It happens every year about this time: Teams begin taking a look at their recruiting board, examining the needs they've seen throughout the season and searching through the high school and junior-college ranks to see if anybody can fill the needs on the team.
The product of that search -- and, in the life of a prospect, having a standout senior season -- can be seen in Tuesday's commitment of three-star cornerback Daniel Gray to Tennessee.
Gray has solid size for a corner, listed anywhere between 5-foot-11 and 6-feet and weighing somewhere between 165-180. He has a very good jam game at the line and showed quality man-to-man skills during his senior season at Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., [Gerald Williams' old stomping grounds]. His coach said Gray is working on zone concepts and is improving his ball skills.
All that is teachable. The one thing that cannot be taught is speed, and Gray has it. According to Scout, he has been clocked at a 4.37. According to 247 Sports, that number is 4.34. Whatever the case, he is FAST. Given that the Vols don't have very many fast corners, and speed is something lacking throughout the entire program, the coaching staff deemed Gray a late take.
If you want to know how the 19th public commitment for the Vols impacts the recruiting board, I'm not the one to answer. UT also extended an offer in the past couple of weeks to Gainesville, Fla., CB Chris Bivins -- the former teammate of Jordan Williams and Trevaris Saulsberry and the cousin of Curt Maggitt -- so where does this put him? Do the Vols still feel good about DB commits Kenneth Crawley [who has done nothing to indicate he is at risk to go elsewhere] and LaDarrell McNeil [who has visited Texas Tech and is drawing interest from Texas]? Does this mean local products safety Cody Blanc and kicker George Bullock are going to be asked to gray shirt or walk on?
None of these may happen. But I do know the Vols have a ton of irons in the fire out there with limited space, especially if you begin to think about adding last year's cornerback commit Tino Thomas into the mix and giving a scholarship to Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard.
UT still wants to sign a running back, and Florence, Ala., ATH Beniquez Brown and Florida State commit Mario Pender are at the top of that list. The Vols would love to get safety Jordan Diggs on board, but Nebraska and Vanderbilt are high on his list, too. There's OT Andrew Jelks who the coaches will hold a spot for while he makes up his mind. Then there are skill players like Alton "Pig" Howard and Coradelle Patterson who have UT high on their lists. Alabama LB Javiere Mitchell is still a possibility. So is safety Trae Elston. UT will almost certainly accept the commitment of tight end Justin Meredith, a North Carolina commit who looks like he'll flip to orange. Then, there's the must-take of defensive linemen Denico Autry and Darrington Sentimore, if they'll come. The Vols have been rumored to lead for both.
I'm sure I'm leaving out some, but the bottom line is there are many, many options. And the fact is the Vols -- no matter how unpopular -- are not in a position to be coddling commitments if they get somebody to pledge whom they like more. It's a fine line to walk, and I'm glad I'm not making the decisions.
But it appears Gray is a player the Vols want in their future plans, and I'm fine by that. The size, the speed, the evaluation by coaches ... all that led to this commitment, and even though he flipped on a bad Kansas team, other programs like Nebraska and Ole Miss had offered and others were evaluating. It's not like this kid came out of nowhere [although I'd never heard of him.]
We need corners. Our coaching staff found one they liked. They offered last week. He committed yesterday. The kid wants to be a Vol, and now he is one. All of that is fine with me.
- The Vols continue to get high-quality prospects to visit campus and come away impressed despite a 4-5 record. I'd venture to say UT has done as good a job as any losing team in the country getting top-tier prospects to show interest. [That's about as back-handed a compliment as there is.] That continued last week when -- on the heels of UT getting DT Damien Jacobs to reaffirm his commitment and DE teammate Denico Autry to claim the Vols his leader after the South Carolina game -- UT hosted FSU running back commit Mario Pender and teammate Jordan Diggs. Pender came away from the visit feeling like what we all could have told him all season: That he can come in and start immediately. Will it be enough to get him away from Jimbo Fisher? I doubt it, but an elite talent like him is needed in the backfield along with Marlin Lane, Alden Hill and Imani Cross. As for Diggs, Nebraska seems like the top competition, but the Vols told him they'd use him like Janzen Jackson, and I think he likes what he hears.
- Again, since we missed last week [sorry about that] Autry -- who is a beast who would walk onto campus and immediately start at defensive end -- told several outlets last week that the Vols lead Bama and Mississippi State for his services.
- Another player UT is looking to get back in on is Memphis cornerback -- and 247 Sports top overall player in the state -- Sheldon Dawson. With Larry Porter's career status up in the air in Memphis, UT and Arkansas are trying to get Dawson to visit, and Dawson has said the Vols are recruiting him hard. How Gray's commitment will affect that, I'm not sure.
- According to 247's Barton Simmons, Memphis Central DE Frank Herron -- a former teammate of Cameron Clear -- has earned a UT offer. He is a 2013 prospect. Also, UT has offered an elite 2013 DE Jason Hatcher of Louisville Trinity.