likely choose between Tennessee and Alabama. Tennessee will know where it stands with Smith shortly. Smith is a January enrollee.
Tennessee still needs one more running back to go with in-state running back Ty Chandler. Chandler is a dandy who has enjoyed a stellar senior season. He is one of the top running backs in the country. Right now, I don't see Tennessee as a clear cut leader for any other 2017 running backs though things can change quickly as coaching changes start to occur. True, running back Trey Coleman is currently committed to Tennessee. I am not sure he makes it to Tennessee. If he does, he may wind up as a linebacker.
Defensively, with the commitment of linebacker Will Ignont a couple of weeks ago Tennessee took a step in the right direction in upgrading its linebacker position. Counting Ignont, Tennessee has 4 linebackers currently committed. If you count in-state athlete Maliek Gray as a linebacker and not a safety, Tennessee has 5 linebackers committed. Gray maybe the top prospect in the class. Ignont, Gray and even Coleman (the aforementioned running back) is a good start at linebacker. Personally, not sure the other committed linebackers are SEC caliber.
I like Tennessee's secondary class. Cheyenne Labruzza and Terrence Bailey both from Louisiana are very good prospects. Labruzza is rated as the 30th best corner in the country. Watch his film, you will be hard pressed to find 29 better corner prospects than this kid. Bailey is a highly rated prospect with good ball skills. With both Bailey and Labruzza being from Louisiana, you hold your breath to signing day for fear that LSU comes in at the 11th hour and takes one or both of them away from you. The situation with both these kids is tenuous given the coaching situation with LSU.
I also like the Shamburger kid from Moultrie, Georgia. Another prospect with good ball skills from a really good high school program.
At safety, in-state athlete Theo Jackson has a chance to become a very good safety or nickel back. Yes, he is terribly raw but he possesses good ball skills and is an explosive athlete.
More to follow..........
'X' Says:Let's start here! Terrific news for Tennessee.
Commitment of Ty Chandler:
On Monday, Ty Chandler ended a week or two of rampant speculation and publicly committed to Tennessee. Chandler is a good one. He is a 5’11” 195 lb. running back from Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. Chandler is one of the top prospects in the state of Tennessee for 2017. Rivals has Chandler ranked as one of the top 100 prospects in the country regardless of position. Chandler is a top 100 prospect in the country and most services have him listed as one of the top 5 or 6 running backs in the country for this recruiting cycle.
He is a complete running back, meaning he is equally effective at running between tackles as he is catching a pass and out running pursuers to the corner. Also, he is dangerous as a kick returner as well. I don’t care what recruiting service you follow nor do I care what their ranking of Chandler is. The commitment of Chandler was a huge pick up for Tennessee and goes to the heart of addressing the biggest need in the 2017 recruiting class.
Also, reports vary on his forty time. In watching his film, all I know is defenders do not catch him from behind once he gets a step on them.
Chandler will have more than an opportunity to play in 2017. He is firmly in the mix to see a significant number of carries along with incumbents John Kelly, Jeremy Lewis, and Carlin Fils-Aime.
Chandler has been at the top of the running back board for over a year and now it will be interesting to see where Tennessee turns for running back #2 in the class. Tery Coleman from Louisiana is committed, though he is athletic enough he could play multiple positions in college. Tennessee will likely focus on Mississippi running back Cam Akers and Louisiana running back Travis Ettiene.
Both are big time prospects, but I'm not certain either one fit Tennessee as well as Chandler does. Akers, who is more of a between the tackle back, has Tennessee in his top group that include Florida State and Ohio State. While Ettiene, more of a change of pace back, has Tennessee in his top group after recently decommitting from Texas A&M.
Now To The Main Event:
Two plus weeks of fall camp in the books. Less than two weeks until game week. A few odds and ends that may interest only me.
The best news I have heard out of camp?
No significant injuries..... so far. Bumps and bruises to be sure, plus Butch Jones is managing the activity levels of a number of players on both sides of the ball. My fingers are crossed Tennessee can make it to game week with no significant setbacks. Have the changes in the strength and conditioning program made the difference? Has Butch Jones changed his approach? Personally, hope both have contributed to the lack of major injuries.
The best news I have seen out of camp?
Lets give credit where credit is due. Hats off to the Tennessee Athletics department. Good gesture toward the fan base for allowing the media covering the VOLs to release anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes of practice video on a somewhat regular basis. Of particular interest to me is to the activity level of the injured kids.
From the start of practice until Thursday, defensive tackle Shy Tuttle seems to be moving around so much better. Don't know if he will play early. I'm thinking he'll be ready to go by late September which is good news for Tennessee.
Also, JuJuan Jennings who has worn a green non-contact jersey throughout camp to date, looks like he will be full speed by September 1. It appears Jennings does not have any lingering effects from injuries that hampered him last season and in the spring. Looks like coaches are merely managing his level of activity throughout fall camp.
Pump the Brakes, Part 1:
I have to remember not one of these kids I am about to mention have played one down of meaningful football. With that said, Tennessee gets an A+ for the collective group of defensive back signed in 2015. Barring injury something unforeseen, true freshmen Marquill Osborne, Nigel Warrior, and Baylen Buchanan ALL are going to push upperclassmen for playing time in the secondary.
Not to mention all should be fixtures on special teams as well. Tennessee fans were well aware of how coveted a recruit Nigel Warrior was last recruiting cycle. For those that don't recall, Tennessee held off both Alabama and Ohio State for Marquill Osbourne, who was the one of top high school prospects produced by the state of North Carolina last cycle.
With Buchanan, who was Nigel Warrior's teammate last season, the more Tennessee scouted Warrior over the past two seasons the more Buchanan kept showing out on game video. He just made play after play as teams schemed away from Warrior. Buchanan chose Tennessee over Oklahoma and Ohio State.
Notice I haven't even mentioned true freshman Tyler Byrd. Byrd, who was recruited as a defensive back and may be the best defensive back of the entire group. However, because of a couple of defections and injury, Byrd was moved to wide receiver during the summer. He is not only competing for playing time there but he is competing to start at one of the three wide receiver positions.
Pump the Brakes Part 2:
Not sure how Tennessee continues to pull this off year in and year out. But, the 2015 wide receiver group signed by Tennessee looks to be one of their best yet. I have mentioned Tyler Byrd above. Byrd has stood out to be sure. However, Marquez Calloway, a top 100 player nationally last recruiting cycle, has really came along over the past week. Then you have Floridian Brandon Johnson, who has done nothing but impress all summer, is also expected to see significant snaps this season. Johnson is dealing with a couple of minor injuries right now but should be good to go soon. I haven't even mentioned speedster Latrell Williams who is just rounding into shape after rehabbing a tender hamstring.
Pump the Brakes Part 3:
Jarrett Guarantano: The one word description of his performance from Saturday is WOW. I don't think Guarantano plays this year, but I really wouldn't be surprised if he does. He's really special.
Other Stuff: X's & O's....
It is hard to find fault with the job the Head Football Coach has done since he got to campus. Dave Hart boarded a plane to Louisville all set to hire Charlie Strong... When that blew up, he then stumbled and bumbled to a hotel room off I-75 and hired Butch Jones virtually on the spot. Simply dumb luck the UTAD. Butch Jones loves this place and loves Tennessee football. I’m good with that. With that said, Coach Jones' fascination with controlling information of and about the football operation and program is beginning to reach an unhealthy level.
Tennessee holds the first scrimmage of the pre-season and neither the coaches nor players address the media until approximately 48 hours afterwards. The ultimate control freak himself Nick Saban held a press conference after Alabama's first pre-season scrimmage Saturday and did a fairly nice job of answering the softballs served up to him by the BAMA beat reporters.
Butch Jones never says a lot even when he does speak to the media but it would be nice to hear about the progress of the team, etc., less all the strategic details he is trying to protect . Or, maybe I’m just ready for real football.
I now know why Coach Jones holds Coach Azzani in such high favor. It is because Coach Azzani is just as super-sensitive about people criticizing his wide receivers and the wide receiver rotation as the head coach is about people second guessing some of his game day decisions.
