National Signing Day has come and gone.
It gaveth. It tooketh away.
But nevermind the players the University of Tennessee didn't get. None of that can be helped now. Instead, we can only focus on the ones who'll definitely wear orange and white next year, those kids who bought into the Vol For Life program, who'll run through the T and who will [hopefully] have a role in restoring the program to its once-proud state.
For UT coach Derek Dooley -- and his three hold-over assistants Darin Hinshaw, Terry Joseph and Jim Chaney -- holding this class together through all the turmoil surrounding a forgettable year wasn't easy. That led Dooley to call this group of players "special" for sticking together and signing with the Vols on Wednesday.
It wasn't the best UT class ever, most likely, and it certainly wasn't the highest-rated, but there is some potential in this class. So, let's break down who we DID get, position-by-position and see just where we think it rates.
Nathan Peterman, 6-2, 205 Fruit Cove, Fla.
Are there better quarterbacks in this year's class? Sure. I have Peterman sixth on the list of pro-style passers out of all the kids I've watched on film. He doesn't always make the greatest decisions yet, but he throws a nice ball and he can make every single throw as well. Perhaps most importantly, he's a winner. He led Bartram Trail to a state championship appearance as a senior and put up stellar numbers that made analysts say he was the best quarterback in the state of Florida this past year. He'll step right in and compete with Justin Worley to back up Tyler Bray, and he certainly has the intangibles to be an SEC starter. I wish he was a couple inches taller, but he is still plenty tall enough. He doesn't have the polish of a Gunner Kiel, Jake Rodrigues or Tanner Mangum, but he has the potential to be a really good player.
RUNNING BACKS B
Alden Hill 6-2, 220 Alliance, Ohio; Davante Bourque 6-3, 200 Crowley, La.; Quenshaun Watson 5-9, 175 Athens, Ga.
There is strength in numbers, and the Vols went out and signed three running backs in this year's class after a season that ranks as the worst running the football in UT history. Though UT didn't run out and get an "elite" running back -- which was a bit surprising and disappointing -- that probably had a lot to do with the fact that a running backs coach wasn't in place until after the season when Jay Graham came from South Carolina back home. Though UT didn't land one of the marquee backs according to recruiting services, the Vols did get a kid with elite potential in superb athlete Davante Bourque, who flipped from LSU to UT. He has great hands and really cuts well for a big kid, and UT wants him at running back where he shined in high school. He isn't polished, but he could be a great back in the future.
I am a bit partial to Hill, as well. He's a mid-term player from Alliance, Ohio, right outside of Akron and played against sneaky good competition. Though the knock on him is speed, he really showed good football speed running away from people on film and according to a couple people I know who watched him play. He's also a good, smart kid who is in school and already learning the playbook. He can hold 235 pounds and may be a guy who either eventually gets the "tough yards" for UT or shifts to fullback [or linebacker]. He's a nice prospect.
Finally, Watson fits the mold of a jitterbug due to his lightning-fast speed, but he was also durable last year playing for Dooley's alma mater, proving he can carry the ball 25 times a game. He won't have to do that in Knoxville, but he is the kind of slippery back who can hit a hole and be gone that we haven't had since LaMarcus Coker. Don't sleep on Alton "Pig" Howard playing some running back, either. He played that position in the Under Armour All-American Game and looked good.
WIDE RECEIVERS A+
Cordarrelle Patterson 6-3, 205 Rock Hill, S.C.; Drae Bowles 6-1, 198 Jackson, Tenn.; Jason Croom 6-5, 212 Norcross, Ga.; Alton "Pig" Howard 5-9, 178 Orlando, Fla.
I'm not going to sit here and claim to know for certain that this group will go down as the best wide receivers class in the history of Wide Receiver U. Those would be strong suggestions considering the class with Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith ... and the class that featured Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers ... along with many more loom out there.
But I will say this class of receivers certainly has that potential -- and it's the most diverse of any WR class in recent memory.
The addition of five-star Patterson on National Signing Day just made this class of pass-catchers sick. As the day progressed, it became possible that UT had a chance to nab Quinshad Davis as well. When Davis wound up at North Carolina, it really didn't even hurt that much because of everybody already on board.
