Tennessee Volunteers Football

Tennessee Football Recruiting: 5 Positions Where Vols Are Falling Short

Brad ShepardFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

Tennessee Football Recruiting: 5 Positions Where Vols Are Falling Short

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    Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

    Tennessee's vaunted football recruiting class is ranked a consensus No. 2 across all four major services, but that doesn't mean the Volunteers have addressed their myriad needs.

    Coming off of a 5-7 season with a team full of seniors and even more full of holes, there was simply no way for head coach Butch Jones to check off every area where UT needs help.

    But a monstrous class that currently sits at 34 players has gone a long way in meeting those positions where Tennessee needs drastic improvement. The class is star-heavy, and it hearkens back to those old Phillip Fulmer recruiting classes of the late 1990s.

    But it's still not enough.

    From team speed to depth, the Vols had to recruit to improve, and they've done a great job elevating the talent pool in orange and white, if everybody sticks with their pledges.

    With NCAA restrictions on the number of players a team can sign and with the 85 scholarship limit, the Vols still will fall a bit short in some areas.

    Because of that, and with all the freshmen providing depth next year, it's difficult to see the Vols making a massive jump in wins despite being much more talented all over the field. More than one recruiting class is needed in this rebuilding project.

    Let's take a look at some of the positions where UT still needs help.

Quarterback

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    Notre Dame QB commit DeShone Kizer was a top target UT missed on.
    Notre Dame QB commit DeShone Kizer was a top target UT missed on.247Sports

    The biggest concern moving forward for Tennessee is under center.

    The Vols played three quarterbacks this year—junior Justin Worley, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and true freshman Joshua Dobbs—and none had the kind of season that will strike fear in the hearts of SEC defenses moving forward.

    Perhaps the most alarming thing in this class is that it's devoid of a quarterback commitment.

    Between Dobbs and fellow true freshman Riley Ferguson (who was injured for the latter half of the season during the quarterback derby), Butch Jones thinks he has his quarterback of the future on campus.

    He'd better.

    The Vols tried to sign a quarterback this year. They just swung and missed on several occasions and didn't make the position a priority afterward.

    Perhaps the team's top target was 6'5", 207-pound Notre Dame commitment DeShone Kizer, who they lost out on back in June. After Kizer's commitment, the Vols went all out for David Cornwell, who had UT as one of his final two choices before ultimately choosing Alabama. Cornwell is a 4-star prospect on 247Sports.com.

    The Vols flirted throughout the recruiting cycle with North Carolina State quarterback commit Jalan McClendon, but the 6'3", 192-pound prospect remains firm with the Pack.

    With Florida's struggles, the Vols have tried to get in on Gators quarterback pledge Will Grier lately, but he told 247Sports' Kipp Adams that he's solid (subscription required).

    As of now, no viable signal-caller options are on the horizon. If the Vols don't sign one this year, they'll likely go after two in next year's class.

Cornerback

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    Adoree' Jackson is one of the most coveted prospects in the nation.
    Adoree' Jackson is one of the most coveted prospects in the nation.247Sports

    Another position the Vols look like they'll finish at least a player short is at cornerback.

    UT struck gold in the 2013 class with Cameron Sutton, who started every game as a true freshman and was named today as a College Football News second-team Freshman All-American, but the Vols don't have a lot of depth at the position.

    Tennessee needed to sign a slew of able corners this year, and the Vols simply haven't.

    The "big fish" UT covets is California 5-star stud Adoree' Jackson, but the Vols appear on the outside looking for his services behind teams like USC, Florida and LSU. If Butch Jones could somehow swing Jackson, he would be the jewel of the class, but that's highly unlikely.

    The only other name that has recently popped up for the Vols is uncommitted prospect D.J. Smith.

    As far as commits go, the Vols have a few they like; they just need one more.

    D'Andre Payne is rated by 247Sports as a 4-star prospect, and he leads the way as far as defensive back talent in this class for the Vols. The Washington, D.C. product committed to Jones back in April and has stayed solid.

    RaShaan Gaulden is an excellent combo defensive back who looks like he'll project as a nickel back who could contend to start immediately. The Vols beat SEC foes Vanderbilt and South Carolina for his services.

    Behind him, UT has a commitment from lightly recruited North Carolina product Emmanuel Moseley, who the Vols see as an evaluation gem. Other teams have offered Moseley late in the process, but he's sticking firm for now.

    If Evan Berry—one of Kansas City Chiefs' All-Pro Eric Berry's twin little brothers—gets his first shot on offense, UT may be scrambling for cornerback depth.

Running Back

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    Jalen Hurd is the bellcow of the class.
    Jalen Hurd is the bellcow of the class.247Sports

    One of the biggest stars of UT's class is 5-star in-state jumbo running back Jalen Hurd.

