With his 2014 recruiting class virtually full, Tennessee coach Butch Jones has the luxury of narrowing his staff's attention on a few major targets and expanding their focus toward the future.
That's a crucial step that can't be undersold at this stage of the rebuilding process.
Already, the Vols have 34 verbal commitments three weeks before national signing day in what is shaping up to be a huge, deep and talented class. Getting most of it completed early has helped Jones catch up on other, more established programs that were years ahead of them in cultivating relationships with future prospects.
It has also directly and positively impacted the present.
Not having to scramble to fill an incomplete class has already aided UT in securing a vitally important piece of this year's class with in-state receiver Josh Malone.
"Kids these days are different from the past," GoVols247 reporter Wes Rucker said. "They're more about the attention and the love than they used to be. Being able to get the nucleus of your class committed so soon really allows you to put the full-press on a few kids who are immediate game-changers.
"Also, this says nothing of the head start that has given the Vols in the 2015 class, where it's already started to bear fruit. For years, teams like Texas have been able to do this, and now, Tennessee is doing it."
With the core of its '14 class already intact, Tennessee was able to give Malone constant attention, which was crucial in his recruitment.
In the end, the Vols beat out Clemson, Georgia and others for Malone's signature because Jones, ace recruiter Tommy Thigpen and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni all put in extra time to convince him how much they needed him.
Malone told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan after he committed:
…They came after me and really made me a priority. They were really persistent, and they really kept in contact with me almost every day. Really, Jones told me from the beginning that he wanted to earn my trust, and he earned it.
It's a blueprint the Vols will continue to follow. Being able to focus time on guys like Jackson, Evans and Scott—as well as working to solidify a couple of shaky pledges such as Cory Thomas and Gavin Bryant—can do nothing but help UT close the class strong.
"An example of this is Adoree' Jackson," Rucker said. "Tennessee is just basically able to bombard that kid, and at the end of the day, it could help them there.
"They're in a position where they can swing for the fences with some of these top kids, and if they don't get them, it doesn't matter because—oh by the way—they've got 34 commitments."
But rounding out the 2014 haul isn't the only benefit.
The Vols' 2015 recruiting class already has grown to seven members following the commitment of Maryville High School defensive lineman Dylan Jackson on Thursday evening, according to GoVols247's Callahan. Four of those players in a class now ranked an early fourth by 247Sports are from Tennessee.
That's a direct result of UT's coaches being able to zip around the state and meet with prospects multiple times because they have spare time.
When the month-long recruiting dead period ended this week, most coaches around the nation jetted here and there, frantically trying to convince 2014 players to join their team. The Vols did that, too, spending ample time with Jackson and his family in East St. Louis.
But they also had time to recruit for the future. Earlier Thursday before Dylan Jackson committed to UT, he'd received a visit from Vols coaches, according to Volquest.com's John Brice (membership required).
Jones' extra emphasis on recruiting has yielded success on the trail quicker than any other Tennessee coach in recent memory.
Perhaps more stunning than his propensity to relate to kids and get them to commit quickly upon his arrival at UT has been his ability to sustain and extend it to future classes.
Because many players now begin building relationships with college coaches and committing earlier, the Vols had fallen behind in recruiting. Jones has evened the playing field.
The Vols haven't returned to prominence on the football field yet, but the first step in getting there is recruiting top-caliber classes. Jones is doing that, and his ability to make such quick work of it will expedite the rebuilding process.
All quotes were gathered firsthand, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.