National Signing Day is over and so is the barrage of information that saps all the mental strength from folks who follow -- and cover -- recruiting.
How many different ways can I say that Butch Jones didn't do badly salvaging the 2013 class? How many words need to be written for me to convey that the new Tennessee head football coach didn't knock it out of the park, either? How many tears need to be shed for Vonn Bell or Carl Lawson or E.J. Levenberry? How much excitement should we shed about the LOIs signed and players coming?
Those are questions that will have to be left to you to determine. The Vols we signed are the Vols we have. End of story and end of recruiting cycle [that is, of course, unless UT adds a player or two post-NSD]. My brain is fried, and this is the enjoyable lull before my favorite time of year. With Cuonzo Martin's UT basketball Vols struggling miserably this year, it's a time for me to just put sports on the backburner for a few weeks and mentally prepare for the blitz of Spring Football Practice/March Madness/Masters/Opening Day that I look forward to each year.
But we're going to take one final farewell to recruiting with a sneak peek ahead at some major storylines to watch for heading into a monster 2014 recruiting cycle. It's a year when the Vols can sign 29 players and have major needs all over the place. It's also a year that sets up quite nicely for the new coaching staff on the trail. So, the following few hundred words will at least give you a taste of what's ahead.
Then, we can nudge recruiting a few rungs down the importance ladder and enjoy the warming weather and the rest of our interests. And, yes, I'm pretty much just talking about me.
Though we won't catch every target, obviously, let's examine the top five difference-makers from this year's class, what the Vols need in the '14 class and what personnel we may be looking at to fill the many needs and many slots remaining from signing a smallish class of 21 this year.
FIVE TO WATCH WITH INSTANT-IMPACT ABILITY
- Jason Carr, 6-6, 270 defensive end/tackle Memphis. Whether Carr will play inside or outside has yet to be determined, but he's a difference-maker. Blessed with a huge frame and long arms, Carr reminds folks of those big Alabama and LSU defensive linemen, and he will be a great one before graduating. If he doesn't crack the starting rotation in '13, don't worry. He's a starter beginning in '14 for certain.
- MarQuez North, 6-4, 212 wide receiver Charlotte. The departure of Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter and Zach Rogers leaves a massive void at wideout, and North is talented enough to take advantage. It would not be a stretch to say he could start immediately, especially if Alton "Pig" Howard gets an extended look at running back. UT has a lot of young talent at the position. North will compete.
- Paul Harris 6-4, 200 wide receiver Upper Marlboro, MD. He is an early enrollee who is already impressing coaches, so he'll have a leg up on North since he has a six-month head start in the weight program. We tend to forget about players like Drae Bowles and Jason Croom who will be redshirt freshmen receivers, but North and Harris are talented enough to get playing time.
- Woody Quinn 6-6, 255 tight end, Santa Ana, CA. Partly due to numbers at the position and mostly because of his athleticism, Quinn will get a shot. You don't bring in JUCO tight ends to sit the bench and Vols coaches love the former Pepperdine volleyball player. He will surprise some folks this year.
- Malik Foreman 5-10, 175 cornerback, Kingsport, TN. Am I overselling Foreman? Maybe. But I love this kid and his potential. Will he be ready immediately? He's pretty small, but he's dynamic with the ball in his hands, and I think his film looks pretty polished. I think he'll challenge for playing time in the defensive backfield. Maybe I'm crazy, but he's my wild card.
- HONORABLE MENTIONS: Riyahd Jones: JUCO corner who'll get a shot. Cameron Sutton: freshman corner many wanted. Corey Vereen: Coaches love his pass-rushing ability at linebacker. Jaylen Reeves-Maybin: If he was playing OLB, he'd get PT. If he stays at safety, it may be an uphill battle.
FIVE NEEDS FOR 2014
Quick note: I'd been kicking around a lot of this information in my head the past couple days and meant to write this post yesterday, but didn't get the time. Now today, Ryan Callahan of GoVols247 writes it and knocks it out of the park ... so, before you think I'm copying him, I'm not. It's glaringly obvious what five positions at which the Vols need help.
- OFFENSIVE LINE. The Vols are expected to lose five linemen after next season -- seniors JaWuan James, Zach Fulton, James Stone and Alex Bullard as well as junior Antonio "Tiny" Richardson. Hopefully, Richardson will stay, but he's one of the most talented offensive linemen in the country already. Regardless, offensive line is certainly the most pressing need for UT in the 2014 class -- especially at tackle. Nothing against the trio but a depth chart of unproven Alan Posey, Marquez Pair and Austin Sanders is not exactly going to strike fear into opponents' hearts on the outside. The Vols will need to sign AT LEAST five linemen and potentially more in this year's class.