It was quite clear on Friday our wide receiver coach/social media maven is aware of the criticism leveled at him and his position group. During media days when Coach Azzani was given an opportunity to rebut the criticism leveled at Tennessee's wide receiver rotation it didn't take him long to infer that a portion of the fans didn't really understand why the wide rotation was necessary. Not a good look for a coach whose position group is smack dab in the cross hairs of the fan base. Then, only to out-do himself, he then goes on to start explaining the "analytics" of the wide receiving rotation by the use of charts and GPS data and how much the receivers run per play and so on and so forth....
The more he tried to explain his way out of the mess he started, the odder the entire exchange seemed. Regardless, all will be forgiven, if the receivers hold up their end of the bargain this fall.
Here is hoping Tennessee has another productive but injury free week of fall practice.
All things being equal, hats off to Tennessee and Butch Jones for a terrific camp thus far.
I'll be back next week.
'X' Says:'Thanks for returning here for the second day of my projections. I've decided today to serve this up more quickly than yesterday. In case you missed my report on Tennessee's offense, I went out of my way to praise Butch Jones for running a different camp thus far than 2015. It seems to me Coach Jones is learning on the job and as Beano has said many times is acting as a guy with trust in his players.
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, on with the 2016 show.
I will give it the old college try but predicting a two deep here is impossible. Given Tennessee will run multiple schemes and use multiple personnel groupings a lot of kids will see a lot of snaps week in and week out. As a side note, barring a rash of injuries, this defense has a chance to be disruptive.
On September 1, I expect Derek Barnett and LaTroy Lewis to trot out with the first group. In the first quarter, I would expect to see Corey Vereen, Kyle Phillips, and redshirt freshman Darrell Taylor. Interested to see how Bob Shoop uses Darrel Taylor. My “pick to click” this season is Kyle Phillips. Injuries and the adjustment to college derailed Phillips’ first year in the program. Phillips is an elite talent I expect to flourish this season. Good luck to the OC trying to scheme these guys.
Khalil McKenzie and Danny O’Brien get the nod as starters. Kids like Kendall Vickers, DeMarya Mixon, Quay Picou and Andrew Butcher, who could be starters at other schools will be in the rotation. I don’t expect Shy Tuttle to play much or at all until mid September.
Jonathan Kongbo? I am intrigued as much as the next guy about him. He hasn't played much football at all in his young career. I don’t know whether to slot him as a defensive end or a defensive tackle. At 6’6” 280 lbs with speed he can and will probably line up at both during the season. There will be some mistakes along the way for him. He won't be perfect but I am anxious to see how he progresses.
The most critical position on the defense and to be honest the team in its entirety. Tennessee has two proven linebackers Darren Kirkland Jr and Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Both are SEC caliber.
For many defensive sets Tennessee will run, only two linebackers will be on the field much of the time.
With Maybin recovering from injury and limited, Tennessee is an injury to Darren Kirkland away from trouble at linebacker. There are a lot of pieces Coach Thigpen has to work with and it will be interesting to see who emerges as the next two or three linebackers in the rotation.
I expect Junior Cortez McDowell and Freshman Quarte Sapp to figure in the rotation. McDowell was injured most of last season. A special team’s stalwart, McDowell is not flashy but a solid contributor at linebacker. Sapp has impressed through the spring and summer workouts. He is uber athletic but lacks experience. My guess is if McDowell is healthy he gets linebacker #3 spot with Sapp close behind. Sapp is a big time talent but lacks experience. Sapp will be special team’s fixture and will be worked into the rotation.
At linebacker the real key is who backs up Darren Kirkland. Right now, if Kirkland suffered an in game injury Reeves-Maybin would probably move inside and his spot would be backfilled by McDowell or Sapp.
Senior Kenny Bynum is solid but not spectacular. He will play as will Colton Jumper.
Given the types of offenses Tennessee face most of the season I expect the nickel corner will be on the field a significant number of snaps. Malik Foreman gets the nod as a starter. If (and this is a big IF) Nigel Warrior shows he can hold down the safety spot I could see Rashaann Gaulden moving to nickel corner where in my opinion he is better suited. Micah Abernathy is talented enough to play nickel in case of injuries to Foreman or Gaulden.
Cam Sutton has a chance to be an All American. The other corner position is a bit more problematic. Emmanuel Mosely and Justin Martin seem to have a leg up on true freshman Marquill Osborne. Martin may be the best athlete is in the secondary. He needs to show it this fall or Osborne could win that position. Regardless of who winds that battle, it is going to be tough to keep Osborne off the field.
The most interesting battle of all camp will happen at safety. Tennessee lost its two starters from last season. Evan Berry and Todd Kelley Jr. played significant snaps in the second last season. Neither is assured of a starting spot though. Rashaan Gaulden who missed last season with a foot injury finished spring practice as their apparent starter at one safety. True Freshman Nigel Warrior and sophomores Micah Abernathy and Stephen Griffin are competing with Kelly for the other position.
Abernathy and Warrior will , in addition to their contribution on defense, will be key contributors on special teams.
We all expect Cam Sutton to have an exceptional season. Really need Justin Martin, RaShauun Gaulden and Todd Kelley Jr. to take the next step in their development this season.
And there you have it.
Check back for some recruiting information this time next week.
'X' Says: 'X's - Annual "2 deep" & More Report
As part of my contractual responsibility to Basilio, I am obligated to develop for loyal readership a "two-deep look" at the 2016 Tennessee Vols position by position. In actuality, the " two deep " is a look ahead to 2016 position by position and a whole lot more. We look at keys to getting through fall camp, what the coaches must do to fulfill the season expectations.
My first thought as I began writing the "2 deep" was "my how times have changed"! Only a couple of seasons ago, I struggled to come up with two deep at a number of positions. I wasn't alone to be honest..... the coaches had the same trouble that I did. If you recall, there has been more than one game a couple of seasons ago where Willie Martinez did not have enough healthy defensive backs to play dime coverage in the secondary. At some points in the season, when Tennessee went to multiple defensive backs, walk-ons had to be used.
Tennessee was so thin the back-ups consisted kids moved from one side of the ball to the other out of desperation , walk-ons or transfers. Most gave their best but in all honestly few were SEC caliber players. Some positions were void of talent I don’t think the coaches knew what the contingency plan was in the event injury.
In early August 2016, this Tennessee team looks the part. This team is talented and athletic. In terms of depth, Tennessee has quality depth , two and three deep, at most positions.
While the second and third teamers may lack a bit in experience, there is virtually no fall off in athleticism. The byproduct of the roster upgrade in speed and athleticism as Tennessee is far more athletic on special teams.
You have to give the credit here to Butch Jones Bob Welton and staff, they collectively have turned over and restocked the roster faster than most of us dreamed they could..... and yes many who read this are in that group of Volunteer fans who continue to worry recruiting is heading in the wrong direction.
Now To The 2016 Projections:
Tennessee brings back 17 starters on offense and defense . 2 more if you include special teams . Plus, many of the second line players have played meaningful snaps in SEC games. Though Tennessee is in a far better position this season than last season to absorb an injury or two, however have to come out of fall camp with your key guys ready to go.
That being said …. whether Tennessee has a good, very good, or special season may very well be determined during the next couple of weeks. Follow me here....
As someone who has seen pre-season camps under different Tennessee coaches going back several regimes, I will write unequivocally that the 2015 Butch Jones fall camp was one of the toughest I personally witnessed. Tennessee lost a number of players for the entire season and there were even a few kids that got so nicked up during camp it took them a couple of weeks into the regular season to heal.
Tennessee is loaded up and down the roster. SEC players abound jump off the page at you. However, Butch Jones has to do a better job of getting his guys use to contact and ready to go physically while not overdoing it.
Give Coach Jones, he parted ways with his longtime strength and conditioning coach because he perceived their strength training approach made some positions more susceptible to injury.
Hopefully, the change in philosophy regarding strength and conditioning and Coach Jones using a graded approach to physicality during fall camp will lead to a reduction in injuries.
1) Josh Dobbs… No secret here. Very hopeful that our coaches give him the freedom to take some chances down the field this season. Turn him loose and let him play.
2) Quinton Dormady… Really hard to list any other quarterback here . Dormady has game experience, a better than average arm, and knows the offense. I don’t think Jarret Guarantano is anywhere close to being ready to play. However, Guarantano’s physical skills are equal to any other quarterback on campus. All he lacks is game experience. Folks should not assume it is a foregone conclusion that Guarantano redshirts this season. The expectations about him coming into his freshman year were high. If his first week of practice performance is any indication, the quarterback battle in 2017 will be something to watch.
