Taking a closer look at last year's recruiting class. Today, we review Pat Martin, Mack Crowder, Christian Harris and Geraldo Orta.
Unfortunately, recruiting season started early for the Tennessee Volunteers this year after a shocking 10-7 loss to Kentucky ended a disappointing 5-7 year and turned up the temperature on Derek Dooley's seat.
But while many folks only give a cursory look at the incoming players who will wear orange a couple of times a year, paying just passing attention to this silly season, some of us love it. Some of us get excited about recruiting, devouring any tidbit of information on high school prospects, watching film for projections to the next level, and living and dying every time a 17-year-old makes up his mind on his school of choice ... and changes it ... and changes it again.
Case in point, 24 hours ago, Denico Autry was a "Tennessee lock!" Sophomore JUCO transfer Otis Jacobs -- a longtime Texas A&M commitment -- was going to take a token visit to Knoxville before committing to the Vols [his words]. And his teammate Darrington Sentimore was the one doing the recruiting for UT. Today, Autry is the newest Mississippi State Bulldog, Jacobs is probably still leaning toward UT but the Aggies gave him something to think about after an in-home from new coach Kevin Sumlin, and who knows about Sentimore anymore?
It's the joys -- and heartaches -- of recruiting. And over the course of the next 49 days, we'll cover every nook and cranny of this crazy time to be a college football fan.
Eventually, we'll tackle each individual prospect verbally committed to Tennessee. That comes a bit later, however. With all the potential fluidity surrounding UT's coaching staff and with pieces of the class still sliding into place with limited space and recruits wondering about those coaches, we'll give this year's class a little bit of time to straighten out. That will come when we start the "Rocky Top Talk Commitment Countdown To Signing Day" in a few weeks.
For now, I'll take a look back at last year's recruiting class, how the players fared in their first year on the Hill and what I think about them moving forward. Since we're a bit late to the party on this, we'll do four players today to catch up. After that, we'll look at one of last year's commitments per day until we've discussed them all.
Anyway, hope you guys enjoy the feature -- and maybe this'll help us pass the time between now and NSD. Hopefully, Cuonzo will have something to do with passing that time productively as well...
27. PAT MARTIN, 5-11, 200 DB GREENVILLE, SC [JL MANN HS]
Ratings: Rivals 4* No. 22 safety, Scout 3* No. 34 safety, ESPN 4* No. 15 safety, 247 3*. Chose UT over Arkansas, LSU, Maryland, Mississippi State, South Carolina.
Looking back: Martin was one of the Vols' first big commitments in the 2011 class and became one of UT's biggest recruiters through twitter, other social media and on visits. He fell in love with Knoxville on his first trip and eventually committed to the Vols. It took the local Gamecocks a long time before finally offering, and Clemson never did. Many who watched him play said he was too rigid to play in the defensive backfield and questioned his high ranking. Still, UT was excited to have him ... for the few weeks he was on campus, that is. On Aug. 29 not long into preseason practice, Martin elected to transfer. Dooley called it a "mutual decision" but the timing seemed odd, especially considering this was a kid who loved UT and left before never playing a game. Martin struggled to crack the rotation during the first few weeks of practice, and many speculated that with his weight creeping over 200 and having a big frame, he wouldn't eventually fit at outside linebacker.
Looking forward: Guess he'll have to play DB or LB somewhere else as he's no longer ours to worry about. At the time of his release, he said he hoped to be able to transfer to an ACC school, Louisville, West Virginia or TCU. The bottom line is sometimes kids just don't mesh well with their classmates or fit in at the school. With little to no additional information about the situation, we're left wondering why Martin left so quickly. Hopefully, he'll land on his feet somewhere and be a good player in Division I. For now, it's off to JUCO and then being re-recruited.
Final projection: I believe he'll be a solid player for a team like Louisville or something, but I truly believe he has outside linebacker written all over him. With he could have switched positions and fit in at UT, but there were reasons it was "mutual," and speculation gets us nowhere.
26. MACK CROWDER, 6-4, 270 C BRISTOL, TN [TENNESSEE HS]
Ratings: Rivals 3* No. 14 center, Scout 3* No. 9 center, ESPN 3* No. 7 center, 247 3*. Chose UT over Duke, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Florida.
Looking back: He committed to the Vols on the same day as teammate and tight end Brendan Downs, but Crowder never saw the field as a true freshman, redshirting to get stronger. Throughout his recruitment, he began to emerge as a prospect many in the Southeast wanted with his two best offers coming from Va Tech and Florida, but he decided to stay at home and play with his teammate. Crowder definitely needed another year in the weight room prior to seeing the field, and he probably wouldn't have seen action with Alex Bullard, James Stone and Darin Gooch ahead of him, anyway.
