Over the next three weeks, recruiting will become the biggest news in the college football world. For the University of Tennessee, that news has been a mixed bag thus far.
After Derek Dooley and his coaching staff piled up a recruiting haul that appeared to be on its way to a top 10-12 finish, things began to drift in different directions -- both positively and negatively. First, coaches told running back Imani Cross -- the Vols' first commitment of the year -- to look around at other schools. Then, linebacker Khalid Henderson and wide receiver Keithon Redding were encouraged to do the same. That's the dark side of recruiting nobody likes, but, recruits change their minds all the time, and coaches do, too ... despite the bad publicity it brings.
Soon after those difficult conversations were had, though, Dooley was hit with his own difficult news. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox took a lateral job at the University of Washington. That's never an easy thing for a recruiting class to overcome, but the fact that he took linebackers coach and ace recruiter Peter Sirmon along with him certainly didn't help.
Since then, several of UT's big-need recruits have decided to at least explore their options. Four-star cornerback commitment Kenneth Crawley decommitted because of grade issues, and now UT is faced with a lot of uncertainty with National Signing Day three weeks away.
Over that time, we'll do our best to profile each and every Tennessee commitment -- starting with defensive tackle Darrington Sentimore [a JUCO player already signed], moving to the early enrollees already on campus and progressing into the unsigned players who are essentially, as Dooley said last week, free agents. If we profile somebody who decommits, we'll just double up the next day.
This is an inexact science, so we'll do the best we can. Hopefully, you'll learn something about the players coming in. Hopefully, I won't be doing 35 profiles because of so much movement in the class. Maybe we'll have a seamless path to a quality class. But we'll start this thing and see where it takes us.
1. DARRINGTON SENTIMORE, 6-3, 273 DE/DT NORCO, LA [DESTRAHAN HS/UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA/GULF COAST COMMUNITY COLLEGE]
Ratings: Rivals 3*, 247 4*. Chose UT over Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida, Texas A&M.
STRENGTHS: The best thing about Sentimore is he has proven he can be a disruptive force on the highest level. He played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman at Alabama and recorded nine tackles, forced a fumble and had four quarterback hurries, drawing praise from Bama coaches and excitement from its fans. He would have been firmly in the mix at UA to start as a sophomore, but he was suspended indefinitely and never returned to the team. He is a fantastic pass-rusher and is also incredibly strong and quick for his size. He is the perfect replacement for Malik Jackson, and essentially the same type of player. He can play inside or outside for the Vols, and he will likely provide a lot of versatility.
NEEDS WORK: Quite honestly put, Sentimore is an odd bird with a worrisome track record. He had serious maturity issues at Alabama, causing him to be suspended indefinitely. Nobody was able to put a finger on what he did specifically, but there were multiple reports out there that suggested things that, while not terrible, just reeked of immaturity. I spoke to a friend who covered him at Gulf Coast, and he said Sentimore had a good season by all accounts there and got in no trouble, so that was certainly encouraging to hear. Hopefully he is ready to reach his immense potential. Also, there were worries when he was at Tuscaloosa that he didn't play hard all the time. If the Vols can keep him motivated and out of trouble, he'll be a terror.
CREDENTIALS: In 2011, recorded 39 tackles, five tackles for loss, seven sacks and recovered a fumble...Helped the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record, a MACJC South Division title and a Mississippi Bowl title... [Check above for Alabama stats]. As a prep star, he was ranked in Rivals.com's top 250 players and finished as the No. 13 defensive tackle and the No. 7 player in Louisiana ... Scout.com lists him as the No. 23 defensive end while ESPNU has him as the No. 20 defensive tackle ... Rivals.com also ranks him as the fifth-strongest defensive tackle in the nation ... a SuperPrep All-American and the No. 41 defensive lineman according to the publication ... also rated as the eighth-best player in Louisiana by SuperPrep ... first-team All-State by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association ... No. 79 on Scout.com's Southeast 150 list ... recorded 120 tackles, 47 tackles for loss and 16 sacks as a junior in 2007 ... notched 78 tackles and six sacks as a senior in 2008 ... chose Alabama over LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Miami (Fla.).
OPTIMISTIC CEILING: Sentimore is a freakish athlete for his size. He is the typical Alabama recruit, and the Vols are very fortunate to be able to add a player of his magnitude with two years of eligibility remaining. He will almost certainly start next year. If he has indeed matured and is hungry to get to the next level, he could definitely have the same type of impact Jackson had after transferring from Southern Cal. I hope we don't get Space Cadet Sentimore because, while I don't think he would necessarily be a bad apple, we need him to be a leader. He's got the potential to be a nasty, pass-rushing athlete who can help us give a lot of different looks up front, and he is a big steal for Dooley.