While Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M battle for the elusive recruiting national championship, Butch Jones' Tennessee Volunteers are quietly filling holes, crawling to the top of the SEC East and dominating out on the recruiting trail. Jones is addressing needs and hitting critical areas of interest for a Tennessee Volunteers program that has plenty of rebuilding to do.
With 34 recruits, including 14 early enrollees, Jones has built a massive class that sits at No. 6 in the 247Sports composite rankings. The coach, heading into his second year, has put one 5-star recruit into the boat, along with 15 4-star players enrolled or committed to the class, according to 247Sports.
For Tennessee, this is a must. Derek Dooley left Jones with a depleted roster across the board and the new coach started too late to make true headway on the trail. He is now making up for it by filling out his roster with talented players looking to return the Volunteers to prominence.
Step one was addressing the bodies. Tennessee lacked manpower all over the field and it not only forced youth into critical roles, it also played a role in the fatigue that comes with battling tempo or closing out games. The size of the class, and its ability to sell early playing time, is a direct result of this issue, and Jones is making it work for him.
The 14 early enrollees serve two purposes: filling out the roster in an effort to get bodies while not counting toward the 2014 number, allowing Jones to continue his aggressive recruiting practices. The Vols get 14 more bodies for spring football, including several highly touted players, and the coaches are still trying to add more for signing day.
It is not just the acquisition of talent that is a positive for the program, it is where the kids are coming from to join the ranks. Obviously, Jones wants to get the Volunteers back to winning Tennessee's finest, and he is doing that with a flourish, starting with 5-star Jalen Hurd. However, the more telling sign of rejuvenation is getting Tennessee to become a destination for out-of-state players.
When Tennessee was at the top of its game, recruits flocked to Knoxville from all corners of America. There was a strong California presence. The Vols also got into the Midwest and worked hard in the borderlands of Northern Georgia and Alabama, as well as North Carolina. Jones is working all of those areas, plus getting into the Mid-Atlantic and Florida.
This Tennessee staff is working overtime to get kids in the boat and, for the sake of longevity, to rebuild recruiting relationships. The end of the Phil Fulmer era plus the Lane Kiffin bad blood, added to Dooley's destruction of ties, gutted the Vols' ability to draw talent. This staff is rebuilding it to keep talent flowing into the school, and this year could be a big step in the right direction.
Armed with plenty of roster space and ample playing time, Butch Jones set out to put together a great class for Tennessee. Quietly, the second-year coach has done just that, pushing toward the top of the SEC East for signing day and giving Tennessee fans a reason to get excited.