It all starts with Patterson, the two-time JUCO All-American who has incredible hands, elite speed, terrific elusiveness and is versatile enough to dominate on special teams, run for nearly 400 yards last year and score touchdowns at will. He is an instant-impact starter immediately and a guy who will allow Rogers to shift down to the slot where he can punish defensive backs across the middle. Patterson is a dimension-addition to the offense, and it is going to be interesting how Jim Chaney gets everybody enough touches to keep them all happy. He has three years to play two, but all of those almost certainly won't be needed. He's talented enough to be one-and-done.
Next is Bowles, one of the few in-state kids the Vols nabbed this year and a guy who stayed true to his commitment since deciding back in the summer. Bowles has a big, thick frame, and he was deceptively fast in the U.S. Army All-American bowl week practice, garnering a lot of positive attention from national analysts. He is a good, smart kid who reminds some analysts of a Dez Bryant type player, a guy who can grow into a physical presence who also has the ability to stretch the field.
Then there's Croom, who along with defensive tackle Danny O'Brien, embodies the Vol For Life as well as anybody in this class. He and his mother recruited for UT throughout the process, and he has repped the Vols wherever he has gone. On the football field, Croom has elite potential because of incredible size and solid hands. He will be a red-zone presence who may not be needed next year, but he will be an asset down the road. The closer he is moved in toward the line, the more match-up problems he'll cause. Croom is never going to out-run many defensive backs, but let's just say he has great open-field ability. Oklahoma State was recruiting him to be the next Justin Blackmon, if that tells you anything.
Then there's Pig Howard, who is right out of the mold of those old Florida Urban Meyer playmakers. It's no surprise that Meyer tried to convince Howard to visit Columbus after he took the Ohio State job. But Howard stayed true to his word, and the coaching staff has promised they'll find ways to get the ball in his hand, whether that be as a receiver, running back, return man or Wild Pig quarterback. Howard, if you watch his film, has that ability where he can take one juke move, cut past a defender and take the ball to the house. He's going to be a joy to watch in orange.
TIGHT ENDS B
Justin Meredith 6-5, 210 Anderson, S.C.
The Vols didn't need to go out and get a couple of tight ends, so they just targeted a couple. After some persistence, UT got one of its men when Meredith decommitted from North Carolina following a coaching change and decided to commit to the Vols, who never stopped recruiting him since eyeing him -- along with Alabama commit Kent Taylor -- as a chief target way back when evaluations began. Meredith isn't that highly rated because he didn't play tight end this past year for his high school team as TL Hanna needed him at defensive end. Still, services really think this kid has incredible speed for his size and soft hands. He isn't going to be needed next year, but he is a player who assuredly will help down the road. There is nothing over-the-top about him as a player, but he's the kind of guy who will start and be solid in a couple of years like Luke Stocker or Brad Cottam was in Knoxville.
OFFENSIVE LINE [INCOMPLETE]
I couldn't exactly give the Vols an 'F' because I don't have anything to grade at this position. As Dooley noted, there aren't many years that go by where you fail to sign an offensive lineman. Really, the Vols only targeted three -- Florida signee D.J. Humphries, Vandy signee Andrew Jelks and California signee Matt Cochran. After striking out with those three, the Vols decided they'd make it a point of emphasis next year. UT's coach said the team has added 11 offensive linemen on campus in the past two classes, and there will still be a freshman class of linemen next year -- redshirts Kyler Kerbyson, Alan Posey and Mack Crowder -- so all is not lost. But the Vols absolutely need to sign three or four at least next year, and they've gotten off to a good start already for 2013 with a commitment from Bradley Central's Austin Sanders. Did we need an offensive lineman? Well, coming from an old offensive lineman, yeah, I always like to get at least one. Is it the end of the world? Nah.
PLACE KICKER C+
George Bullock 6-2, 195 Knoxville
That is going to look like a harsh grade up there, and I realize that, but the bottom line is we just don't have a lot to go by on statistics with Bullock. We know he consistently boots his kickoffs into the end zone [which makes him worth a scholarship right there if you're a Vols fan given what we've witnessed the past few years ...] and we know that he will probably come in and compete with Michael Palardy unless Palardy can find some measure of consistency that has eluded him as a collegian so far. But Bullock didn't kick many field goals for West, and he also missed an extra point in an all-star game. I'm just sick of seeing those from ANY kicker. Recruiting services don't rank him high, and I've not seen enough of him to do so, either. What is encouraging is he is about 5 miles from campus, so coaches have almost certainly seen a lot more of him than I have, and they like him, so that's OK with me. The C grade is based on limited knowledge and low rankings.