Looking forward: There really hasn't been much said about Crowder and his development, so we're a bit in the dark with him as a prospect. All early indications were that he needed to be stronger to play on this level, and he certainly wasn't playing anything close to this type of competition coming out of an East Tennessee high school. With Stone's struggles snapping, he may not ever play center again, so there's at least the opportunity for Crowder to see some playing time behind Bullard. You have to think coaches see him as a better option than Gooch as a backup. But, from the outside looking in, coaches have turned up the pressure on 6-2, 340-pound center Matt Cochran in this year's class, and you wonder if it's just UT going after the best OL they think they can get or over-recruiting Crowder. At this point with no OL commitments, I think it's most likely A and Crowder is still looked at as being a player who could help in the future.
Final projection: Cochran would be a beast of a pick up, for sure, and he's choosing between UT and Cal. But looking solely at the players on the roster, it looks like Crowder would be in line to be a two-year starter right now after Bullard graduates if he continues his progression in the weight room. Bullard is about to be entering his junior season. Hopefully, Crowder will not be forced into the starting lineup anytime soon and instead earn his way there.
25. CHRISTIAN HARRIS, 6-2, 230 MLB WOODSTOCK, GA [ETOWAH HS]
Ratings: Rivals 3*, Scout 3* No. 90 OLB, ESPN 3* No. 54 OLB, 247 3*. Chose UT over Central Florida. Interest from other programs but Harris adamantly shut down his recruitment after committing to the Vols.
Looking back: A lot of folks saw the Vols' first commitment of last year's class as a project, but Lance Thompson loved his size and strength and took a verbal on the spot. Harris was faithful to his pledge, and the Vols kept him around, too. As was necessary, Harris redshirted last year, but early reports suggest the coaches really liked his work ethic in the weight room and thought he would wind up being a pretty good player. Again, there simply was no data on which to judge Harris, who certainly looks the part on the sideline at least.
Looking forward: Dooley took a commitment a couple of years ago from a technician at MLB in John Propst, who really didn't play a lot on defense this year but was an excellent special teams player. I don't want to put Harris in that mold yet, but if UT can hang onto incoming commitment Dalton Santos he'll certainly compete immediately. Also, freshman All-SEC performer A.J. Johnson played OLB this year, but some thought he may be even better inside, especially considering Herman Lathers will be back next year. All of these developments would likely block Harris' way into the defensive rotation. But all he needs to do is learn the defense and keep working out, and there will be potential for him to help.
Final projection: It's going to be interesting to see what happens with Santos and if Johnson moves inside. Regardless, it wouldn't hard to see Harris cracking the linebacker rotation in a couple of years and being a solid, Austin Johnson-type for UT during his last couple of years on campus. I believe he has the chance to be a solid, but not spectacular, player.
24. GERALDO ORTA, 6-0, 180 S VALDOSTA, GA [LOWNDES HS]
Ratings: Rivals 3* No. 57 safety, Scout 3* No. 64 safety, ESPN 4* No. 17 safety, 247 3*. Chose UT over Clemson, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wake Forest.
Looking back: After battling a shoulder injury, it was thought that the player who goes by "Wally" may be asked to grayshirt and could be going home for a couple of semesters to rehab. Instead, Tino Thomas headed back to Memphis [he will return and be a part of this year's class] and Orta rehabbed in Knoxville. Though he redshirted, I spoke to a couple of people who informed me that the coaches absolutely love his speed, and that he may be able to help as soon as next year. The Vols need to upgrade speed at every position, and UT believes it got a steal late in the process last year, nabbing the one-time Clemson commit.
Looking forward: Again, Orta's biggest asset is his speed. He fell behind classmate Brian Randolph this year as he looked like a budding star at safety, but UT isn't very deep in the defensive backfield -- especially at safety. And with one of this year's prize commitments LaDarrell McNeil looking around and looking even more like he won't be a Vol, the opportunity will be there for Orta to get in the rotation next year. Along with that speed, Orta got the reputation as a hard hitter in high school. Maybe he'll be able to grasp the scheme and provide the Vols with a faster option at safety.
Final projection: I've been a big fan of Orta since before he committed, and especially at a thin position, he'll be able to provide some help sooner rather than later. I don't know that I'd predict great things for him next year, but I do think he'll see the field, and he has the chance to be a quality player for the Vols down the road.