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What Should the Tennessee Vols Expect on Signing Day: Linebackers

Everything you need to know about Tennessee's recruiting at the linebacker position.

The Lone Johnson and his trusty sidekick Maggitt-O ride again
The Lone Johnson and his trusty sidekick Maggitt-O ride again
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Vols are set at two of the three linebacking positions with the return of former All-SEC freshmen linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt. The other spot will be hotly contested by the remaining returners and a host of talented new recruits.

Who's returning from last year:

MLB A.J. Johnson (senior)

OLB Curt Maggitt (redshirt junior)

OLB Kenny Bynum (redshirt sophomore)

ATH Justin King (redshirt sophomore)

OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (sophomore)

Who's already on campus (from the 2014 class):

MLB Jakob Johnson (4* 247, 3* Rivals, 3* ESPN, 3* Scout, 3* 247 composite)

Who's expected to sign Wednesday:

OLB Dillon Bates (4* 247, 4* Rivals, 4* ESPN, 4* Scout, 4* 247 composite)

MLB Gavin Bryant (4* 247, 3* Rivals, 4* ESPN, 4* Scout, 4* 247 composite)

OLB Chris Weatherd (JUCO, two years of eligibility)(4* 247, 4* Rivals, 4* ESPN, 4* Scout, 4* 247 composite)

ATH Elliott Berry (3* 247, 3* Rivals, 3* ESPN, 3* Scout, 3* 247 composite)

Who's grayshirting:

OLB Jerome Dews (3* 247, 3* Rivals, 3* ESPN, 3* Scout, 3* 247 composite)

What to Expect

Let's start here: this year could be and probably should be a disaster. After all the losing, the coaching changes, and the disappointment, no one would have faulted All-Everything middle linebacker A.J. Johnson if he had chosen to skip out on his remaining year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. After losing almost an entire year to injury, Curt Maggitt had a significantly harder choice, but again, few would have faulted the former All-SEC Freshman outside linebacker if he had decided to try his luck in the draft.

But that's not what happened.

Thanks to providence or the persuasive abilities of Butch Jones, Tennessee will enter the 2014 season with the best linebacking corps since Al Wilson and Raynoch Thompson roamed the campus.

At middle linebacker, senior tackling machine and future pro A.J. Johnson returns, backed up by early enrollee Jakob Johnson (no relation), a physical specimen from Germany who played only a single year of football in the United States. Rated four-stars by 247 sports, Jakob Johnson managed to rack up 93 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in his sole season at Jacksonville Ribault.

Gavin Bryant, a 6'1.5", 230-pound, four-star inside linebacker from Alabama (and the highest rated player in the state not committed to Auburn or Alabama) will join the Johnsons in the fall. Bryant is an instinctive, powerful player known for his big hits and tackling. Once thought to be an academic non-qualifier bound for junior college, Bryant doubled down on his school work and rewarded the Vols for sticking with him by holding firm in his commitment, even after Alabama and Miami came calling late in the process.

At outside linebacker, team leader and Class 5 Pass Rushing Hurricane Curt Maggitt returns from a redshirt year spent rehabbing a severe knee injury to lockdown one of the two positions, either strong- or weak-side. The other outside linebacker position will be a fiercely contested battle between sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin, one of the highest rated recruits from last year's class, and incoming players Chris Weatherd and Dillon Bates. Redshirt sophomores Justin King and Kenny Bynum will also compete, but are more likely to provide quality depth.

Weatherd is a 6'3.5", 220-pound junior college player from Trinity Valley Community College with the size and strength to contribute immediately, and the speed to make up for any rookie mistakes. Rated four-stars by every recruiting service, the Vols managed to hold off relentless pursuit from Texas A&M, Auburn, and Oklahoma for his commitment.

Bates is the son of former Vols and Cowboys star Bill Bates, and is one of the best players regardless of position in the entire country. An Under Armour All-American with more than 31 offers, including Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas, and Texas A&M, Bates is the type of prospect that Tennessee absolutely had to get to return to prominence. At 6'3", 220-pounds and with blazing speed (4.51 forty), Bates is a linebacker who is equally adept covering tight ends downfield and annihilating running backs trying to get to the edge. He's as close as you can get to a "can't miss" prospect, and Vols fans have every right to be excited to see him in action.

While not as heralded as Bates, Vols fans will recognize Elliott Berry from his famous last name. At 5'11.5" and 206-pounds, Berry is a small but quick athlete who will likely need to redshirt in order to put on enough weight to survive the rigors of playing in the SEC. He is unlikely to play on defense this year, but could appear on special teams.

Long thought to be a grayshirt candidate, Jerome Dews will enroll at the Atlanta Sports Academy prep school to put his grades in order, and will enroll in Knoxville next December. Dews was an unknown and unevaluated prospect without a single BCS offer when he attended the Tennessee summer camp in June, but the Vols offered him an opportunity after three days. At 6'4", 200-pounds, and with good quickness, Dews has a rare combination of raw speed and size, and he has turned down offers from a number of mid-level division one programs to grayshirt at Tennessee.