Tennessee Vols National Signing Day 2010: Who's In? Who's Out? Who's Thinking About It?
It's that time of year.
Time when college football is proven to be an eight- month sport rather than four.
Time when fans, mostly men in the 22-to-40 age range, constantly surf the Web for news about how many 18-year-olds will sign on the dotted line to play football at the 22- to 40-year-olds' favorite schools.
I despise this time of year. But I also love it.
When Lane Kiffin left the Vols high and dry barely one week ago, the Vols staff was working on a Top 5 recruiting class.
That class was pretty much shattered with Kiffin's departure—a departure that would have been much easier to take had it not happened less than a month before National Signing Day.
It's not time to fret, however. Derek Dooley is known as a great recruiter, and he's been doing some great recruiting of his own.
Along with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, a Kiffin holdover, Dooley and the rest of the newly hired staff are trying their very best to bring in the best athletes possible in such a short amount of time.
In the next few pages, I will discuss who is in, who is out, and who might be thinking about becoming a Tennessee Volunteer.
Who Is In on Defense?
With news of all eight midterm enrollees starting class this week, a collective sigh of relief could be heard from Chattanooga to Clarksville.
The biggest fish of the midterm guys is DE Jacques Smith (pictured).
Smith, who played his high school ball at Ooltewah, was said to be considering LSU and Alabama shortly after Kiffin skipped town. However, when Dooley met him during the weekend, Smith told the coach he was a Vol.
The standout defensive lineman is the No. 1 prospect in Tennessee and has been committed to the Vols since his junior season—which was two Tennessee head coaches ago.
Smith is quick enough to play linebacker if Vols coaches decide to go that route with him.
Also enrolled is another defensive end: Corey Miller from South Carolina. Miller is one of the pair supposedly included in Hostessgate a few weeks ago. His partner in crime, Brandon Willis, decided to go to North Carolina instead of honoring his commitment to Tennessee after Kiffin left.
Miller, at 6'3", 227 pounds, is also a candidate to play at linebacker.
There are rumblings that the Vols could switch to a 3-4 defensive set depending on whom Dooley hires to become his defensive coordinator in the coming days.
Both of these tremendous athletes would thrive in such a system in my opinion.
The Vols have among other defensive commitments from DT John Brown from Booneville, Miss., at 6'2", 285 pounds; and DE JC Copeland from LaGrange, Ga., at 6'2", 240 pounds. All four players are four-star players according to Rivals.com.
Who Is In at the Skill Positions?
Raise your hand if you are a Vol fan who has griped and complained about the quarterback position the last two seasons.
It is quite possible that your prayers (and complaints) have been heard!
The top offensive midterm enrollee is QB Tyler Bray (pictured).
Bray, from Kingsburg, Calif., was a top priority of the Kiffin regime in Knoxville. Standing at 6'6", 187 pounds, the Kingsburg High School star is definitely tall enough, but also definitely in need of plenty of weight room time during the next couple of months.
Bray's whole family decided to move to Tennessee to be a part of his college experience.
Another signal caller that has already signed is QB Matt Simms. The youngest son of Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms transferred from El Camino Junior College and will have two years of eligibility remaining at Tennessee.
Simms, Bray, and senior Nick Stephens are expected to battle it out for the starting job in the spring.
Among other skill players committed is WR Justin Hunter from Virginia. Hunter is a four-star prospect who was an LSU commitment until Dooley met with him this week.
At 6'4", 172 pounds, Hunter is a speed demon who can jump through the roof.
Also committed/signed are WRs Ted Meline and Matt Milton.
Meline is a four-star prospect from Miami. Standing at 6'2", 171 pounds, he adds more speed to a wide receiving corps that has struggled for much of the last three seasons.
Milton, from Mascoutah, Ill., is a huge target at 6'6". He is also a four-star player according to Rivals.
Who Else Is In?
A huge commitment is enrollee OL Jawuan James. When I say "huge," I mean in stature and in importance to the team. At 6'6" and just less than three bills, James has plenty of room to get bigger and stronger. That's something the training staff is already working on with the big guy.
His athleticism is just another mark of the type of offensive lineman that Kiffin was dedicated to recruiting. I'm sure James' new coach is quite appreciative.
O-linemen Zach Fulton and Marques Pair have also committed to Tennessee as a part of this class. The offensive line is a crucial position that the Vols need to address further. (More on that in a minute.)
Athletes Channing Fugate (pictured) and Marcques Dixon have also pledged to be a part of this class.
Fugate, at 6'2", 225 pounds, has already enrolled and is probably destined for the fullback position on the Tennessee offense. He was ranked the No. 3 player in the state of Kentucky.
