How fast are Butch Jones and the new University of Tennessee coaching staff going right now in trying to make sure their first Volunteers recruiting class isn't filled with leftovers and unwanted prospects?
So dizzying that it's impossible to keep up with everything that is happening, all the news and all the rumors out there.
Nobody can tell any of us how this staff will be on the recruiting trail in the future or if they'll be able to win SEC football games. But if their relentless pursuit of players in the flurry of the past couple months is any indication, Jones will do just fine in Knoxville. We've literally never seen anything like what these guys are doing right now -- from securing visits from some of the top players in the country to crossing the country to visit guys.
If we tried to cover all the "Jay Graham is in North Carolina visiting with MarQuez North" information or the "Prospect X has spoken to Assistant Coach Y five times in the past week," this column would be 10,000 words long. I don't have time to write that, and you don't have time to read it. So, we'll just cover what we can and hope that we've hit the high points. One thing should be universal as a Vols fan -- you should appreciate and be astounded by how this coaching staff has carried itself and extended themselves in search of talented play-makers, no matter what happens.
UT tight ends coach Mark Elder tweeted last week that the Vol Nation is about to see the fruits of the coaching staff's labor pay off. If that doesn't totally materialize this year, I still believe it will. This staff works at recruiting the way Lane Kiffin's UT staff did. Hopefully, they'll have better results in getting program kids and difference-makers.
I'm going to throw a few things your way early off the top of my head, so please forgive me if they're wrong. First of all, Ryan Callahan of GoVols247 reported this week that, due to the NCAA sanctions left behind by Kiffin's crew, the Vols have only 23 official visits remaining to spend on players. That means you're going to see guys like Dee Paul [who Tennessee wants on campus but who committed to Texas Tech last week] and Brandon Vandenburg [a JUCO TE who favors Vanderbilt] likely not visit in order to make room for players that realistically could end up at UT. It's going to be crazy seeing how the numbers shake out.
Also, here is the part where I could miss a player or three: I'll attempt to give you a semblance of what I believe UT's big board to be right now. I know that's a massive undertaking and -- as I said -- I'll leave a few guys out. But here's what I believe is the board right now. Today, we'll do the offense.
[Click on player name to see 247 Sports profile]
Tennessee already has secured its quarterback of the future with North Carolina signal caller Ferguson, who committed to Derek Dooley's staff. He visited Knoxville this past weekend and UT secured his commitment with the new staff. He is actively recruiting for the Vols, according to this GoVols247 story.
With Tyler Bray's departure to the NFL, the Vols are in the market for two quarterbacks in this year's class if the right opportunity presents itself. Without question, the top player on the board right now besides the committed Ferguson is FSU commit Franklin, who visited Knoxville as well this past weekend and called it "eye-opening." Many think UT did as much as it could do to sway Franklin, who was solidly committed to the Seminoles. New OC Mike Bajakian is trying to convince Franklin he'll definitely be a QB in Knoxville, where FSU may move him somewhere else. He is an electrifying athlete with a 40 time in the high 4.3s. His visit to Tallahassee this weekend is one to watch in the Vols' attempt to steal him.
Finally, Dobbs is an intriguing prospect the coaches like. Though there hasn't been a ton of talk about him, if things fall through with Franklin, we'll likely know something after the weekend, and coaches will probably turn the focus to Dobbs. There seems to be some mutual interest, though he too seems happy with the Sun Devils.
Other names to watch are former Cincinnati commitment Kyle Kempt and CAK QB Charlie High [who likely won't get an offer].
Derrick Green 6-0, 220 Richmond, VA
Johnathan Ford 5-11, 190 New Hope, AL VANDERBILT COMMIT
Peyton Barber 5-11, 215 Alpharetta, GA OLE MISS COMMIT
JoJo Kemp 5-10, 190 Deland, FL
Alvin Kamara 5-10, 195 Norcross, GA
Alex Collins 5-11, 204 Fort Lauderdale, FL
Aregeros Turner 5-10, 170 Akron, OH
Tennessee's push to sign a top tailback continues to take some hits. Derrick Green -- Rivals.com's No. 1 running back and a top-10 back on 247 -- has been UT's top target for several months. But it appears -- if you believe the national analysts -- that he has the Michigan Wolverines way out front. Green had his picture taken with all the Wolverines commits at the US Army All-America game, and he's raved about them to everyone who'll listen. Still, the Vols don't think they're out of that one just yet. Though Butch Jones has already had his in-home with Green, UT sent four coaches to visit with him last week.