1. You have to bracket Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara as first team. Both are elite talents who will be counted on heavily. If Coach DeBord, decides to use more I formation with a lead full back or H-back as he did in the Northwestern game last season, the running game will be tough to slow down.
2. John Kelley. For any fans that have not seen John Kelley, you will do a double take on September 1. Over the offseason, he has remade his body. Kelley will not overtake Kamara or Hurd but he will be counted on to play meaningful snaps.
3. Carlin Fils-Aime. Word is already leaking out about how quick Fils-Aime looks. There is little doubt Fils-Aime will play this season. The amount he plays depends on how quickly he masters the play book and blocking schemes.
Tennessee can go 8 to 10 deep along the offensive line without any noticeable fall off in play. On September 1, I believe the starters and first line backups will look like.
Right Tackle – Brett Kendrick - Chance Hall
Right Guard – Dylan Weismann /Jack Jones
Center – Coleman Thomas
Left Guard – Jashon Robertson
Left Tackle – Drew Richmond
The reason I listed two players at right guard and right tackle is a starter won’t be determined until deep into fall camp. Jack Jones, Chance Hall and Brett Kendrick each are becoming such a good offensive lineman I don’t see how the coaches can keep them off the field.
Right behind the seven players listed above Tennessee has Venzell Boulware, Charles Mosely, and Austin Sanders. All lack significant SEC experience but can easily hold their own if injuries mount up.
Hard not to list both Jason Croom and Ethan Wolf as co-starters. Wolf gets the nod over Croom here. Their talents complement one another but Wolf has been able to stay healthy while Croom has fought the injury bug.
I for one hope Jason Croom’ s work in fall camp is managed. He is a nightmare matchup for defenses but he does not help at all if he is injured and unable to play.
Tennessee has solid depth behind Wolf and Croom in Eli Wolf and Jakob Johnson. Before the season is over, all four tight ends will play significant roles.
As much as the performance of this position group and its coach have been criticized, Tennessee has assembled a really good looking group of wide receivers. In spite of failing to meet expectations last season and to some extent even the season before, Tennessee still seems to sign a nice set of receivers every season. 2016 was no exception. The four freshmen and JUCO wide receivers signed are good enough where each will have a chance to play this season.
This is a big year for the receivers as a group as their position coach. Regardless of what position I put these kids. They will line up in different positions depending on the defensive alignments. There are a couple of these kids that have a chance to be very productive receivers. Here is hoping this group can avoid significant injury and the coaching staff gives them opportunities to make plays down the field.
Josh Smith will get the start on September 1 but I expect true freshman Tyler Byrd to play in the slot and to see a lot of snaps. Byrd can be a difference maker. Barring injury, I have a hard time believing Tyler Byrd isn’t a key contributor on offense and on special teams this season.
1. Preston Williams
1. Josh Malone
It is time for Williams and Malone to be productive. Both kids have as much physical ability as anyone other wide receiver in the SEC. Both have a history of injury issues. It is important that Williams and Malone are healthy and ready to go September 1.
2. JuJuan Jennings
2. Brandon Johnson
Hard not to see JuJuan Jennings being a key contributor at a wide receiver. He is as talented as any wide receiver in the group. His talent gives Coach DeBord the ability to use a few gadget plays and a lot more of the playbook when he is in the game . If the coaching staff is not going to utilize his talent, move Jennings to free safety. The kid is athletic enough to be an all SEC performer at wide receiver or at safety.
Barring injury true freshman Brandon Johnson will play. Right now, I think he is ahead of Junior College receive Jeff George and fellow true freshman Marquez Calloway. A week into fall camp and Johnson looks like one of the steals of the class. Interesting that none of the Florida schools heavily recruited him even though he looks to play an important role for Tennessee. Brandon Johnson physically looks like he belongs in the SEC. Watching to see how he responds when the lights come on.
Though I would really like to see Tennessee reduce the rotation to about 6 receivers a game , I fully expect Tennessee to play upwards of 8 or 9 receivers.
Check back on Wednesday as I'll project the 2016 two deep. As a preview I'll tell you that I really need to roll my sleeves up on that one. Lots of positions in flux. Especially projecting impact players going forward.
I'm really excited for 2016. Hope you are too!
'X' Says:Big Boy Commitments
Tennessee stepped into the state of Virginia to land its most recent additions to the 2017 commitment list. Twin brothers Brandon and Breyon Gaddy publicly announced their intention to sign with the University of Tennessee come signing day in February 2017.
The Gaddy's are big pickups for Tennessee both literally and figuratively. Physically, Brandon, the smaller of the twins, standing a mere 6"4" 270 lbs. Breyon checks in a bit larger than Brandon standing 6'5" packing somewhere between 335 and 350 lbs on that frame depending on who you listen to.
Breyon is a top 10 defensive tackle in the country and will have a chance to be a dominant defensive tackle in college. He has been on top or at the top of Tennessee's defensive tackle board virtually from the outset of this recruiting cycle. Go watch his film. When he turns it on, he is unblockable.
The knock on him is that he has a tendency to take plays off which leads into my next point. He carries a lot of "unproductive weight" on that 6'5" frame right now. Participation in a structured strength and conditioning program will get his body in shape to compete down in and down out. He is not ready to be a dominant and may actually need a redshirt. Nonetheless, the potential is there.
Breyon Gaddy has a top tier offer list including commutable offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, and others.
Where brother Brandon plays in college is a little more of a mystery. Brandon is a better athlete than brother Breyon at least He is a better at least that is my assessment after watching his film. He is faster and has better feet than Breyon. He too needs to reshape his body. He has the athleticism to play defensive end or tackle. Alternatively, he could wind up at offensive tackle even at tight end. Personally, I would like to see him chasing the quarterback off the edge.
Brandon was not as highly sought after as brother Breyon which is a bit of a mystery . My guess is schools viewed him as a good prospect at a number of positions but not a great prospect at any position because the kid is talented enough to play a number of positions in college. Brandon had offers from Michigan State, Florida, Virginia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, and a hand full of others.
Defensive tackle is a huge position of need in the 2017 class and Tennessee has three dandies. Put Breyon Gaddy with committed defensive tackles of Kivon Bennett and Eric Crosby and that group exceeds expectations. All three of these defensive tackle prospects in some order or fashion are at the top of Tennessee's defensive tackle board.
With brother Brandon, you don't turn away jumbo athletes who can run.
With the commitments of Breyon and Brandon Gaddy, Tennessee has 20 public commitments and a number 9 ranked class in the country.
What is next for the Vols?
I will be watching three prospects over the next few weeks. Offensive lineman Billie Ross from Charleston West Virginia is scheduled to announce his commitment by the end of July. It is either Tennessee of North Carolina for Ross. A week ago I thought Ross was a Volunteer. Now, I’m not certain.
Linebacker Justin Foster from Shelby, North Carolina could announce a commitment virtually any day. Foster is down to Tennessee or Clemson. Tennessee has long been the favorite for Foster but Clemson has closed ranks of late. I still like Tennessee here. However, Foster is one of the better linebackers in the Southeast and will continue to be courted by schools even after a public commitment.
Defensive End Jordan Williams Virginia Beach, Virginia. Williams is one of the top defensive end prospects in the country. Rightfully so, Williams is at the top of the defensive end board for any number of teams. Right now, Williams is scheduled to announce a school in early August. Currently, it is a dead heat between Tennessee and Clemson.
Wide Receiver Ryan Newsome has announced he is leaving the University of Texas. Newsome is a 5’8, 175 pound slot receiver/kick returner from Aledo, Texas. Newsome is an electric athlete with the ball in his hands. Newsome was a 2015 recruit ended up signing with the home state school over UCLA and Tennessee. He skills never seemed to fit in the Texas offense but his skills are a great fit for Tennessee. As a freshman at Texas, he caught 4 balls and returned 6 kicks for just over 100 yards.
Distance from home by his parents was an issue from Newsome coming out of his school. All things being equal, I could see him coming to Tennessee. Newsome would not be eligible this season but would become eligible for the 2017 season.
