The Tennessee Volunteers have finally caught up numbers-wise -- almost too caught up, actually.
By my count, UT has 70 scholarship players currently on its roster including the mid-term enrollees. Throw in the 14 committed high school players yet to arrive on campus, and that gets the Vols to 84. If Jacksonville (Fla.) inside linebacker Kenneth Bynum decides this week that he wants to join UT over Cincinnati, that would put the team right at the 85 scholarship player limit allowed by NCAA rule.
As of now, the Vols are in line to lose only 13 senior scholarship players after the 2012 season -- Marsalis Teague, Rod Wilks, Prentiss Waggner, Herman Lathers [likely, unless he gets another year from the NCAA], Ben Bartholomew, Nigel Mitchell-Thornton, Carson Anderson, Dallas Thomas, Darin Gooch, Mychal Rivera, Zach Rogers, Willie Bohannon and Steven Fowles. That would mean that -- unless some major attrition happens -- UT will only be able to sign 13 [or 14, if Bynum elects to head north] next year.
We all know that's not going to happen and the Vols will find a way to make more room, but still, we'd have to cull 12 players between now and next year's National Signing Day to get to the 25 max. That seems tough to imagine. There is the looming possibility that several Vols will test the NFL waters early, and while we hope that doesn't happen, it would clear recruiting spots for the next class.I do think the Vols will get close to that number, but 10 is probably the most room they will clear. So, we'll operate off Derek Dooley getting to 23 scholarships in time for the 2013 class.
For our exercise below, the information below can get a bit tricky unless you keep some things in mind. To note, a junior for the upcoming 2012 season will be referred to as a senior leading into the '13 class, and so on. We're going to list the players at each position the Vols will be returning, their class and also give a projection on who may look elsewhere for playing time.
- We will not base potential transfers on ANYTHING besides lack of playing time or NFL departures. So, you won't get anything like "If Player X gets homesick" ... or ... "If Player Y gets in trouble."
- UT's offensive line is full of players who can play guard or tackle, so we'll separate the centers from the exterior linemen, but all other OLs will be tossed in together.
- Some players will be listed twice.
- Finally, we're not factoring in redshirts, which will almost certainly occur.
As I said, this is far too early [but never too early if you love recruiting ...] so here is my subject-to-change breakdown of how I see numbers shaking out for next year's class. This is a completely unscientific look at the numbers, and I could be WAAAY off from what UT coaches envision currently. Still, think of it as an early-bird guide to get us thinking about what UT's needs will be entering this year's recruiting cycle. And, yes, I enjoy recruiting far too much.
Returning players: Sr. Tyler Bray, Jr. Justin Worley, So. Nathan Peterman
Possible defections/roster questions: While we all hope that Bray doesn't leave for the NFL, I think all of us would love to see him have the type of season where he'd at least have to consider it. There's always the possibility of the loser of the Worley/Peterman battle for the backup [which, in my opinion, will be Worley] will leave, but you have to think out of the three, only one at the most would go.
Recruiting targets: 1, barring anything unforeseen happening such as Bray bolting for the NFL AND one of the others transferring. The Vols always want to recruit at least one quarterback, but of course, if they lose a quarterback, you'd have to think UT would want to get two. I don't see Bray leaving at this moment, but I could see losing one of the three. For now, we'll say the Vols will target one signal-caller.
Returning players: Sr. Rajion Neal, Jr. Marlin Lane, Jr. Tom Smith, Jr. Devrin Young, Jr. Jaron Toney, So. Davante Bourque, So. Alden Hill, So. Quenshaun Watson.
Possible defections/roster questions: Neal is certainly a question mark here. He's a very intriguing player who is currently playing wide receiver but is listed on the roster as a running back. I'd love to see him get another shot at RB, and who knows what Lane is going to do this year? This is a big spring for Smith, who may be playing elsewhere if he can't crack the rotation. You also have to wonder if one of the three in UT's big RB class this year doesn't go elsewhere. Toney isn't a scholarship player, but he factored in the rotation last year. Then there's Hill, who could land at fullback due to numbers.
Recruiting targets: 2. The Vols love Bourque and think he can be an elite back ... but that's pretty much it on the roster. With a running backs coach in place, UT will search far and wide for an elite runner. Can they lure one if they throw the ball all over the field next year is another question? Still, I see UT wanting two backs.
Returning players: None. So, it's either Alden Hill or somebody not on scholarship. Walk-ons Jr. Austin Bolen, Jr. Austin Taylor and So. Ryeon Wedley.
