It’s been a rough offseason to this point, and things are still in limbo with the ongoing internal recruiting investigation. The football program could really use a final answer here, as players continue to transfer out.
With so many places suddenly becoming available, Tennessee is going to have to turn around and attack the transfer portal pretty hard to plug some holes on the roster and add depth. With that in mind, here are the names to follow over the next few weeks.
TE/WR Arik Gilbert
The former five-star prospect left LSU after just one season, and Tennessee immediately became an option due to his ties to Harrison Bailey. The two were high school teammates in Georgia, and Tennessee stuck around in Gilbert’s recruitment for a long time.
More than anything, the Vols have an obvious need at tight end, especially now with Austin Pope in the portal. Gilbert could potentially become the focal point of this passing game, but Tennessee is going to have to fend off Georgia and Florida. The Gators likely have a strong pitch here after sending Kyle Pitts to the league. Gilbert could fall right into the role that Pitts vacated, seeming making Florida the favorite here. But we’ll see if Bailey has any pull.
CB Eddie Smith
This name may ring a bell if you’re a recruiting diehard. Tennessee seemed to be in the driver’s seat for Smith during the 2018 cycle — at a time when they badly needed a cornerback. But Nick Saban and Alabama walked into his living room and danced away with the four-star defensive back.
Tennessee, especially after losing Bryce Thompson to the NFL Draft, could use another body at cornerback. Alontae Taylor, Warren Burrell and Kenneth George are the likely top three on the outside, while Shawn Shamburger could return to his traditional STAR role. Smith would give the Vols another solid option on the outside, and has manned multiple positions in the secondary during his time in Tuscaloosa.
DL Big Kat Bryant and CB Christian Tutt
These two are obvious Kevin Steele connections to make. Steele, the now former Auburn defensive coordinator, lands on Jeremy Pruitt’s staff as a defensive assistant. It is believed that Steele will coach a position at Tennessee, but his fingerprints will likely be evident on Derrick Ansley’s defense in 2021.
Enter Big Kat Bryant and Christian Tutt.
Tutt, like Smith, is an option to help ease the blow of losing Thompson to the NFL. The 5-11 defensive back is a former top 300 prospect now has three years worth of experience, and would be a massive help for the Volunteers. Jeremy Pruitt was his lead recruiter in his final season at Alabama, so there’s another connection to make.
Bryant is a name that might just make the most sense of anyone on this list. The 6-5, 250 pound defensive end could help fill the void that Deandre Johnson and Kivon Bennett left, giving Tennessee a bit of a bridge to Tyler Baron, Morven Joseph and Dylan Brooks. Derrick Ansley and Jeremy Pruitt were his lead recruiters at Alabama in 2017. Outside linebackers coach Shelton Felton also coached Bryant in the high school ranks, so the connections to Tennessee run deep.
These are four obvious names, but look for Tennessee to go beyond this group. They’ve already added quarterback Hendon Hooker, now they need to create more depth to offset the number of transfers that we’ve seen to this point.
The transfer portal has changed the college football offseason, and it’s only going to get more dramatic with the likely passing of a one-time transfer rule.