From the Land of Captain Obvious:
As with every recruiting cycle, names on a commitment list in late July are nothing more than place holders. Tennessee has 20 public commitments and still has work to do with its current roster to be in a position to sign a full class of 25 in 2017.
There are at least half dozen 2017 uncommitted prospects who have a spot in Tennessee's class whether they commit today, next week , or the first Wednesday in February.
These include offensive lineman Trey Smith, running backs Cam Akers and Ty Chandler, wide receiver Jeremiah Holliman, the aforementioned defensive end Jordan Williams and Georgia defensive end MJ Webb, safety Jacoby Stevens, defensive back DeAngelo Gibbs, linebacker the aforementioned Justin Foster. This means as much as many don't like the practice there will be a prospect or two that will be recruited over (Actually can't believe I’m writing about kids getting recruited over in mid July ).
Point is no need to worry about names or numbers in July. Tennessee has momentum and recruiting seems to be headed in the right direction and recruiting will be just fine.
Peace & Hydrate if you live in Tennessee. Dog days are here!
'X' Says:A few random thoughts before the unofficial start of the 2016 college football season. Yes, it is here SEC Media Days start today!!!!!!
SEC Media Days
I never thought I would say this but I really miss Coach Spurrier. I looked forward to his press conference more than any part of the event. Now, in these times of political correctness, Media Days is kind of meh.
Four days of players and coaches spending a bunch of time with microphones in front of their faces but saying very little. Butch Jones is at the top of the ladder in this respect. But what can we look forward to? Butch Jones will be asked about the Title IX lawsuit, Butch Jones will throw out a couple of new slogans, Les Miles and Bret Bielema will say things that make you scratch your head, Hugh Freeze will profess his innocence, and Nick Saban will be will probably complain yet again about the proliferation of up tempo offenses. The media worship of Nick Saban is all time gross.
I wish one media person had the coconuts to ask Saban about having to fire an assistant coach for recruiting violations. It won't happen. That story got out of the news cycle faster than a Tennessee wide receiver rotation gets off the field after a play.
It will be interesting if YAHOO drops another hammer on the recruiting improprieties going at Ole Miss as many expect YAHOO to do. Ole Miss thumbed their nose at Alabama and Auburn, two of the best at recruiting in the gray area, when Ole Miss was warned to tone it down. Really going to be interesting to see how this plays out.
The Tee Higgins Deal
Anytime you lose a highly rated kid in your backyard to another school it is a blow. Normally, the fan base is impacted more than the coaching staff. However, this Tee Higgins thing is a bit different. In terms of recruiting, you can't fault Tennessee. They made the kid a priority, they recruited him hard, and did everything the right way. My understanding is Tennessee recruited the kid and his family harder than any other school.
However, my guys tell me there was apparently a concerted effort to mislead Tennessee's coaches, current players and the kid's friends on the team, and lifelong VOL fans the kid's family knew. I’m all for a kid going to the school of his choosing. However, the events leading up to his decision seem to stick it in the face of the kid's "dream school" (not my words his).
What next? Tennessee moves on. Attracting wide receiver talent to Tennessee has never been a problem. After a season where Tennessee's leading receiver failed to gain more than 400 yards all season, Tennessee signed 2, top 100 wide receiver prospects in Marquez Calloway and Tyler Byrd.
Tennessee can evaluate and recruit talented wide receiver prospects. The top of the wide receiver board looks like this:
Coconut Grove Florida wide receiver Jerrell Jeudy (6'2" 180 lbs) has indicated he plans to visit Tennessee, Florida Alabama, and Miami before signing day; Jeremiah Holliman (6'3" 190 lbs) from Covington Georgia has also said he plans to take official visits to Georgia, Tennessee, and LSU; Justin Marshall (6"3" 190 lbs from Covington Georgia has been on campus numerous times during the spring and summer and likes Tennessee and Auburn; and, Jordan Murphy (6'1' 175 lbs) from Hattiesburg, MS. Murphy has offers from Ole Miss, Alabama, Miss State, and Tennessee.
Again..recruiting is not the issue
What I have concern about is what happens once Tennessee gets the kids in school. The results through the Zac Azzani/Butch Jones reign have at best been so-so. Others would probably call the progress pathetic.
Objectively, you could see what happened with Tee Higgins coming months ago. Higgins is a wide receiver and a good one. Get him the ball and he can make explosive plays. Clemson gets maximum benefit from its playmakers. Clemson does an excellent job of getting their playmakers the ball with an opportunity to make explosive plays. Tennessee hasn't figured out how to do that on a consistent basis. In fact, Tennessee has struggled keeping wide receivers healthy enough to have their pads on much less on the field regularly making plays.
It is a real head scratcher to me Tennessee's 2015 Defensive Coordinator got whacked for a couple poor defensive calls late in the Oklahoma and Florida games. Yet, over the course of 2, 13 game seasons, Tennessee passing game has not been able to get out of its own way. In fact, the passing game has been a liability. One can only wonder how effective the running game could be if defensive coordinators respected Tennessee's passing game. However, there was apparently no basis to make a change in the passing game coordinator in the off season. That is on the Head Coach.
Many in the Tennessee family will consider this recruiting class a failure unless Tee Higgins is a part of it. Not me. Tennessee is as deep and as talented at wide receiver as any position on the team. Tennessee can overcome losing Higgins.
The success or lack thereof for the 2017 class is whether Tennessee can land 2 difference making running backs, difference making defensive lineman, and a couple of play making defensive backs and linebackers.
Recruiting In General:
18 commitments in mid July. A top 10 recruiting class. 6 months to signing day and a whole football season to be played.
Tennessee is in the mix for many highly rated prospects. However, as I mentioned to Basilio last week, something just seems to be out of sync right now with recruiting.
After a ringing New Year’s Day Bowl victory and tons of pre season hype, one would reasonably believe 2017 recruiting would explode. Even though Tennessee continues to recruit at a very good level it seems like recruiting this cycle takes 2 steps forward and a step and a half backwards. Just when you think Tennessee is getting hot there seems to be a setback of some sorts.
Wins against SEC foes Florida and Georgia could certainly gets things back on the right track.
As disappointed as some are with recruiting to date, Tennessee has cobbled together a top ten recruiting class to date. Also, remember this time last recruiting cycle Tyler Byrd arguably the top signee in the 2015 class was solidly committed to Miami, Jonathan Kongbo was a figment of our imagination, and it was anyone's guess as to where Nigel Warrior would end up. All are VOLS.
More Work to be done in the Mid Atlantic Area?
Speaking of commitments Tennessee picked up a commitment over the weekend from West Virginia offensive lineman Riley Locklear. Tennessee bested Florida State, Penn State, Virginia Tech , Michigan State and others for Locklear's commitment. Locklear stands 6'5" 295 lbs. Locklear projects as an offensive tackle in my opinion. Locklear's public announcement is number 18 for Tennessee.
Locklear is the second prospect from the Mid-Atlantic area to commit to Tennessee and Tennessee still has an opportunity to make hay in the Mid Atlantic.
Tennessee is waiting on the announcement from another West Virginia offensive lineman named Billie Ross. Ross is similar in build to Locklear but maybe just a tad more athletic . Tennessee is recruiting Ross as a center. and selling him on the opportunity to replace Coleman Thomas once Thomas moves on. Ross will choose between Tennessee and North Carolina in the coming weeks. Ross has family ties to the Tar Heels but Tennessee likes its chances here.
Tennessee also likes its chance with Brendon and Brandon Gaddys from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Brendon Gaddys physically is a load. He stands 6'5" 330 lbs and has offers from nearly every SEC, ACC, and Big Ten school. Brendon Gaddys is an elite defensive tackle prospect that could play for most every school in the country. On the other hand his brother Brandon is a highly rated prospect as well. The difference in their recruitments is Brendon Gaddy is a defensive tackle in college . Brandon Gaddy's position is more of an unknown. Physically, Brandon Gaddy stands 6'4" 260 lbs. He could play tight end, defensive end, interior offensive line or possibly defensive tackle. Regardless, a number of teams including Tennessee are recruiting both Gaddys.
Also, Tennessee is in the mix for Washington DC defensive end Tyree Johnson. John stands 6'4" 220 lbs and attends St John’s College High. Johnson has 20 plus offers including one from Tennessee. Tennessee is firmly in the mix here and will likely receive an official visit from Johnson.
