When you sign your first Top 5 recruiting class in seven years and then you bring almost half of them in early, some of these guys become rock stars right away. So as we begin our annual summer series of the biggest questions the Vols must answer in the fall, we'll get to Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone and the biggest names on the board a little further down the road. But to begin, who are the guys we might not be penciling into the starting lineup, but the Vols will need to provide critical depth?
True depth is the final piece of a true rebuild, and the Vols are probably still two years away from true freshmen not being asked to step in and contribute immediately in a number of places. Looking at the spring depth chart, there are already a dozen newcomers projected to be in the two-deep, and that's before the rest of the freshmen get here for the summer semester.
By my count Butch Jones only redshirted six of 22 signees last year. There are more names to play with this time with 31 new faces, but it will be important to figure out who can be in that middle group: not the best available option in the starting lineup, but good enough to provide immediate depth and help this team with a few snaps here and there. Who is the Jalen Reeves-Maybin of this class?
Here are a couple of names worth keeping an eye on:
- The Berries - Seems strange to talk about the brethren of Eric Berry (whose name I still hear in Swiperboy tones) as potentially under the radar, but Evan and Elliot may have a chance to be in the mix on defense. The Vols return nine defensive backs with meaningful snaps, plus Emmanuel Moseley and D'Andre Payne got in the action right away this spring (along with Riyahd Jones and Lemond Johnson). But three of the returning DBs are former walk-ons, and Tennessee has only a pair of solid answers in the secondary in Cameron Sutton and Brian Randolph. Other incoming DBs this summer like Todd Kelly, Jr. and Cortez McDowell may carry higher recruiting rankings, but there should be plenty of opportunities for the cream to rise to the top. Vol fans will cheer an extra decibel or two for Evan and Elliot whenever they see the field, and they may have a chance to contribute in the secondary or on special teams early on.
- Derrell Scott - Treyvon Paulk tore his ACL last September, which could make him a more likely candidate for a redshirt with Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd appearing firm at the top of the depth chart. Devrin Young is also working at tailback, and Scott fits a similar mold at 5'10" 181. Butch Jones has typically been a one-or-two back guy, with Isaiah Pead and then George Winn getting huge chunks of the carries at Cincinnati and Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane doing most of the damage last year. But Scott could provide a quick change-of-pace, and if Lane or Hurd was to go down to injury the Vols might need Scott in the backfield sooner than later.
- Jashon Robertson - Does the three star Montgomery Bell Academy DT/OG and former Vanderbilt commitment win the prize for least talked about recruit in this highly touted class? Maybe so, but here's what I know: the Vols are extraordinarily thin at defensive tackle, and I'm not sure UT can afford to redshirt any of their newcomers here. Owen Williams was here in the spring and several others are coming for summer. And Robertson may end up at offensive guard...where Tennessee is also still thin. In an ideal world you redshirt Robertson, but the Vols may need him for depth on either side of the ball.