At the end of the 2018 recruiting season, head coach Jeremy Pruitt had the Tennessee Volunteers in good, but not great position.
While it’s always an arguing point to do your best, it’s important to remember that when Pruitt was hired, he had just two weeks before the Early Signing Period and just one month before National Signing Day to bring the Vols from the mid-50s in recruiting to a respectable level.
Obviously, Pruitt’s back was against the wall. Moving quickly, he was able to get enough talent to finish with the 21st recruiting class in the nation.
But despite rising so quickly in the final ranks, Pruitt’s 2018 run on National Signing Day ended with a bit of a whimper. Outside of J.J. Peterson, he couldn’t get the job done with the rest of the top talent that he sought after.
That didn’t stop him from coaching his ass off, though.
By the end of the 2018 season, it was easy to see Pruitt’s thumbprint on the team, especially on defense. Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson continuously improved as the season wore on, finishing out with roster spots on the All-SEC Freshman team. Other players, like Emmitt Gooden, found themselves on the field more and more as well.
Two wins over ranked opponents - both were SEC opponents, by the way - were the highlights of a 5-7 season.
A lot of that is because this is the first full offseason that Pruitt has had to not only recruit, but he’s also had plenty of time to review 2018 and figure out what he needs to do to win in 2019.
And now he has the players to do just that - win.
But Pruitt’s 12th-ranked class offers more than just talented players and competition. It will be a major reflection of not only what Pruitt wants to do at Tennessee, but it will also show how effectively he can make it work.
There’s no reason to think that he can’t get the Vols back to respectability. What he was able to accomplish in 2018 was pretty impressive in the grand scheme of things. It was clear that Tennessee did not have the horses to compete in a lot of the games they played, but that all changes now.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Vols are still a long way off from competing with Alabama and Georgia. They may even still be a few steps behind Florida and just a couple paces behind Mississippi State.
I’m not saying that Tennessee should - or will - go 9-3 in 2019, either. Even though it feels like an eternity, this program is just two seasons removed from the worst finish in program history. This rebuild will take some time.
But it’s hard to get discouraged about this season. While there is a chance that the team falls flat on its face by the end of the year, it’s still exciting to see what Pruitt and his staff can do with a roster that finally holds water.
Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright are both five-star recruits and both are expected to start at tackle on the offensive line. Quavaris Crouch, a four-star athlete, will find his way on the field as well.
Ramel Keyton, Eric Gray, and Henry To’oto’o will make their respective positions better.
We haven’t started to dive in to your Jackson Lampleys, Roman Harrisons, or Tyus Fields yet.
Growth is certainly expected in 2019 and that is what this staff expects as well. There were flashes of what this team could be capable of in 2018 and that was with limited personnel. As mentioned earlier, the Vols still need help, but certainly found some help in the offseason.
And hopefully that will lead to the discovery of more wins in 2019.