Ford -- a VU commit -- visited Knoxville this past weekend and really liked what he saw, enough for many to believe the Vols were a major player to flip the second James Franklin commitment in as many months.
But a wrench was thrown into the tire Tuesday night when Auburn offered the in-state running back. Sources have told me for some time that the runner [who is from my area] would have a difficult time turning down a committable Alabama or Auburn offer. So, that one is worth watching, especially considering it appears the Tigers will get Ford's final visit. The Vols really had some momentum here, so this is a disappointing turn.
So, where does that leave us? Graham continues to try to get involved with Kamara and try to get him to visit Knoxville with buddies Carl Lawson and UT commit Ryan Jenkins this weekend, but that's an uphill battle. Alabama and Georgia are the favorites right now to land Kamara, who is probably a Bulldogs lean. He is perhaps the player best suited for Jones' offense remaining on the big board.
As for Barber, he was tentatively scheduled to visit Knoxville this weekend, but that's up in the air. Barber -- an Ole Miss commit -- is a teammate of Lawson, and UT really wants all of those guys on campus together. Since the Rebels have three more running back commitments, the Vols were hoping to close in on Barber, but Texas offered in the past week, and he may visit Austin instead. That one is worth looking at.
JoJo Kemp has UT among his finalists with Pittsburgh and Kentucky and the former South Florida commit is scheduled to visit Knoxville. Collins -- who is a five-star player -- appeared open to visiting UT, but there hasn't been much recent talk of any substance with Collins and UT.
A couple of names to possibly watch for are Turner -- who was committed to Jones at Cincinnati and wants to visit UT -- and Memphis running back Jordan Wilkins, who is committed to Auburn currently but isn't hearing much from their staff. There hasn't been any discussion about Wilkins and UT, but if Auburn becomes the favorite for Ford, that could be a direction Tennessee heads. Right now, it doesn't look like any of these guys actually "favor" UT, so it's a little disconcerting to see where running back recruiting is going to head.
Paul Harris 6-4, 195 Upper Marlboro, MD TENNESSEE COMMIT
Ryan Jenkins 5-11, 181 Marietta, GA TENNESSEE COMMIT
Josh Smith 6-1, 190 Knoxville, TN TENNESSEE COMMIT
MarQuez North 6-4, 212 Charlotte, NC
Tyler Boyd 6-3, 180 Clairton, PA PITTSBURGH COMMIT
Shelton Gibson 5-10 173 Cleveland, OH
With three solid commitments, Tennessee is still looking to close with a receiver or two, and the big board actually looks pretty favorable for the Vols to do that.
It was a major coup for Jones to flip Clemson commit and UT legacy Ryan Jenkins -- the perfect slot guy -- as well as to solidify deep threat Harris, who turned down overtures from Oregon to hang with the Vols. Now, many of Tennessee's eggs are in the basket of North, who in my opinion has more potential than any WR in this class not named LaQuon Treadwell. North is the next Justin Hunter in Knoxville -- long, athletic, a bit raw and just incredible on film.
The question is: Will UT get him? It's a two-team race between the Vols and homestate North Carolina Tar Heels. North's father Ramondo had great things to say about this past weekend's visit to UT Volquest actually got the normally-quiet receiver on the phone following his visit, and he was very complimentary as well. The question is: Will UNC steal another receiver from the Vols at the 11th hour the way they did on National Signing Day last year with Quinshad Davis? North really likes Larry Fedora, so that one is a bit concerning. Still, we've got a good shot.
Tennessee is also still trying -- with some success -- to lure Boyd to town for a visit. The star receiver who was an option quarterback in high school committed to home-state Pitt at the US Army All-America game earlier this month, but he is expected to visit UT on Jan. 25. New receivers coach Zach Azzanni is on the task of trying to get Boyd to flip. There is also some new information out there about Gibson, who was thought to be an Ohio State lock. Now, the rumors are the two are going in different directions, and there are questions about whether or not grades played a factor. The Vols and West Virginia are a couple of teams to watch out for there, but you have to think if the Buckeyes want Gibson, he'll wind up there.
