5 Tennessee Volunteer Summer Enrollees Who Will Make Biggest Impacts in 2014
The Tennessee Volunteers' 14 mid-year enrollees injected much-needed talent into the team's offense, but a handful of the 18 newcomers who will soon arrive on campus will make the biggest impact on the team's overall record in 2014.
New Faces on Defense
The Vols face a huge challenge on defense this season.
With the loss of the entire starting defensive line, including Daniel McCullers, Jacques Smith, Daniel Hood and Marlon Walls, the team will have to rely heavily on fresh faces for its front four to compete in the SEC.
The team also has pressing needs at linebacker. Returning senior and leading tackler A.J. Johnson could be in store for an all-conference season, but the departures of Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer—along with Curt Maggitt's part-time move to defensive end—mean both the strong-side and weak-side positions could be up for grabs.
The cornerback and safety positions are also far from set in stone. Sophomore phenom cornerback Cameron Sutton and senior Brian Randolph likely locked up their starting positions with solid play during the 2013 season. But there still will be plenty of opportunity for the newcomers to show off their speed and instincts and make a name for themselves.
Freshmen Must Step Up
For the Vols to have any hope of making a bowl game and achieving their first winning season since 2009, the 18 summer enrollees will need to make the same impact their classmates did when they arrived in January.
Here are the five incoming players who will be the team's biggest playmakers this season.
Players Who Just Missed the Cut
Players Who Just Missed the Cut
The following players didn't quite make the list of immediate-impact summer arrivals, but each could easily crack the depth chart by the time SEC play is underway.
Rashaan Gaulden: Safety
In-state safety Rashaan Gaulden will make the short drive east on I-40 from Spring Hill, Tenn., to Knoxville later this spring to begin his career at Tennessee.
A composite 3-star recruit on 247Sports and Top 250 player on Rivals, Gaulden brings elite speed to the Vols' secondary. However, he will have to battle fellow freshmen Todd Kelly Jr. and Cortez McDowell—not to mention veterans Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil—to have a chance at earning significant playing time.
Derrell Scott: Running Back
Derrell Scott from Havelock, N.C., is one of the few offensive players who will arrive this summer.
Scott was a last-minute addition to the team, as running back coach Robert Gillespie was able to sway him to the Orange and White after a strong push from Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Scott has the potential to get a handful of carries in to relieve the tailback tandem of senior Marlin Lane and freshman Jalen Hurd. Scott's carries this year will be important for his career on Rocky Top, as he will need all the experience he can get to challenge Hurd for the starting position in 2015.
Michael Sawyers: Defensive Lineman
Landing a commitment from Ensworth's Michael Sawyers shortly before National Signing Day was a coup for Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and his staff.
Not only did the signing fill a huge need on the defensive line, but it also represented a recruiting victory over in-state rival Vanderbilt.
Sawyers has the build and athleticism to back up Danny O'Brien and Trevarris Saulsberry on the interior of the defensive line. The Vols are thin on experienced, SEC-ready linemen, and Sawyers will be asked to contribute heavily as the season progresses.
Evan Berry: Athlete
Evan Berry and Elliot Berry's commitment to the Vols in November 2013 was one of the worst-kept secrets in recruiting. Most schools around the SEC knew the Berry twins were born to play on Rocky Top, but it's Evan who has the greatest chance of standing out during his freshman season.
With track-star speed and a level of athleticism that rivals his NFL Pro Bowler brother, Evan may be the most underrated player in the 2014 class.
Although it's too early to expect him to live up to Eric's accomplishments, Evan could fulfill multiple roles this season, including wide receiver, defensive back, punt/kick returner and even running back.
5. Derek Barnett: Defensive Lineman
It's hard to overstate how depleted the Vols' defensive line will be in 2014.
That's why it was so vital for Butch Jones to grab—and hold onto—the commitment of Brentwood Academy's Derek Barnett.
At nearly 6'3" and 275 pounds, Barnett doesn't just have prototypical SEC size. He also possesses the speed to match. His 4.24-second shuttle time at The Opening in July 2013 puts him in elite company, as he was one of only two players above 250 pounds to post a time under 4.3 seconds.