Dixon is a speed demon who will likely play in the defensive backfield for the Vols.
Who Is Out?
As with any coaching change in college football, the loss of some players was inevitable.
Among those lost or decommitted when Kiffin bolted were LBs Brandon Willis (UNC), Michael Taylor (Florida), Ahmad Dixon (Baylor), Delvin Jones and Calvin Smith.
Dooley visited Smith at his high school in Hialeah, Fla., yesterday to get him back on board.
Dixon, a four-star DB from Waco, Texas, committed to the Vols just four days before Kiffin left for USC. He quickly recommitted to Baylor, but he says Tennessee is still in the picture.
Perhaps the biggest hit came with WR Markeith Ambles' (pictured) apparent disinterest in the Vols now that Kiffin is gone.
While there is still a chance that the five-star WR prospect could recommit to the Vols, he cancelled his official visit last weekend, and his father recently told the media that Ambles would likely not visit Knoxville again.
Who Is Thinking About It?
This is where it gets interesting.
The Vols will welcome some prime talent to Knoxville this weekend.
Among those expected to make official visits this weekend is Calhoun, Ga., QB Nash Nance. Nance recently said he was 100 percent committed to Vanderbilt. However, Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has developed a nice relationship with the young signal caller and could turn him.
Perhaps the bigger fish the Vols want is Nance's high school teammate, Da'Rick Rogers (pictured posterizing some poor DB). Rogers is ranked as the No. 2 WR in the nation and has been committed to Georgia since June.
Rogers lives with Nance and his family, and the two are considered nearly inseparable. Turning the 6'3", 200-pound wideout would be considered a major coup for Dooley and this new staff.
Remember that offensive line thing I talked about earlier? Well, this weekend could prove to be make or break at the position for this recruiting class.
Offensive linemen Torrian Wilson (6'4", 315 pounds), Demarkus Underwood (6'6", 315 pounds) and James Stone (6'5", 300 pounds, No. 3 prospect in Tennessee) will all visit Knoxville this weekend.
Stone is considering Alabama and Auburn in addition to Tennessee. Keeping him in-state would be a huge get for Dooley.
Next weekend, Damien Robinson will visit Knoxville. The 6'8", 330-pound offensive lineman from Olive Branch, Miss., is considering Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi State and Tennessee. The four-star tackle would be another needed addition to this class.
LB Martaze Jackson from Alabama is also scheduled to visit this weekend. Linebacker is another major area of concern, as the Vols have only one LB commitment in this class so far.
TE Mychal Rivera will visit this weekend as well. Rivera is a junior college transfer currently committed to Oregon. At 6'4", 230 pounds, he would definitely be a nice target for whoever wins the QB job this spring/fall.
RB Martez Eastland, from Ringgold, Ga., (my hometown) recently made the grade on his ACT. Academics were a major reason for the lack of big-time offers for this stellar athlete.
Built like a freight train at 5'11", 233 pounds, Eastland has been running through, over and around North Georgia defenses for a few years now.
At such a compact, yet bulldozing size, Eastland projects to be a linebacker or fullback in college. With his quickness and strength, the North Georgia product would be ideal in a 3-4 defensive set.
Although Tennessee has not officially offered yet, folks close to the Ringgold senior say an offer from Tennessee would almost certainly solidify Eastland's choice to be a Vol. Eastland is currently considering UNC, UT-Chattanooga, and UAB.
Another possibility that is yet to be offered is Alcoa TE Tyler Robinson. At 6'4", 250 pounds, the Kentucky commit recently told Dave Hooker of the Knoxville News Sentinel that he would "definitely check into it" if Dooley contacted him.
Alcoa is a Knoxville-area powerhouse program that produced Kentucky standout Randall Cobb.
Dooley should be advised not to let another Alcoa prospect slip away from Tennessee. Robinson also has offers from Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee State.
DE Corey Lemonier was visited at his Florida high school by Dooley this week. The 6'5", 225-pounder has said he is down to Auburn, Florida State, and Tennessee. He is teammates with another Vols prospect, Calvin Smith. Dooley hopes to land both D-linemen.
Visiting campus next weekend will be four-star RB Rajaan Bennett from Powder Springs, Ga. Bennett is considered a character kid who will ultimately be a leader on his future team.
Dooley offered Bennett just this week. He is rated the No. 19 running back in the nation.
RB Rajion Neal (pictured), a four-star Mississippi State commit from Georgia, will visit the Vols this weekend. Some say he is already close to being turned in Tennessee's favor.