The Tennessee Volunteers will lose six defensive linemen off this year's roster including all four projected starters. So, to call defensive line recruiting a major need would be quite an understatement.
That's one of the reasons why Tuesday's commitment of Da'Vonte Lambert is huge news. Another is the fact that the 6-foot-3, 280-pound lineman is one of the most versatile players in the recruiting class. He can play inside or outside, much the way Maurice Couch could when he chose the Volunteers three years ago. His pledge gives UT its second defensive lineman in Butch Jones' first full recruiting class and continues the Vols' success in JUCO defensive line recruiting over the past few years.
First, Couch chose the Vols, and then two years ago, massive defensive tackle Daniel McCullers elected to come to Knoxville over some of the top programs in the country. Tennessee went back to Milledgeville and Georgia Military College -- where McCullers played -- to nab Lambert. He chose UT over Florida and Auburn, among others. But the Volunteers secured his silent commitment more than two weeks ago, and he has vowed to stick with UT throughout.
Lambert committed officially to UT this morning -- on his birthday -- via Twitter, where he posted:
@DaLamb89 I Know Everyone Been Waiting, But I Am Officially Committing To The University Of Tennessee! #GBO #VFL #VolNation
Tennessee's recruiting class is now back at 24 following the decommitment of receiver Brandon Powell two weeks ago. Powell has since committed to Miami. The Vols are currently second in the 247Sports recruiting rankings and retain the top spot in the Rivals rankings.
Lambert is a big, athletic defensive lineman who likely projects as a tackle at Tennessee. He also marks the first time in a while UT has beaten the Florida Gators for a top-level lineman. He's ranked the No. 4 junior college prospect in the 2014 class by 247Sports and is the eighth-ranked JUCO overall in the 247 Composite, which takes an industry-wide snapshot of rankings. Rivals rates Lambert as a three-star player, and Scout believes he's a four-star player. Lambert joins Shaker Heights (Ohio) defensive end Joe Henderson as UT DL commits.
He has three years to play his final two seasons. He is a player who is strong enough and has the measurables to come in and start immediately for a Tennessee team needing immediate-impact players on the line.
SB Nation national recruiting analyst Bud Elliott is high on Lambert as well, and notes the impact of winning a battle such as this against:
"Lambert is a talented defensive lineman with multiple top SEC offers," Elliott noted, "and his physical maturity means that he should contribute immediately for the Volunteers.
"While Tennessee is a rebuild and not a reload, Jones' success in winning battles against a team like Florida for Lambert is extremely encouraging, and perhaps a sign that Jones could have the Volunteers competitive in the SEC East as early as 2014."
Lambert visited all three of his finalists in the past couple of months and really bought Coach Jones' family-oriented pitch. It also probably helped that he could come in, contribute immediately and UT provided a clear path to the ability for him to have an immediate impact in the SEC. Here's a great story from Volquest's John Brice on the commitment as well.
The commitment of Lambert is arguably UT's most important pickup thus far on the defensive side of the ball. With his ability to rush the passer and also having the side and athleticism to be disruptive in the run game, Lambert provides Tennessee with a player who can have success at multiple positions. He can be a plug-and-go kind of player who should compete to start from Day One on campus. While guys like Jalen Hurd, Todd Kelly Jr. and Dillon Bates have provided plenty of fanfare, Lambert and fellow JUCO player OLB Chris Weatherd are the kind of players who can improve the on-field talent immediately in Knoxville.
Welcome home, Mr. Lambert!