In a report for Nooga.com, Daniel Lewis says Barnett "could have a chance to play early in Knoxville" and "gives the Vols options on the defensive front."
Barnett's versatility means he could add immediate depth to the tackle position after he gains some weight. Or he could stay at his current size and be in the mix at defensive end from day one.
Athletic defensive linemen like Barnett have been few and far between in recent years in Knoxville. Because of the lack of depth at the position, he will need to arrive on campus ready to compete for a backup or starting spot, because there's a good chance he'll get it.
4. Aaron Medley: Kicker
With the chance to replace graduating senior Michael Palardy, in-state freshman Aaron Medley may have the biggest shoes to fill of any of the newcomers in the 2014 class.
Palardy was one of Butch Jones' biggest success stories during his first year as Tennessee's head coach. With new-found confidence and refined technique, the once-maligned kicker became one of the Vols' most reliable weapons, booming field-flipping punts and hitting 14 of 17 field goals for the year—including the game-winner over No. 11 South Carolina.
Jones will need similar productivity out of Medley to force opponents to drive the length of the field and help the team put points on the board when the offense sputters.
Medley, who is from Lewisburg, Tenn., has worked privately with former Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit, and GoVolsXtra reports that many analysts believe he's the best kicker in the country.
As the video above shows, Medley is capable of accurately blasting 65-yard field goals with room to spare.
Wilhoit's own 50-yard field goal resulted in Tennessee's most recent victory over the Florida Gators in 2004. If Medley can prove himself to be a reliable long-distance kicker, he may get his own chance for glory in 2014.
3. Dillon Bates: Linebacker
Dillon Bates, son of famous Vol defensive back Bill Bates, had a decorated career at linebacker at Ponte Vedra High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla. During his senior season, he compiled 55 solo tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and three blocked punts.
In March 2014, Bates told ESPN's Greg Ostendorf that Tennessee's coaches have "high expectations" for him and the rest of the 2014 class. With his size and speed, Bates should have no problem making an impact on special teams or even claiming a starting spot at linebacker.
Playing next to veteran and 2012 All-SEC linebacker A.J. Johnson will help Bates acclimate to the league quickly. In addition, his coverages skills could help the Vols limit big passing plays in the middle of the field, an area in which the team has struggled in recent years.
2. Todd Kelly Jr.: Safety
Safety and Knoxville-native Todd Kelly Jr., son of former Vol and NFL linebacker/defensive end Todd Kelly Sr., is a highly coveted recruit whose commitment to Tennessee in March 2013 got the ball rolling on the 2014 class.
The Vols' safeties have been hit and miss in recent years—literally. Opposing running backs and wide receivers have often been able to outrun the entire Tennessee secondary with ease.
The addition of Brian Randolph in 2011 brought speed to the position, but it wasn't enough for the Vols to contain the burners present on nearly every SEC roster.
With his 4.5 second 40-yard dash time, 6'1", 190-pound frame and innate football instincts, Kelly brings an edge to the safety position that has been missing since the days of Eric Berry and Janzen Jackson.
Although Kelly can provide excellent coverage during passing situations, his biggest strength lies in stopping the run. Scott Coleman at SBNation.com reported that with his frame, Kelly could bulk up to 205 pounds, making him even more effective at stopping ball-carriers dead in their tracks.
Kelly may not have an easy route to a starting position, however, with Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil likely remaining atop the depth chart through fall camp.
Regardless, Kelly will get his chance to shine on special teams and as a backup throughout the season, paving the way for him to start 2015.
1. Dewayne Hendrix: Defensive End
Tennessee's pass rush in recent years could be rated anywhere from weak to nonexistent. Opposing quarterbacks have put up career game after career game against the Vols, largely because they've had all day to wait for their receivers to create separation.
Getting elite defensive end Dewayne Hendrix out of Illinois and the grasp of programs like Missouri will go a long way towards addressing that problem.
The Vols will need him to fill both roles this season, as the loss of defensive ends Jacques Smith and Corey Miller creates big holes in the line and big opportunities for players of Hendrix's caliber.
Hendrix will likely play behind redshirt junior Curt Maggitt, sophomore Corey Vereen and senior Jordan Williams to start the season. However, his size, speed and explosiveness will be enough for him to get significant playing time and see the field early and often.