- DEFENSIVE LINE. It just so happens the hardest position to recruit star players is the one UT needs the most of in the upcoming class. We're talking like 6-8 players across the line, and it's a major reason why it's difficult at this point to get too excited about the immediate future in Knoxville. The Vols will lose Daniel McCullers, Mo Couch, Daniel Hood, Corey Miller, Marlon Walls and Jacques Smith after next season. That's incredible attrition. The Vols brought in Carr, Jaylen Miller and Malik Brown in this year's class, and they already have Trevaris Saulsberry, Danny O'Brien, Jordan Williams and LaTroy Lewis, but there is far from quality young depth. Jones must go out and sell players on playing for Steve Stripling -- who has coached more active NFL defensive linemen than any other position coach -- and they have to get them in bunches. The major need is defensive tackles and securing an elite pass rusher. Also, UT needs to hit the JUCO ranks for at least two DL. It's a scary situation.
- RUNNING BACK. The Vols will lose Rajion Neal after this year. While they will still have Marlin Lane, Alden Hill and Jabo Lee on the roster, none of those guys are game-changers. And Lane would then be a '14 senior. That's why I think A) Pig Howard is going to be a running back moving forward and B) the Vols HAVE to sign three running backs in this year's class. They already have a good start with the momentum in the recruitment of Alpharetta's Trayvon Paulk. He needs to go ahead and commit and let UT put all the focus on five-star Jalen Hurd and others.
- OUTSIDE LINEBACKER. If A.J. Johnson hangs around for two more years, the inside looks strong with he, Christian Harris and Kenny Bynum. But speedy linebackers are desperately needed on the outside, and there is little proven depth anywhere on the second level. The Vols need to get at least five linebackers and probably more like six or seven. They've got at least a good early start on the recruitment of legacy Dillon Bates, Greg McLissie and Petera Wilson from Memphis.
- CORNERBACK. Bringing in a solid trio of Malik Foreman, Riyahd Jones and Cameron Sutton was a nice start, but come on. This group currently in Knoxville was atrocious last year. While you hope Justin Coleman and Dan Gray will live up to their immense potential, that remains to be seen. Deion Bonner got kicked off the team, and there hasn't been anything suggesting Tino Thomas will do anything at UT. The Vols need difference-makers at the position. They need three of them -- and they need all three to be excellent. Will commitment Vic Wharton project there? That's unclear, but there are several options out there early that UT is doing a good job recruiting.
LOADING UP ON LEGACIES
An incredible amount of legacies are coming out of the woodwork for the Vols in the '14 class. Not all of them have offers, and of course, not all of them will wind up at Tennessee, but there are some really great players who have ties to Tennessee, and you'd better believe Butch Jones already knows about them and their ties to the program.
Here's a list of the ones I can think of:
- Todd Kelly Jr. Probably going to be a five-star safety who goes to school at Webb School in Knoxville. He already has offers from, well, everybody -- Florida, Florida State, Alabama, USC, Ohio State, Michigan, so on and so on. It seems it's a UT-Bama battle early. Hopefully, we can keep him home.
- Dillon Bates. He's visited Knoxville twice already. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker is the son of UT legend Bill Bates, and he's already talked to some about breaking his dad's records in Knoxville. The Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., product is also currently high on Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma. It would be huge to get an early commit from him at a major position of need.
- Evan Berry. James Berry's son. Eric Berry's brother. The 5-11, 195-pound cornerback is a major need for the Vols and will likely wind up a high three-star/low four-star player. He has great instincts and really would be a big early get for UT. Also holds offers from Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina, among others.
- Elliot Berry. James Berry's son. Eric Berry's brother. He's 5-11, 190 but yet has the frame to grow from a safety into a linebacker. Either way, he's a player the Vols would love to have. Berry seems high on LSU, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. He was big on Auburn before Trooper left. Vols want both brothers.
- Neiko Creamer. The son of Andre Creamer, who played for the Vols in the early '80s, has a UT offer and has the Vols way out front currently. He's a big, physical receiver [6-4, 220] from Bear, Delaware. If UT hits on him, it may be one of just 2-3 receivers they take in this cycle.
- Blaise Taylor. Given his messy departure from UT and the fact that he beat the Vols for several recruits over the years, it may be difficult for some fans to say Trooper Taylor is a former Vol. But he did coach at UT -- and his players loved him. Now, the Vols were the first SEC team last week to offer his son Blaise. Auburn -- where his father just got fired -- was second. Taylor is expected to come to Tennessee's junior day this weekend. The speedy athlete would be a big early pull with his daddy's connections. Hope we get him.