Another defensive end prospect to watch is Elijah Conliffe from Hampton, Virginia. Conliffe has an SEC body at 6"4" 280 lbs. Conliffe was a top target of Penn State when Bob Shoop was coordinating their defense. Conliffe attended Orange Carpet Day and m understanding is Tennessee is firmly in the mix for Conliffe.
Butch Jones has been selling the 2016 football season to recruits for the last 3 recruiting cycles. Now it is time to beat schools that have been cleaning up on Tennessee for years. You do that. Recruiting will take care of itself.
'X' Says:Fresh off a productive recruiting weekend, Tennessee kept the balling rolling Monday. Tennessee filled a position of need for the 2017 class by receiving a public commitment from St. Thomas Aquinas , Florida, defensive tackle Kivon Bennett.
Bennett is a 6-foot-3, 265-pound prospect. Bennett chose the Vols over the Alabama , LSU, , Florida, Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan and Georgia, among several other scholarship offers.
Bennett is rated as a four star prospect and his offer list is a who's who of tens from all across the country.
Bennett is a high motor guy. True , he is a bit undersize as a junior in high school at 265 lbs but he has plenty of time to add good weight. Bennett comes from an excellent high school program that plays the best competition in the country on a year in and year out basis.
Tennessee is going to get hit hard by graduation after the 2017 campaign across the defensive front. The addition of prospects like Bennett and Eric Crosby from Virginia certainly take a step toward backfilling the defensive line coffers.
Bennett's commitment was the latest in a weekend wrought with greatest recruiting hits. Tennessee had a landmark Orange Carpet recruiting event on Saturday. The football talent on campus Saturday was as good a group collectively as any group ever on campus for a Tennessee football event.
By the time the folding chairs were put away Saturday evening Tennessee had picked up 7 new 2017 football commitments. For you rankings guys, Tennessee vaulted from roughly the 22nd ranked 2017 class coming into the weekend and now the class is a consensus top ten class across the recruiting services.
Personally, stars and ratings by these services don't matter that much to me. Butch Jones and Bob Welton evaluations are plenty good enough for me. Too, I go by eye test and speaking to those in the know like Dr, Sinclair who will give you his opinion on Wednesday.
In summary, Tennessee cemented its foundation for the 2017 class over the weekend.
A snapshot of each 2017 commitment that went public on Saturday.
Latrell Bumphus, Savannah, Tennessee. Bumphus is a 6'4" 235 lb jumbo athlete that held offers from 15 plus schools including Texas A&M, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, Southern California, and Oregon. Bumps is one of the top 10 prospects in state for 2017. Interested to see how Bumphus develops physically between now and time he shows up on campus next June. He will probably get a look at tight first at Tennessee. He may be a better fit as a defensive end or defensive tackle. Bumphus is a kid this staff wanted from the onset. He is a four star prospect and I would anticipate his offer list to do nothing but expand as he goes through his senior season.
Princeton Fant, Lavergne, Tennessee (6'2" 207 lbs). Fant is being recruited as a wide receiver. He was on everyone's radar until a knee injury cut his junior season short. Tennessee has stayed with him and they may be getting steal here. He seems to have fully recovered from the injury. Before his injury, Fant was as good a prospect as any of the other in state prospect. He is athletic with good hands
Tennessee beat Ole Miss for Fant.
Tre Coleman, West Monroe, Louisiana. I think Trey Coleman is a steal. It is clear the two top running backs on Tennessee's board are Ty Chandler and Cam Akers. To be sure, Tennessee will take at least two backs in the 2017 class. Is it possible Chandler and Akers both fall Tennessee's way ? Sure, it is possible but not probable. Coleman is at the top of that tier of prospects just below Chandler and Akers. He is a big kid standing 6'1" 205 lbs. What I like about Coleman is he is quick, shifty, good vision and rarely does one tackler bring him down. He is a winner too. He was 5A All-State First-Team and LSWA Class 5A All-State Honorable Mention last season and the leading rusher for the No. 1 ranked team in the state's highest classification. Arkansas and Miss State were the others seriously involved for Coleman. Both those schools regularly produce tough minded and solid SEC running backs.
Theo Jackson, 6'2" 175 lbs for Nashville Ensworth High Tennessee. The VOLS got a jump on the competition namely LSU, Alabama, Miami, and Ole Miss among others by doing a timely evaluation of Jackson. Jackson is a long and lean athlete who could play receiver or defensive back in college. Regardless of what side of the ball he plays on Jackson is instinctive and has excellent ball skills. I would anticipate Jackson picks up many more suitors into his senior year of high school.
Tre Lawson 6"5" 245 lbs North Augusta, South Carolina. Lawson is an intriguing prospect. He projects as a defensive end or defensive tackle depending on how he fills out in college. Looking at his frame, Lawson can easily carry enough weight to play inside in the SEC. . Lawson is rated as the 8th best prospect in the South Carolina for 2017. Tennessee beat South Carolina , Florida and Florida State for Lawson. Lawson has tremendous upside and it is unlikely those schools will cease recruiting him. I don't think anyone questions the athleticism or potential. The question is whether he goes at it 100% all the time. His potential is unquestioned.
Jaquan Henderson 6'1" 210 lbs linebacker from Newton Covington, Georgia. My understanding is Henderson is a linebacker that was at the top the he staff want list for linebackers. Henderson is a perfect fit for an outside linebacker in Tennessee's scheme cut in the same mold as Reeves-Maybin and Quarte Sapp. He is as quick and athletic as a defensive back and tracks the ball carrier like a missile. Michigan and UCLA were the other teams standing out for Henderson. Another great pick up for Tennessee.
Jordan Tucker Roswell, Georgia. 6'7" 335 lbs , offensive tackle. Love the commitment from Jordan Tucker. Tucker is a project and he needs to spend a lot of time in the weight room and on the treadmill reshaping his body. He has ample time to do that. Tucker has a couple of things that can't be coached. He has size and length. More importantly for me anyway is he plays with a mean streak. Tucker won't be rushed to get on the field here because of the depth Tennessee has amassed at tackle. He is a development prospect and he fits the blueprint of the offensive tackle bodies this staff loves to collect. Tucker held a dozen or so offers. Tennessee beat North Carolina and South Carolina for Tucker.
Tee MailMORE FROM X:
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Over the last couple of weeks, I have noticed something very interesting has happened with respect to recruiting. Tennessee's recruiting machine has found another gear. Almost like new life has been blown into the recruiting operation.
Maleik Gray arguably one of the top three prospects in state for 2017 spurned serious runs by Florida State and Alabama and publicly committed to Tennessee.. That appeared to get recruiting kick started on the eve of Orange Carpet Day. Now, it appears recruiting is rolling.
In addition to this really nice public news here are a few other key pieces of information to keep in mind as Tennessee fills out the remainder of its 2017 class.
Tennessee IN MY OPINION, is now a clear leader for the following 2017 prospects **
Wide Receiver Tee Higgins Oak Ridge, TN)
Running Back Ty Chandler (Nashville, TN)
Offensive Lineman Trey Smith (Jackson, TN)
Offensive Lineman Riley Locklear (Huntington, WV)
Offensive Line Billie Ross (Huntington,WV)
Defensive Back DeAngelo Gibbs (Suwanee, GA)
Defensive Tackle Breyon Gaddy (Virginia Beach, VA)
Defensive End Jordan Williams Defensive End (Virginia Beach, VA)
Too, Tennessee is in the top schools for:
Defensive End Malik Herring (Forsyth, Ga)
Quarterback Jack Sears (San Clemente, CA)
Running Back Cam Akers (Clinton, MS)
Wide Receiver Jeremiah Holliman (Covington, GA)
Def Tackle Kivon Bennett (St Thomas Aquinas, FL)
Linebacker Justin Foster (Shelby, NC)
Defensive End Michael Allen (Buford, GA)
Cornerback Lamont Wade (Clairton PA)
** For you star gazers all the kids Tennessee "leads for" or is in "the top group for" are 4 or 5 star prospects
And, while I believe it is still pie in the sky thinking, mid-state athlete Jacoby Stevens, who I never thought was coming to Tennessee, may at least give Tennessee a closer look than I ever believed that he would.
