There's no denying how big a need tight end is for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Prior to the 2012 season, the Vols were forced to part ways with star-in-the-making Cameron Clear, who is getting ready to enroll at Texas A&M. Senior Mychal Rivera is out of eligibility. Also, Brendan Downs and Justin Meredith -- the only two true tight ends remaining on the roster -- are coming off seasons where they suffered injuries. Whether Justin King remains at H-back or moves back to defense is unclear.
Yeah, tight end is a pretty big need -- especially when you consider how often the Cincinnati Bearcats used Travis Kelce in Butch Jones' offense.
So, it was no big surprise Thursday when Tennessee accepted a commitment from former Bearcats tight end pledge A.J. Branisel, who decommitted from Cincy after an eight-month pledge when Jones left to become UT's next head coach. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound player could definitely stand to add 20-25 pounds but owns an exceptional 4.52 40-yard dash according to his Rivals profile.
That frame to go along with speed and athleticism makes Branisel an intriguing prospect, despite his few major offers. Branisel is the No. 29 tight end in the country according to Rivals and the No. 53 tight end according to 247Sports. He chose Tennessee over offers from Nebraska, Cincinnati, Purdue, Ball State, UConn, Indiana and Missouri among others. The Vols also offered Branisel under the Derek Dooley regime.
Jones' staff -- particularly tight ends coach Mark Elder -- has been scouring the junior college ranks the past couple of weeks looking for potential tight ends, so whether the Vols elect to also take a two-year stopgap at the position remains to be seen. Woody Quinn -- a former Pepperdine volleyball player with exceptional size and athleticism -- has already scheduled an official visit to Tennessee for January.
The Vols have a commitment from Chauntez Jackson, who the former staff liked as a tight end, but there is a possibility if Jones keeps him in the fold, he'll be a defensive end in the new 4-3 scheme.
But Branisel is a tight end all the way and is really a nice take at this point in the game at a need position, despite his probable inability to come in and play immediately. Branisel is the 16th known commitment for the Vols in this class. UT is expected to sign at least the full allotment of 25 and can sign up to 27 due to backcounting two.
Another few interesting recruiting notes today:
- Five-star running back Derrick Green posed with Michigan commitments in a photo that Rivals tweeted out. It appears the Vols are pretty far behind the Wolverines in that battle, and he's the best chance UT has to sign an elite back this year.
- The brother of Kyle Kempt -- a former Cincinnati quarterback commitment who also had a UT offer -- has been hired as a GA for the Vols. Kempt recently decommitted from the Bearcats, and though there haven't been any reports of mutual interest, the Vols are at least considering the possibility of signing two quarterbacks in this class, so Kempt may bear paying attention to.
- There is simple internet buzz [nothing more at this point] about the Vols gauging the interest of former Auburn running back and BCS national championship game MVP Michael Dyer. He'd have a couple of years to play, but -- as most of us know -- would bring considerable baggage from his past. Still, Dyer running behind our line has me intrigued. Hopefully, there is really more to it than just rumors.