Speedy Florida WR Eddie Jackson eliminated the Vols recently, former commit Corey Smith looks firm to Mississippi State and there hasn't been much discussion recently about Minnesota commit Nate Andrews. You wonder if the Vols turned up the pressure there if he may look to stay closer to home.
There was some significant movement at the tight end position for the Vols in the past week. First off, UT secured a commitment from JUCO tight end and former volleyball player Quinn, which really shuffled the board a bit. This came on the heels of Jones getting a commit a couple weeks ago from Branisel, who had pledged to him at Cincinnati.
Another turn of events took place Tuesday night when former UT commit Chauntez Jackson decommitted from Tennessee and flipped to Houston [not the Texans, either]. That recruitment has been weird ever since Jones came on board at UT. I'm not going to pretend that I know whether he was asked to look around, whether the commitment of Quinn ended our pursuit of him, or whether or not we were concerned about his grades. But Mark Elder went to visit him earlier this week and asked him to move his official visit back a couple weeks.
Jackson spoke of not trusting the coaches and their concerns about him making it academically. Conference USA schools are definitely easier to get into, so I wish him the best.
The Quinn commitment ended UT's courtship of Vandenburg, who likely now won't go through with his scheduled visit. Whether the Vols continue to recruit Jackson is up in the air, but getting him in orange is a long shot, anyway. The former Auburn commit has Florida State out front and is likely to end up there with his good buddy Davin Bellamy. Bellamy is supposed to visit Knoxville, and if UT can sway him, taking Jackson may be in the cards. But it's doubtful that Bellamy will leave the 'Noles.
Austin Sanders 6-5, 290 Cleveland, TN TENNESSEE COMMIT
Brett Kendrick 6-5, 295 Knoxville, TN TENNESSEE COMMIT
Dylan Wiesman 6-4, 300 Cincinnati, OH TENNESSEE COMMIT
Dan Skipper 6-10, 292 Arvada, CO SOFT TENNESSEE COMMIT
Chongo Kondolo 6-4, 290 Fresno, CA
Christian Morris 6-6, 285 Memphis, TN UCLA COMMIT
The Vols received a minor blow early last week when Cody Clay visited Tennessee officially and then chose -- wait for it -- Azusa Pacific over the Vols. It was as much a PR blow to UT and a blow to the total number of official visits as anything, but UT was willing to take a flier on Clay to get a potential offensive tackle for the future.
Tennessee is really struggling to find tackle prospects, and at this point,there aren't a lot of options. Morris is a major need, but he has gone quiet after his weekend visit to Knoxville. He tweeted something about there being a lot of difficult decisions, and the Vols really need to flip him from UCLA. It appears he's gone dark until National Signing Day, though. Texas offered him on Wednesday morning, so that is a bit concerning any time the Longhorns enter the picture.
Skipper said this past week that he is still committed to UT, and the Vols desperately need him to stick while many of the nation's top teams and other SEC programs attempt to sway him. Skipper is being courted by Stanford, Michigan, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Arkansas and others.
Kondolo had really good things to say about the Vols following his visit last weekend, and now it will be interesting to see if his feelings stick through the remainder of the process, especially with the JUCO lineman's stock rising. He has visited Illinois and BYU, but he told 247 that they are out of the race. He's scheduled to visit Nebraska and several teams such as Arkansas, Utah State and Florida State -- who offered last week -- are battling for his final visit.
It will be interesting to see if any new offensive tackle names emerge in the next couple weeks or if UT will just have to piece-meal that position [not a good thing] in 2014. That will be a major, MAJOR need moving forward. Reeve Kohler -- once thought to be a major UT lean -- is now likely choosing between Kansas and Arkansas with the Vols on the outside looking in. Another possible name to consider is 6-8, 280-pound Chattanooga Howard OT Brandon Walters. He'd be a major reach and has grade concerns, but if people continue to fall off the big board, that's a direction the Vols could wind up going.
Thanks for sticking through all this -- if you did. We'll have the defensive big board, hopefully by tomorrow.