Appreciate you reading.
'X' Says:By all accounts the Orange & White "Festival" was a success . Beautiful day, great turnout, lots of VFLs back in town, and only a few bumps and bruises to show for an hour and a half of competitive events with a little 11 on 11 mixed in.
In terms of recruiting, Tennessee had a very successful day. It picked up three, solid public commitments, it cemented itself as the team to beat for a number of its highest priority 2017 and 2018 prospects, and Saturday made a number of others prospects reconsider their position on Tennessee.
Let's look at each one of the commitments
Solon Page , linebacker from Marietta, Georgia. Page is 6"2" 200 lbs. Hard to argue with Tommie Thigpen's blueprint for developing SEC linebackers. Take long athletic kids who can run put weight on them and turn them loose. Page actually looks skinnier than 200 lbs. What jumps off the tape is his athleticism but mores his closing speed. Some doubters will cite Page's lack of offers from SEC schools Tennessee is reaching for a kid they could have picked up later. Not me. The only thing that matters to me is Tennessee offered Solon Page approximately three years ago and they have never wavered in their pursuit of him. Their willingness to take a commitment from him in April when so many highly touted linebackers have Tennessee in their top group speaks volumes about what they think of him.
KD Nixon, slot receiver/athlete from DeSoto, Texas. Told you last Friday to keep an eye on Nixon. Nixon has been trending to Tennessee for a few weeks. The recruiting of Nixon is just getting started. Now that his commitment has been made public you can be assured all the Texas schools that haven't recruited him will take another look at his film.
This staff collects wide receivers so taking Nixon is no surprise. In fairness, though Nixon is one explosive looking athlete. Tennessee has been using wide receivers in the slot position but Nixon to me looks like a true slot receiver.
At 5"8 and 181 pounds he is solid enough to take contact and yet explosive enough to make big plays. Do yourself a favor and watch his highlight tape. If he makes it to Tennessee , he is a perfect fit for the offense.
I would envision Nixon being used very much like the staff is planning to use Alvin Kamara this season. Whether running back, slot receiver, or in the return game all Nixon needs is space. What impressed me about his tape. If he gets a step on a defender he isn't getting tackled from behind.
It will be interesting to see if Tennessee can hold onto Nixon.
Cheyenne Labruzza, cornerback from Albany, Louisiana. As impressive as KD Nixon's tape is, Cheyenne Labruzza's tape is more impressive. While he is average height for a cornerback (6'0"), check out his length. He has got one set of long arms to be sure. In addition, Labruzza has excellent ball skills, attacks the line of scrimmage, and can run with wide receiver. Labruzza is a big time athlete in the state of Louisiana. He is a prospect LSU has high their board. It is somewhat surprising that a prospect of Labruzza's caliber would commit to a school other than LSU.... I expect many schools including LSU, Alabama and others to make a serious run at him.
The positive is maybe he is just one of those kids who wants or needs to get away from home. It will be a fight to hold on to him until February.
'X' Says:This is the first time Basilio has wanted me to blog about my mock recruiting class. So here you have X’s mid-April 2017 mock recruiting class. This is not a “dream class” . I don't do dream classes. For every prospect named below, Tennessee either leads or is in the top group of schools for vying for the prospect’s signature. True, there are a couple of prospects on my list that a number of things will need to fall Tennessee’s to land them. But landing those prospects is not unreasonable.
I expect Tennessee to win the East and play in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. Based upon those assumptions, Tennessee has been given the benefit of the doubt with a couple of in state kids who may be on the fence as of mid-April.
To be honest, I did not matter to me when putting this together whether the prospect has an offer from Tennessee, is committed to another school, or anything else. This is my compilation of prospects that Tennessee reasonably could sign in 2017
With that said, Tennessee will sign a full class in 2017. My idea of a full class is 25 signees. Butch Jones idea of a full class is 30 signees…. For the purposes of the mock class, I split the difference and say Butch Jones works his magic and Tennessee signs 27 prospects.
Friday, we focused on offense. Today I'm dealing with the defense. Spread the word!
Defensive Line (6 or 7)
Let us remember in the 2016 recruiting cycle Tennessee failed to sign a single high school defensive lineman (assuming per the coaches that Daniel Bituli begins his career at Tennessee as a linebacker).
Also, after the 2016 season, Corey Vereen, Latroy Lewis, and Daniel O’Brien all seniors will be moving on. Those three Volunteers if nothing else have been dependable and showed up ready to play every Saturday.
Too, Derek Barnett could opt for the NFL as could JUCO signee Jonathan Kongbo if he has a superlative 2016 season.
What I'm saying is 2017 is a recruiting cycle where Tennessee cannot fall short of expectations when it comes to defensive lineman.
Tennessee has playing time to offer in 2017 even with quality depth returning. You can offer two or three immediate playing time but in 2018 these 2017 defensive line signees become your core group.
Expect Tennessee to sign 6 if not 7 defensive lineman.
Eric Crosby (6’4” 270 lbs. Virginia Beach, Virginia). 2017 is not a great year for elite defensive tackle prospects. However, there are a number of exceptionally good prospects at the defensive tackle position. Crosby is a very good prospect (Crosby is listed as the #6 defensive tackle in the country). VOL fans will not have to wait long to know what Crosby is going to do. He is planning to announce his college decision a week from today. Tennessee has been his leader for months. I think this one falls to Tennessee.
Rutger Reitmaier (6’3” 280 lbs. Nashville, Tennessee). Reitmaier is the top defensive tackle in the state of Tennessee. Here is yet another prospect that has seen his stock steadily rise since the completion of his junior year. Tennessee leads here but Duke is a legitimate and potential destination for Reitmaier.
Tee MailMarquez Bembry (6’3” 210 lbs. Atlanta, Georgia). Bembry is one of the three prospects committed to Tennessee. Love his athleticism and explosiveness off the edge. Bembry is one of those prospects Tennessee identified that Bembry’s skill set fit Tennessee’s defensive scheme based upon film study. Offered him before the other SEC schools probably had seen much of his film. Bembry skills and athleticism fit perfectly in Tennessee’s defensive scheme.
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Zac Carter (6’4” 230 lbs. Tampa, Florida). Carter is one of the state of Florida’s elite defensive ends in 2017. Carter is being recruited by schools all over the country. He is a the top of many a recruiting boards including Tennessee’s. Closing on kids from Florida the ins ate schools covet is a tough assignment. Carter has a long time relationship and connection with Larry Scott.
Jordan Williams (6’5” 240 lbs) Virginia Beach, Virginia. Williams is one of the five top prospects in the state of Virginia and nationally Williams rated as a top 200 prospect regardless of position. Ranked a three star, his offer list speaks louder than his star rating. With Virginia and Virginia Tech breaking in new staffs the Virginia Beach , which traditionally turns produces high level football talent, is for the taking. Tennessee needs to strike while these programs are in transition.
Brandon Jones (6’6” 275 lbs. Dacula, Georgia) Jones is listed as a strong side defensive end though he probably grows into a defensive tackle in college. Tennessee was the first school to offer Jones.
De’Morral Burham (6’2” 220 lbs. Conyers , Georgia) Burnham is committed to Tennessee. Really like the athleticism of Burnham. Looks like the heir to Darrin Kirkland, Jr. Tennessee will have its hands full because Auburn and Georgia will not quit recruiting Burnham.
Solon Page , Outside Linebacker (6’2” 190 lbs. Marietta, Georgia). Tennessee is recruiting and has offered ten prospects with similar skill set as Page. Page has worked his way to the top of the board because he has the size to cover tight ends, athleticism to cover wide receivers, and speed off the edge to disrupt a quarterback. He plays fast and physical. He is one to those players whose athleticism jumps off the screen when you watch his film. I'm not a star gazer. He is a GREAT pick up. A job well done by the staff on Saturday getting him to commit.
Santino Marchol, Outside Linebacker (6’3” 230 lbs) IMG Academy Bradenton, Florida. Marchol is a big, athletic linebacker type who could grow into a defensive end though Tennessee is not recruiting him at that position. What helps Tennessee with Marchol is even though the Florida schools covet him he has no allegiance to the state of Florida. He was born in Colorado. Tennessee is standing out for him right now.