- Vic Wharton. Independence High athlete is the nephew of former UT basketball standout Vic Wharton. He is Jones' first commitment in the 2014 class and has already hit the ground running in trying to help recruit this class of legacies and in-state kids. Chose UT over Ole Miss, Miss State, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, and Cincinnati among others.
- Andrew Shofner. The 6-4, 280-pound offensive guard's granddaddy played for the General. He lives in Woodberry Forest, Va., and he'd love an offer from UT. He's one to watch, though he doesn't report any offers yet.
- Isaiah McDaniel. The son of former UT player Terry McDaniel is a cornerback for Bearden who could get a look, though he hasn't gotten a firm Tennessee offer yet.
- Cole Cook. The 6-6, 230-pound tight end already has an offer from the Vols. His mom [Kelly Casteel] played for Pat Summitt, and the family currently lives in Carrollton, Ga.
- Cedric Wilson Jr. It's hard to believe Ced has a kid who is nearly ready for college, but the 6-2, 180-pound athlete who plays duel-threat quarterback for White Station may be an athlete option for several teams. He does not yet hold an offer.
- Bailey Lenoir. Patrick Lenoir's son is a 6-4, 220-pound tight end from Chattanooga who already has visited Vanderbilt. He doesn't have any offers yet, but he's another legacy to keep an eye on.
BANNER YEAR IN-STATE
There are far too many solid players in the state of Tennessee to talk about them all here, but the bottom line is the Vols have to capitalize in its own backyard in 2014. None of the state's top five players signed with the Vols this year. That's unheard of and uncalled for. It absolutely cannot happen again.
Locking up the state begins with the Most Important Recruit In The Entire 2014 Class For Tennessee: Hendersonville (Beech) running back Jalen Hurd. He's a five-star back who grew up pulling for the Vols, yet we're way behind on his recruitment. While he likes Tennessee and the new staff, he currently has Florida and Ohio State at the top of his board. Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Tennessee look like the other teams in the race early for the 6-2, 210-pound star. He's a desperate need, and we absolutely have to get him.
247Sports analyst J.C. Shurburtt recently said he feels that the Vols have pulled themselves into an early favorite along with Florida, so we'll see. He's the biggest fish in the pond. Here are a few other players instate to look out for, and again, this is NOT a comprehensive list. Remember, we talked about some of the legacies -- who are instate -- above:
- Alex Bars 6-6, 287 offensive tackle Montgomery Bell Academy. We need him bad. Unfortunately, his two brothers went to the Big Ten to play for Penn State and Michigan. He's got an early UT offer, and others such as Florida, Georgia Tech, Duke, Indiana and Kentucky have pulled the trigger as well. The Vols have made him an early priority though.
- Josh Malone 6-2, 185 wide receiver Station Camp High. The Gallatin product was once believed to be a huge UT lean. He has cooled a bit on Tennessee but is still a major option. He'll be one of the most heavily recruited players instate and already has offers from Notre Dame, Florida, Ohio State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, South Florida and many others. The Vols need to recapture momentum here.
- Emmanuel Smith 6-1, 200 safety Murfreesboro Oakland. The Vols love the frame and athleticism on this kid, and they extended him an offer this week, his first. Getting in on instate kids early is a big bonus, and Smith is the kind of prospect who will blow up eventually.
- Derek Barnett 6-4, 260 strongside defensive end Brentwood Academy. Barnett is a major priority early for UT. The Vols like him as a defensive end and a tight end, and they've visited him multiple times since the new coaching staff came in. Duke, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State also have offered.
- Petera Wilson 6-3, 220 inside linebacker White Station. One of the state's most intriguing players has already visited UT twice, but he has a bunch of suitors. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, USC, UCLA, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas Tech and others already have offered the athletic linebacker, and it's difficult to see where UT stands currently. Will it help that Jason Carr just came from White Station this year? Guess we'll see.
- Akeem Cooperwood 6-6, 315 offensive tackle Knoxville Fulton. The Vols haven't offered yet, but Cooperwood has family ties to UT, and with the Vols' need for offensive linemen in this class, it wouldn't be out of the question to see an offer come soon for the big guy. He needs to improve his footwork and athleticism.
- RaShaan Gaulden 6-1, 180 safety Independence High. Wharton's teammate holds offers from UT, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, Duke, Mississippi State and others. Wharton has been trying to get him to join him at UT, but will it happen? How much are the Vols pushing for the Spring Hill product right now? It'll be an interesting development.
Hope we get off to a great start in 2014 recruiting and this is a bit of an early primer. Hope you guys enjoyed the coverage.