Possible defections/roster questions: Will Hill end up at fullback? If not, the Vols have a question there. Can they rely on one of the three walk-on fullbacks -- who've actually all proven they can play on a high school level, at least. Will the Vols even play a fullback often in the future? There's also the question of whether Channing Fugate, who was moved to middle linebacker this week, will stick on defense or move back to fullback.
Recruiting targets: None. I have no idea what UT's future is at this position, especially with all the talent at receiver. Dooley may very well elect to not recruit a fullback and go with Hill or a walk-on in certain sets. I honestly don't think with all the needs on the board that UT will recruit one, and I think Hill or someone else fills that role going forward.
Returning players: Jr. Brendan Downs, Jr. Cameron Clear, So. Justin Meredith
Possible defections/roster questions: None.
Recruiting targets: 1. With the Vols always liking to get a tight end target, here is where I think the fullback scholarship is used. I just can't see UT -- in a small class -- taking a tight end AND a fullback. With two receiving tight ends on board, I think the Vols would like to go after a big, bruiser who is a premiere blocking tight end.
Returning players: Sr. Justin Hunter, Sr. Da'Rick Rogers, Sr. Cordarrelle Patterson, Sr. Raijon Neal, Sr. Naz Oliver, Jr. Vincent Dallas, So. Alton "Pig" Howard, So. Jason Croom, So. Drae Bowles
Possible defections/roster questions: OK, we all know that Hunter is most likely a goner. After his difficulties meshing with team chemistry this past season, Rogers could be, too. Out of the Big Three, I don't think it's a stretch to say the Vols can expect to have just one back for 2013, and anything better than that would be icing on the cake. Oliver probably isn't ever going to factor into the rotation, and Neal also could find his way back at running back, where he's a home-run threat waiting to happen if he can only hang onto the ball.
Recruiting targets: 2-3. If the Vols lose Hunter as well as Rogers and/or Patterson, you're looking at a team with just three remaining upperclassmen and three underclassmen. For our calculations, we're going to go with the Vols getting two targets this year, replacing the two we think they'll lose. If, of course, UT sees three it likes and can have, it wouldn't be surprising to see them take three receivers. But with limited room and other needs, I'll go with two.
Returning players: Sr. Alex Bullard, Jr. James Stone, So. Mack Crowder
Possible defections/roster questions: First off, you have to doubt the Vols will ever try the Stone Experiment at center again. So, now that that is out of the way, that leaves just one scholarship center on the team in 2014. So, I definitely see Tennessee going after a center in this year's class, and they've already targeted a couple.
Recruiting targets: 1. I cannot see the Vols needing more than two centers on their team, along with possibly another utility guy who takes some practice snaps in case the need arises.
Returning players: Sr. Alex Bullard, Sr. James Stone, So. Mack Crowder, Sr. Zach Fulton, Jr. Marcus Jackson, Sr. Ja'Wuan James, So. Kyler Kerbyson, Jr. Marques Pair, So. Alan Posey, Jr. Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, Sr. JerQuari Schofield.
Possible defections/roster questions: The two players here that I'd watch for to leave are Pair and Schofield unless either one of them makes a move for playing time in a hurry. Also, since UT didn't get a single offensive lineman in this year's class, I expect the 2013 class to feature several. There's also the possibility that Fulton or James will go pro, though both would have to have much better seasons than they did last year. Stone was down on himself after going from starter to out of the rotation last year, but he's talented and just needs to get back in the groove.
Recruiting targets: 3-4. Given the number of upperclassmen UT will have, I think the Vols will probably take at least three non-center offensive linemen in this class and potentially four, based on what they decide to do at a few other positions. The Vols already have a stud committed in Austin Sanders, so they've gotten off to a good start, and new offensive line coach Sam Pittman is known for his recruiting abilities. He already has offered a slew of elite linemen for the upcoming class.
Returning players: Sr. Michael Palardy, Jr. Matt Darr, So. George Bullock.
Possible defections/roster questions: None.
Recruiting targets: 1 or 0. OK, so I forgot about specialists. IF the Vols sign one, it would push my end number to 24, but I'm still putting this in here. I don't really think UT would go after a kicker unless it had an elite boot in its area -- and it does with Farragut's Jonathan King. So, I believe King will get an offer, and it'll be him or nobody in this upcoming class for the Vols.
That puts us at 10 (or 11, counting the kicker) offensive scholarships doled out in the 2013 class with the possibility that, if room permits, it could swell to as many as 12-13. We'll take a look at the defensive side of the ball Monday.