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Recruiting In Review: Cameron Clear, Tiny Richardson, Vincent Dallas, Brendan Downs, Byron Moore

I'd try to make excuses why this feature has been absent the past few days, but they'd all be pretty hollow. It was the holiday weekend, my computer was on the blink and I really didn't want to brave the last-minute/post-Christmas shoppers to get a router [which I wound up getting from my sister for Christmas...]

So, we'll call this the "catch-up" edition of our Recruiting in Review feature. Think of it as a holiday marathon on RTT.


Ratings: Rivals 4* No. 18 offensive tackle, No. 2 prospect in TN, Scout 4* No. 9 offensive tackle, ESPN 4*, 247 4* No. 1 player in TN. Chose UT over Alabama, Duke, Arkansas, Auburn, Louisville, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, UCLA, Vanderbilt.

Looking back: One of the highest-recruited prospects and top targets on UT's board, Clear took his commitment down to the week before signing day before pledging to the Vols. Many pundits felt the jumbo athlete would be better playing offensive tackle or defensive end -- and some schools recruited him for that -- but Derek Dooley told Clear he'd be a tight end at UT, and he was all of last year. Though it took a while for the light to come on for Clear -- who is known to have a hulking presence but soft hands -- he started the last two games for UT and was a much better blocker than Mychal Rivera or fellow freshman Brendan Downs. He caught just one pass for 4 yards. He played extensively on special teams as well.

Looking forward: Clear seems poised to stay at tight end, and he has to learn to get separation and run better routes in space. Even so, coaches loved the way he came on toward the end of the season and think he has a future at the position. There is still that niggling thought in the back of my mind that he'd be an ideal offensive tackle and would be better suited there. UT has Downs already and also received a commitment from Justin Meredith , who is a mid-term enrollee [along with jumbo WR Jason Croom]. But nobody has said anything to suggest Clear is going anywhere else. If he stays at tight end, he can still be an NFL prospect there. He has the size, athleticism and hands to do that, but tight end is a very difficult position to learn in college, hence the paltry numbers last year.

Final projection: Just because I think he'd be better at tackle doesn't mean I think he's a bad tight end. I love Clear and his potential, and I think he'll be playing on Sundays someday. He will be an incredible blocker by the time his career at UT is over, and he has the ability to be a weapon in the passing game as well. I believe he'll start at least two years, and if Rivera doesn't get infinitely better blocking this offseason, Clear will take his spot in 2012.


Ratings: Rivals 4* No. 7 offensive tackle No. 1 prospect in TN, Scout 4* No. 18 offensive tackle No. 1 prospect in TN, ESPN 4* No. 8 offensive tackle, 247 4* No. 2 prospect in TN. Chose UT over Georgia, Southern Cal, Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Kentucky, Miami, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, South Carolina, UCLA, many others.

Looking back: Along with Clear, Richardson was one of the top two prospects in the state, and his recruitment went all the way to National Signing Day. He was one of Rivals top 100 players in last year's class, and I was frustrated he didn't get more playing time over Dallas Thomas last year. The raw ability is certainly there, and Tiny is quite the physical specimen, but it takes a while to learn to play offensive line anywhere, much less the SEC, so he probably had some growing pains there. Still, with an offseason under his belt, I fully expect him to be firmly in the rotation in 2012, and he should even start before the season is over. He played in all 12 games last year, whether on offense or on the line in field goal and point-after attempts. He also saw snaps at fullback in the loss to Kentucky and the win over Vanderbilt.

Looking forward: As I said, I can't envision a scenario where Richardson isn't a starter by the end of 2012. I know Thomas will be a senior, but Richardson's raw abilities should make him into an All-SEC caliber player sooner rather than later. He seems poised to be UT's left tackle of the future, and it was disappointing to me not to see him on the line more. Dooley made a statement to the effect of if he'd put Richardson and fellow freshman Marcus Jackson on the line at once, there would have been chaos. If those two have solid offseasons in the film room and weight room, there's nothing that should keep them from playing.

Final projection: Just because he didn't play a lot last year doesn't change the fact that I still believe Tiny will be a first-round NFL draft pick someday. My only worry is he's learning under Harry Hiestand, in whom I lost all faith last year. But he has all the raw talent, frame and strength to be a dominant player on this level and the next, and I believe it's only a matter of time before everything clicks and he's a superior talent for the Vols.


