And then the Vols started recruiting.
Many of the Vol faithful started to squirm a few weeks back as some of the seed they had sowed began to be reaped by the likes of LSU, Bama, Florida and Mississippi State. It seemed that once Tennessee snagged a backup quarterback and a decent defensive end that everything was copacetic. Or at least that's the impression the Volniacs got as two wide receivers and an offensive tackle went the way of the dodo. Suddenly, No. 21 on the recruiting board didn't seem so bad. But before the Vol fans could get depressed the recruiting board lit up again and made me rethink my judgement of defensive back coach and recruiting coordinator Terry Joseph. No delusions of grandeur here. But if he stays on track and finishes with a couple of solid athletes, Tennessee may be celebrating Christmas early.
LB Dalton Santos – 6'2", 240 lbs, Van, Texas
Running backs beware. This kid has your number, and he's had it for a long long time, too. Last season as a junior, Santos racked up a huge season with 120 tackles, 15 TFL, five sacks and two interceptions. When you think of the way Al Wilson was as a sophomore, this kid is already there. For runners he is unbelievably fast and tuned in to potential runners. When he isn't there immediately, he is fast enough to run them down from mid-field. Comparing him to Curt Maggitt he is slower, but he keys on runners and delivers faster. Dropping back into the passing lanes he has a decent read but tends to get distracted by fake hand-offs and the pump fake. Otherwise, this kid makes you smile every time the ball is snapped.
FS LaDarrell McNeil – 6'2", 190 lbs, Dallas, Texas
I hate to do it because he is the measuring stick on Tennessee's secondary, but here goes. This kid has all the tools to be better than Eric Berry. Yes, stop the presses, better than Berry. In fact, a single tear welled up on me the first time I watched his film.
So what do you say about him? Hard, nasty, fast, punishing, smart and stealthy. Just when you think, "Oh, crap. This guy is going to break lose!" Then, all of a sudden, like a comic book superhero...BAM! And I am not even close to exaggerating. Last season, he piled up 125 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions. He was All-District and an Army All-American. There are few a FS who can hit as hard as this kid right now, think Brent Brewer and Prentiss Waggner hard.
It is scary to think what this kid would do as a sophomore because as a junior they will be lining up stretchers.
K/P George Bullock – 6'1', 195 lbs, Knoxville, Tenn.
The last time I talked up a kicker it came back to bite me. Remember when I talked up Michael Palardy? I thought he was the reincarnation of John Becksvoort. Clueless? Becksvoort lettered at Tennessee from 91-94 and kicked 59 consecutive EP without a miss and holds the NCAA record for PATs with 161. That didn't start with Palardy, and he has definitive room for improvement. But this kid is homegrown, so I'm going to chat him up a bit.
On to Bullock. He is a conservative kicker with humility. Meaning he won't take the field if he can't do it. He is a student of James Wilhoit and does a good job of doing a good job. Nothing flashy, just kick/punt then get off the field. He was an All-State 5A kicker and 2010 KOC kickoff champion. Despite Rivals and Scout he was ranked by Parade as the nation's No.12 kicker.
DT Damien Jacobs – 6'2", 300 lbs Gray, La.
He's a JUCO that keeps on giving. At first glance he's a big boy who gives you the impression that he's just like any other heavy defensive tackle in need of a diet plan, but that is first impression. The second look tells a different story. Underneath that girth is a defensive savvy lineman who knows how to punch through a line and keep coming back for more. He has tremendous arm strength that keeps runners off balance if they are within arms reach. A redshirt would turn this guy into a horror movie. A little conditioning and an extra season with Ron McKeefery would create heavy depth that the Vols are missing. It's a sneaky catch that won't be seen until 2013, but the improvements he will make in the offseason will be like a fairy tale. Be patient, Vols, this one is under construction.
CB Kenneth Crawley – 6'1", 170 lbs, Washington, D.C.
As a junior he pulled in 100 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Hmmm, well, he's patient and crafty and knows where the ball is and usually finds a way to be there. His real estate is his own, and he reads offenses so well he should transition to the next level without any problems. I see this kid as becoming somewhat of a teacher's pet in Justin Wilcox if there is such a thing on defenses. He is another one of those guys with leadership who helps set his teammates up for success. Because of his athleticism it is hard to identify his weaknesses. He tends to bite on pump fakes, also, but because he is so fast it is hard to catch. This is the part where Derek Dooley will start recruiting guys like this to pad his roster. Expect a redshirt if the Vols' secondary can remain relatively injury free. Still, one year on the shelf and this young man will take the field with an "S" on his chest.
Jason Croom – 6'5", 233 lbs, Norcross, Ga.
This is the big wide receiver Tennessee has been waiting for. The last good tall receiver who had any success at Tennessee was Chris Hannon who played back in 2004. The good news is coming off the block Croom is miles ahead. What sets Croom apart from his peers is, that despite his vertical prowess, he is quite the speedster. Adding to his speed is his ability to throw in a juke move here and there and still manage to run his routes. He can reach for balls and doesn't seem to stutter when he comes down the catch. He isn't afraid of clutch plays whether it's on his five yard or theirs. He isn't extremely quick off the line, but once he hits second gear it's all over. Because of his versatility, I don't think he is in any danger of a redshirt, so look for him next season in play-action.
So that's it for now, there's room for another nine scholarships. Will Terry Joseph finish strong and make me eat my words? Stay tuned.