    For years, the Vols have tried to lure a top-shelf runner to Knoxville with little success. The 6'3", 230-pound speedster appears, at least on the surface, to be the answer to those needs.

    Though some programs were recruiting him to play elsewhere, the Vols are sure he's an SEC running back, and after watching him shatter state records as a junior before a labrum tear this year, it's hard to argue.

    A couple of days after Hurd committed back in March, UT received a commitment from Alpharetta, Ga. standout Treyvon Paulk. He also suffered a season-ending injury, and his status for 2014 is up in the air.

    With Rajion Neal out of eligibility and only rising senior Marlin Lane on the roster who has shown any signs of being an SEC running back, the Vols are still trying to get a commitment from another runner in this year's class.

    UT received a big blow on Tuesday when John Ehret High School running back Darrel Williams committed to LSU, according to The Times-Picayune's James Smith. Just a week ago, the Vols appeared to be in good shape after Williams decommitted from Arizona State.

    But it's always tough to beat the home state Tigers, who swooped in and landed him with a full-court press.

    The other big name the Vols are trying to sway is uncommitted prospect Derrell Scott, a 5'11", 180-pound speedster from Havelock, N.C. UT has come on strong in the recruitment of Scott recently and made up ground on longtime supposed leader South Carolina.

    Scott is perhaps the biggest need left on UT's recruiting board. If the Vols don't land him, they'll dig deep for another running back prospect in this class.

     

Offensive Tackle

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    Dontavius Blair was a big coup at tackle for UT.
    Dontavius Blair was a big coup at tackle for UT.247Sports

    One of the most important commitments in this year's class is junior college offensive tackle Dontavius Blair, a 4-star prospect according to 247Sports who chose the Vols over Auburn, Texas A&M and many others.

    With last week's news of junior offensive tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson foregoing his senior year to enter the NFL Draft, Blair has a golden opportunity to come right in and immediately start at the all-important left tackle spot.

    But Richardson wasn't the only lineman UT lost. All five players on the offensive front are heading to the next level, leaving a massive void on the front. While the Vols like the depth they've got on the interior, who is going to play the two tackle spots is anybody's guess.

    Blair will have a good chance, as will rising junior utility man Kyler Kerbyson, whose best spot on the line is probably guard. A pair of freshmen who redshirted this year—Austin Sanders and Brett Kendrick—also will be in the mix.

    The Vols desperately needed another junior college offensive tackle, and when Avery Gennesy committed to Texas A&M, that pretty much ended those hopes.

    Rugged incoming freshman Coleman Thomas is a favorite of UT offensive line coach Don Mahoney, and though he's listed as a center on 247Sports, at 6'6", 297 pounds, he has the athleticism to play tackle and should start there.

    The only other tackle UT has committed is Orlando Brown Jr., son of the former NFL star. Though Brown had a bunch of strong offers, his body is a project, and he likely won't be able to play immediately for the Vols. A couple of years in the weight room appear needed.

    Tennessee covets Alex Bookser, who 247Sports rates as a 4-star prospect, but UT will have to beat out Pittsburgh and Ohio State, among others, for the West Pennsylvania product.

    Next year brings with it a rich class full of offensive linemen, and the Vols already have commitments from two 2015 in-state products, but another tackle is preferred immediately.

Defensive Tackle

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    In-State defensive end Derek Barnett could grow into a DT.
    In-State defensive end Derek Barnett could grow into a DT.247Sports

    Tennessee graduates its entire starting defensive line, and there is immediate playing time available at both interior positions.

    Though Trevarris Saulsberry and Danny O'Brien showed flashes at times, there isn't much quality depth behind those guys, Jason Carr and Greg Clark.

    UT thinks it got a steal with junior college defensive tackle Owen Williams, who flipped from Texas Tech to commit to the Vols a couple of weeks ago. 247Sports rates Williams a 3-star prospect, and he will come right in and vie for playing time.

    Other than him, though, the class gets thin—literally.

    Two commitments, who are listed by 247Sports as defensive ends, have the frames to grow into tackles and likely will play there on the next level.

    Cory Thomas of McAdory, Ala., is listed as 6'6", 270 pounds and will almost certainly be a tackle with some time in the weight room. Also, in-state star Derek Barnett, who won the state's Mr. Football lineman award for his division according to Volquest.com's Paul Fortenberry (subscription required), also should be a DT at UT.

    A big, burly bruiser who could play defensive tackle and alleviate some of these concerns is UT's newest commitment, 247Sports 4-star Charles Mosley, but many think his highest collegiate ceiling will be at offensive guard.

    There are a lot of movable parts in Tennessee's defensive tackle class, which is exactly the reason the Vols are still trying to lure another JUCO defensive tackle this year.

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