Ratings: Rivals 3* No. 52 athlete, Scout 3* No. 70 wide receiver, ESPN 3* No. 42 athlete, 247 3*. Chose UT over Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Indiana, Louisville, Ole Miss, Mississippi, Nebraska, UNC, NC State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia.

Looking back: He certainly had a better offer sheet than most three-star prospects and Dallas followed that rating with a mid-term appearance last year and early playing time. Though he struggled to become a consistent route-runner and pass-catcher, he saw action in 11 games, finishing with three catches for 37 yards.

Looking forward: Dallas isn't elite at anything, but he has the ability to be a Denarius Moore-type player, and Moore is catching a lot of passes this year for the Oakland Raiders. With another large wide receiver class entering UT, Dallas will have plenty of competition this year, but he already has proven he can get on the field. Now, it's only a matter of being more productive once he gets there. Like Moore, he came along slowly this year, but he has the tools and the fundamental soundness to provide a consistent weapon down the road once he gets more reps.

Final projection: He has a Moore ceiling, but I don't necessarily think he'll reach that plateau because of the depth of receiver UT has. Dallas figures to be fourth or fifth on the depth chart next year, and he has the potential -- and should have the snaps -- to shine. He needs to take a significant step next year, but after getting some confidence, he should be able to help now. I see him having a couple of 300-400 yard receiving campaigns down the road.


Ratings: Rivals 3* No. 28 tight end, Scout 3* No. 26 tight end, ESPN 3* No. 32 tight end, 247 3*. Chose UT over Duke, Baylor, Maryland, Memphis, Mississippi State.

Looking back: Downs decommitted from Duke and chose his childhood favorite Volunteers last year, and after coming in at mid-term, he seized the backup tight end role early in the season. He was supplanted by Clear later in the year, but that doesn't mean Downs did anything to hurt himself in the eyes of coaches. He was lauded for his physicality and put on about 10 solid pounds after a semester in the weight room. Though he had no issue with the hard-nosed aspect of SEC football, he struggled to gain a mental edge and hit a wall midway through the year. He played in eight games and finished with three catches for 34 yards.

Looking forward: He was almost identical in size to Luke Stocker when UT recruited him but put on more size and came in looking -- and playing -- like a tight end that belonged in the SEC. With Rivera ready for his senior year and Clear coming on, I'm not certain how much Downs will play this season, but he is going to be a weapon down the road receiving and blocking. He has the ability to be an all-around tight end, and it may not hurt him to redshirt this year if that's at all possible, just to help him maximize playing time down the road. That said, he could battle -- and beat -- Clear and Rivera this year with a good offseason. All positions are open.

Final projection: I think Stocker is a nice ceiling, just as I did when UT recruited him. I was impressed with his hands and it's always saying something when a kid reaches the field as early as Downs did. Sure, he didn't stay on that same level when the competition got tougher, but that's to be expected from a freshman. He will continue to progress and be a nice player for the Vols with the ability to start for a couple years.


Ratings: Rivals 4* No. 5 JUCO prospect, Scout 4*, 247 4*. Chose UT over Miami, Arizona, Arkansas, Boise State, Cal, Cincinnati, LSU, Michigan, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Oregon State, Penn State, UCLA and Washington.

Looking back: There are many [including myself] who may characterize Moore's first year with the Vols a disappointment. That is, those of us who were projecting he'd come in and start immediately. Maybe we were being unfair to him in hindsight. Moore didn't play much as a freshman at Southern Cal and bolted when Lane Kiffin came in. Though he was a highly rated JUCO kid, he had never gotten quality reps at a major college program. Then, he came in overweight. Once he got in shape and gradually learned Justin Wilcox's complex scheme, Moore worked his way into the rotation toward the end of the year. He was out of place a lot, but he wound up with six tackles in 11 games, starting two late at nickel back.

Looking forward: Moore has two years left, and he really needs a good offseason in the weight program and especially familiarizing himself with Wilcox's defense. Moore has the size and speed to be a legitimate bonus for the Vols in the secondary, whether it be at safety or corner. He just has to quit being so wide-eyed and dedicate himself. He almost certainly will be in the rotation this year, and I expect him to make a big leap from this past forgettable season.

Final projection: I once thought Moore was a sure-fire NFL prospect. I don't anymore. He has to prove that he can play on this level and play consistently. But I think he has enough talent and ability to help, and potentially to even start at some point. The secondary is wide-open at this point, and since nobody other than maybe Izaeua Lanier and Brian Randolph have solidified a starting role, the opportunity is there.