Defensive Back (2) *
TJ Carter (5’11” 180 lbs. Nashville Stratford Tennessee).
You need kids like TJ Carter in your signing class every cycle. Carter has excellent technique, skilled athlete, smart and yes he will hit you. Carter is an SEC caliber player who is being courted by both SEC and ACC schools. I can see him starting at a corner or nickel position before his career is over. Louisville is in play here and it may be a little tougher to get him out of the mid state than originally thought. I expect him to wind up a VOL in the end.
Yussef Corker (6'0" 175 lbs, Woodbridge, Georgia).
Here is yet another prospect that has a star rating that does not match up with his offer list. Virtually every school in the ACC and the SEC offered Corker including Clemson, Florida State, Florida, Alabama, and others. All that I need to know about Corker's skills are Nick Saban at Alabama wants this kid and Bud Foster at Virginia Tech does as well. Those two coaches have evaluated many a defensive back and put who knows how many in the NFL. Corker is a kid you take every day.
Corker could contribute at any position in the secondary . You could see Corker as a starter at corner, a nickel corner , or in special defensive sets. At a minimum he would be a fixture on special teams for the four years he is on campus.
Tennessee has a very good chance here.
*Remember that a number of the six prospects I have noted as “Athletes” are defensive backs/
My mock class includes 12 Tennessee kids, 7 from Georgia, and 3 from Florida. I could see the number of signees from Florida being bumped up a signee or two.
Hopefully I am a prospect or two low on the Georgia projection. When Tennessee is very good, its roster is chocked full of Georgia kids.
Not sure about where this mock class would be ranked nationally. I do know different services have Akers, Higgins, Carter, and Gibbs rated as five star prospects.
Notable prospects not on this list include Murfreesboro, athlete Jacoby Stevens, Knoxville athlete Amari Rogers, West Tennessee running back Codarrian Richardson and North Carolina linebacker Justin Foster. Tennessee won't quit recruiting these prospects but there is a lot group to be made up.
I firmly believe if Tee Higgins opts to sign elsewhere with any school not named Tennessee many will look at this class as failing to meet expectations. Additionally, pandemonium will reign. There will be a spike in couch burnings and visits to the local emergency rooms in East Tennessee that first Wednesday of February in 2017. Personally, I hope he goes where he wants to go.
Even with a glut of SEC spring games Saturday, Tennessee is had a group of elite 2017 and 2018 prospects on campus. Great stuff is coming. Now the Vols must win on the field in 2016 to amp it up a notch.
'X' Says:I do this every recruiting cycle but if memory serves me, this is the first time Basilio has wanted me to blog about my mock recruiting class. So here you have X’s mid-April 2017 mock recruiting class. This is not a “dream class.” I don't do "dream classes." For every prospect named below, Tennessee either leads or is in the top group of schools for vying for the prospect’s signature. True, there are a couple of prospects on my list that a number of things will need to fall Tennessee’s way to land them. But landing those prospects is not unreasonable.
I expect Tennessee to win the East and play in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. Based upon those assumptions, Tennessee has been given the benefit of the doubt with a couple of in-state kids who may be on the fence as of mid-April.
It did not matter to me when putting this together whether the prospect has an offer from Tennessee, is committed to another school, or anything else. This is my compilation of prospects that Tennessee reasonably could sign in 2017. Not to brag, but I've done pretty well on these projections in years past.
With that said, Tennessee will sign a full class in 2017. My idea of a full class is 25 signees. Butch Jones idea of a full class is 30 signees…. For the purposes of the mock class, I split the difference and say Butch Jones works his magic and Tennessee signs 27 prospects.
New category here. Prospects that are currently playing one or multiple positions in high school but project to play another position based upon growth or need at Tennessee.
Theo Jackson (6’2” 180 lbs., Nashville, TN). Jackson’s frame reminds me of the type of cornerbacks Tennessee now targets. He is also a very accomplished wide receiver. I could see him playing either position at Tennessee. Tennessee was the first school to offer Jackson though other SEC schools have followed Tennessee’s lead.
Maleik Gray (6’1” 195 lbs., Lavergne, TN). Gray is being recruited as a safety but if he continues to grow he could wind up as an outside linebacker. Gray is one of the top prospects not only in the state but in the Southeast as well. Tennessee will have to fend off Florida State here.
Chase Hayden (5’11” 185 lbs., Germanton, TN). Many thought it was a foregone conclusion Hayden would end up at Tennessee following his father Aaron’s footsteps. To be honest, my instinct tells me Tennessee passively recruited Hayden until they realized Hayden to Tennessee was far from a sure thing. Hayden has developed into a national prospect and Michigan is very much in play here. Tennessee has a fight on its hands. Hayden has the skill set to play slot receiver, running back or cornerback. He is an important piece to the 2017 class. Props to his Dad for getting out the way and letting his son make his own decision.
DeAngelo Gibbs (6’2” 205 lbs.) Loganville, Georgia. The 24/7 Recruiting Services rates Gibbs as the top prospect in the state of Georgia. Gibbs is being recruited as a safety my most every school. However, there are some with Tennessee who believe his best position is at cornerback. Gibbs is arguably the top defensive back prospect in the southeast. If not, he certainly has made the shortlist. My opinion right now is Gibbs is Tennessee’s to lose but it is still a long way to the finish line.
Latrell Bumphus (6’4” 265 lbs., Savannah, TN). Bumphus has attracted attention from schools all over the country. Oregon, Southern California, Penn State as well as most SEC schools are recruiting him. Bumphus could play tight end, defensive end , or grow into a defensive tackle at the next level. Tennessee is in good shape here.
Quarterbacks (0) but wait
Ok.. Forgot for a second we are talking about Butch Jones here. Coach Jones likes to collect quarterbacks. An argument can be made Tennessee could forego a quarterback in the 2017 class. Quinton Dormady, Sherion Jones, and Jarret Guarantano will each have at least a year in the system under their belt by the time 2017 rolls around. Too, Tennessee appears to be in a lead position for 2018 quarterback Emory Jones who , in my opinion, is a great fit for the offense. These arguments have a lot of merit…. But Butch Jones likely can’t help himself and Tennessee probably ends up with Quarterback Jack Sears a 6”3” 185 lb. prospect from San Clemente, California. Of the prospects Tennessee has offered to date, Sears appears to be the one that Tennessee has zeroed in on.
Running Backs (2)
Tennessee will have a huge spot to backfill in 2017 with running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara likely heading to the NFL. Not only is Tennessee losing the both the volume of carries and productivity of Hurd and Kamara it is unlikely the 2017 quarterback would be called upon to carry the ball as much as Josh Dobbs does. That said, there will be a significant number of carries to distribute in 2017 even if John Kelly develops into a lead back.
Tyler Chandler, a 5”11 195 lb. prospect from the Nashville area (Montgomery Bell Academy) , is likely the top back on Tennessee’s board. Chandler has offers from all over the country including Michigan, Notre Dame, Nebraska and others. This will come down to a good old fashion recruiting battle between Tennessee and Ole Miss for Chandler.
Cam Akers, 5”11 210 lbs., Clinton, Mississippi. If Chandler is at the top of Tennessee’s board, there are probably a few in the room that can make an argument the Cam Akers is a better fit for the offense. Akers is the higher rated prospect of the two if you go by ranking published by the recruiting services. Akers committed to Alabama early but has since decommitted. If I am ranking I may give a slight nod to Akers only for the reason that he is a January enrollee. Though both have different running styles and skill sets, both fit.
I don’t believe Tennessee takes three running backs in this class unless you count Chase Hayden as a running back. However, if Akers or Chandler go elsewhere, Tennessee is in a good spot with Javon Leake a 6’1” 200 lb. prospect from Greensboro, North Carolina.
Tight End (2).
Chase Rogers 6’2” 235 lb. from Bay St. Louis , Mississippi. Rogers is one of three prospects committed to Tennessee. Rogers’ skills fit a specific need for Tennessee. Rogers is an “H-Back” type tight end capable of taking on defensive lineman on a regular basis but with athleticism to defeat coverage of linebackers down the field. I like Rogers. The in state Mississippi schools will not let Rogers out of the state without a tussle.
