Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers have gotten off to a quick start on the recruiting trail this early season, but some of the biggest critics along the way have asked one simple, logical question:
Where's the beef?
With the Vols losing virtually the entire offensive and defensive lines after 2013, it is essential that UT reloads along the lines of scrimmage. Tennessee has picked up a pledge from three-star interior offensive lineman Coleman Thomas and three-star offensive tackle Orlando Brown. But they had not addressed any needs along the defensive front.
The Vols received a commitment from four-star defensive end Joe Henderson of Shaker Heights, Ohio, on Thursday. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound edge rusher is one of the premiere speed rushers in the Midwest and has really seen his stock rise recently. 247Sports rates him as the No. 14-ranked weakside defensive end in the nation and the 14th-best prospect in Ohio. He's a three-star player on Rivals and Scout.
247Sports national recruiting analyst Steve Wiltfong -- one of the best analysts around -- caught up with Henderson's trainer Mark Harris, who compared him to Michigan defensive end Frank Clark. Harris said this:
"Joe Henderson is a freak. This guy is the next Frank Clark if not faster. This is the type of hybrid player you have to have. He can play receiver. He played tight end for us on the bus tour last year. He can play as a standup linebacker and cover a slot receiver. He can play underneath the receiver and roll with them. He can put his hand in the dirt and also get to the quarterback. He's a beast. Tennessee got something good."
Henderson held offers from UT, Arkansas, Illinois, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Pitt, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Buffalo and Bowling Green. He'd received recent interest from Ohio State and Michigan, though neither had offered. He boasts a 4.5 40-yard dash and fits a major need for the Vols in a speedy player who can come off the edge and get to the quarterback. He comes from roughly the same area as redshirt sophomore LaTroy Lewis, who is also expected to be able to get to the passer for the Vols.
The Vols are sorely lacking speed all over the field, and that's what a player of Henderson's caliber brings. He can play a hybrid position where he can keep his hand on the ground or even stand up and play linebacker. He has a major upside, and UT got a great prospect before he really blows up. You always concern yourself with the possibility that the Buckeyes will swoop in with an offer, but Henderson visited Knoxville a couple weeks back, liked what he saw, and it didn't take him long to pull the trigger with a commitment.
Just look at the attributes on Henderson's 247Sports page. On a 1-10 scale, he's got 7 in size, 8 in frame, 7 in athleticism, 7 in first step, 8 in closing speed, 7 in speed, 7 in hand quickness and 6 in point of attack. He needs to get a bit stronger, but when he does, Henderson has all the intangibles to be a pass-rushing force.
With Henderson's commitment, Tennessee takes over the top spot in Rivals.com's 2014 recruiting rankings. The Vols are second in the 247Sports rankings with 201.52 points, trailing Michigan's 204.47. 247Sports has proven recently to have the best evaluators, and by their tally, UT has one five-star, three four-stars and 10 three-star commitments in their 14 commits. UT is currently the top program in the SEC in recruiting, just ahead of Texas A&M.
The Vols received one of its biggest puzzle pieces yet with the pledge of Henderson, and UT hopes to get more good news when four-star linebacker Dillon Bates announces his decision either July 2 or 3 at The Opening camp in Oregon. UT seems to be the favorite over Florida and Alabama. That will be another big puzzle piece for UT's needs in the front seven if Bates joins Henderson. It's also possible athlete Neiko Creamer could play linebacker in the future.
Welcome to Big Orange Country, Mr. Henderson!