The tight to watch is Tre McKitty , 6’4” 220 lbs. IMG Academy Bradenton, Florida. McKitty is originally from the Tampa area which means Larry Scott is the lead recruiter for Tennessee. McKitty is long and athletic. His frame will allow him to add much more weight. McKitty actually will be on campus this weekend. Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Miami are all in the mix here. Have to like Tennessee’s chances here.
Offensive Lineman (3)
Trey Smith, 6’4” 275 Jackson, Tennessee. Smith is the top offensive lineman in Tennessee for 2017. Tennessee has long been a favorite but Alabama and Clemson will certainly make Tennessee fight tooth and nail to secure Smith’s commitment.
Patrick Leitten 6’7” 250 lbs. Brentwood, Tennessee & Obinna Eze 6”8 260 lbs. Davidson Academy Tennessee. Leitten and Eze are listed together because both have similar frames, skill sets and fits the Tennessee model for developing their own offensive tackles. That is, look for kids that have long arms, athletic, with a mean streak. Get them on campus and stick them in a weight room for a year or two then you have 6”7” 300 lb. SEC tackle.
Wide Receiver (3)
Three things can be said about wide receiver play since Butch Jones has been at Tennessee. He loves wide receivers and collects three or four each signing class, he can’t seem to keep many of them healthy for long stretches of time, and so far none have outperformed their rating coming out of high school. With that said, there is no reason to expect Tennessee will sign less than three wide receivers in this class.
Tee Higgins, 6”5” 180 lbs. Oak Ridge, Tennessee. We keep it real here and there will be a large faction of Tennessee fans who will think the 2017 class is a failure unless Tee Higgins is a part of it. Higgins may be the most athletic prospect Tennessee has an opportunity to sign since Adoree Jackson (Southern California). Higgins has similar skills to VOL Juju an Jennings though I believe Higgins is a better wide receiver prospect than Jennings (Frankly, Jennings needs to be playing every down as a safety instead one of every three snaps). Clemson is a real factor for Higgins even more so than many believe. When the smoke clears I believe Higgins ends up at Tennessee but I have nothing but a gut feeling to rely on here.
Jeremiah Holloman, 6’3” 190 lbs. Covington, Georgia. Most every Tennessee fan knows Tee Higgins is an elite athlete. However, if you watch Higgins film at wide receiver and then watch Jeremiah Holloman’s…. it would be hard not to say Holloman is a better wide receiver prospect right now than Higgins. Both are elite prospects.
Prince Fant (6’2” 195 lbs. Lavergne, Tennessee). Personally, I like Fant better than some others do. He was injured last year or he would be a more highly coveted prospect. Tennessee is fighting Florida State and Auburn for Fant. It is still uncertain if he is fully recovered from knee surgery which curtailed his junior season. Fant has good ball skills and in the end Fant winds up at Tennessee.
Tee Mail*** Note to fans. I am tempted to say Tennessee signs four wide receivers. Why? because we have a Head Coach who can't help himself when it comes to wide receivers. I can see them signing a slot receiver the likes of Jay Howard from Marshall County in Tennessee , Florida athlete Jerrell Juddy, or Texas athlete KD Nixon (who seems to favor Tennessee right now). All three of these prospects possess similar skills, but low to the ground and are explosive game changing type of athletes.
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On Monday we will work on the defensive side of the football so please check back then.
If you're going to the Orange & White game please have a great time and bring a young person if you think about it.
'X' Says:It is white knuckle time at football complexes all across the country. With Signing Day drawing near from now until the prospect(s) signs the Letter of Intent, this is the time where the elite recruiters make their money. Tennessee has a couple on staff. Personally, I’m curious to see how they fare as they go head to head against the best in the SEC.
This recruiting cycle can’t come to close fast enough for me. Something about this cycle has just seemed odd or off for some reason. From Signing Day 2015, Tennessee set the table for a small 2016 signing class. That certainly made sense after effectively maxing out signees the previous two classes when rebuilding the roster.
But labeling the 2016 class as “developmental” class was poor messaging in my opinion. This class never seemed to sustain its momentum until the last couple of weeks. If Tennessee media folks had a do-over, I bet they would lose the word "developmental to describe this class. It is a poor choice of words, especially when Tennessee fans are watching Alabama and LSU continually just reload their rosters cycle after cycle.
With that said, give credit where credit is due. Butch Jones made a heck of a hire with Larry Scott. Tennessee needed an injection of enthusiasm and newness on this staff. Jones recognized it, stepped out of his comfort zone, and hired Scott whom he had no prior coaching experience with.
I do believe regardless of how Tennessee closes, Butch Jones and his staff have put forth every ounce of energy they have to recruit these remaining targets. If they close well, great. If they don’t, it happens. You wake up on Thursday and start in earnest toward signing day 2017.
With the above out of the way and now 24 hours from go-time, let’s take one last look at the handful of remaining targets for those oh so precious few spots.
Two legitimate targets are left Landon Dickerson and Latrell Williams.
Regarding Dickerson and Williams, if both want to be VOLS. Williams gets the nod over Dickerson.
Regarding running back Zac Moss, I don’t see Zac Moss being part of the class. If Tennessee has a bad run of it today or on NSD, Moss may have a spot. He is a good prospect. However, signing Moss may throw off recruiting plans for 2017. Tennessee will need two top shelf backs to replace Hurd and Kamara since both are likely headed to the NFL after next season. Tennessee is positioned well with some of the best running back prospects in the southeast for 2017. Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, Jonathan Kelly , Carlin Fils-Aime, plus a walk on or two should provide sufficient depth for 2016.
With three firmly committed offensive lineman, one more offensive lineman is a luxury not a need. Yes, it is very hard to turn down an offensive lineman of Dickerson’s potential. You can’t coach the difference making speed like Williams possesses though. Williams can help out as a slot receiver, taking a few snaps in a Kamara role as a running back, or in the kick return game. Dickerson had numerous opportunities to claim his spot in this class as far back as last spring and even in November and he failed to do so.
The board now stands at five. Defensive Backs Nigel Warrior AND Tyler Byrd, plus three legitimate defensive line targets.
Though nothing is ever certain until they sign, Tennessee seems to be in good shape with Nigel Warrior. Auburn thinks they have a shot, as does LSU with Warrior. I would not completely rule either out.
Four weeks ago, many would be happy if Tennessee added Warrior and held onto to all its other commitments on national signing day.
Now, Tennessee has opportunity for so much more.
Defensive back Tyler Byrd has a tough decision: stay with a team he has been committed to for 11 months in Miami, or sign with a Tennessee program likely to compete for multiple SEC Championships during his time here. At Tennessee, Byrd will have an opportunity to play with his half-brother Carlin Fils-Aime. Too, there is no bigger college stage than football on a Saturday in the SEC.
Jonathan Kongbo. There is always at least one recruit that has a hard time telling people no. Kongbo appears to be that guy in 2016.
Kongbo has taken four official visits. Kongbo has given each school at different times an indication he would sign with them on Wednesday. During the day on Monday, I firmly believe Tennessee and Ole Miss emerged as the co-leaders for Kongbo . I also think both schools believe Kongbo is theirs.
Who Will Emerge as the King For Kongbo?
I have a hunch Tennessee wins out here but I don't feel convicted in that choice. I put nothing past Ole Miss with a kid they covet.
Derrick Brown. Again, no way to know. Here my instincts are that the kid is torn and probably himself doesn’t know for sure. What we have here is Tennessee and Auburn in a virtual dead heat for Brown. Brown’s recruitment has pitted two elite SEC recruiters against one another Tommy Thigpen and Rodney Garner. The way these things come down is usually the last staff that speaks with him Wednesday morning usually gets the prize.
Lastly, there is defensive tackle and Georgia commitment Tyler Clark. Tennessee seems out of it, but there is a pathway where he could end up signing with Tennessee. Tennessee is locked in a battle with Auburn for Brown. Auburn and Georgia are locked in a fierce battle for another defensive tackle in David Marshall who is currently committed to Auburn. Both schools have multiple defensive tackles committed. If Brown chooses Auburn, that might push Marshall to may Georgia. If Tyler Clark doesn’t like the fact that Georgia is closing with three or four defensive tackles plus himself, he could fall to Tennessee. Possible yes. Timing of these decisions and subsequent signings on Wednesday will be interesting to watch.
Buckle up....It's going to be fun.