By Alex Norman
It might seem presumptuous, considering that most of these kids have never played a down of college football at any level. But the potential that Tennessee’s recruiting class, a consensus top 5 group nationally, brings to Knoxville is off the charts.
“Today is really a combination of one to two years of hard work and dedication by many individuals within our football program,” said a beaming Tennessee head coach Butch Jones while meeting with the media on National Signing Day (Wednesday, February 4th).
The differences in recruiting by Jones and his predecessor Derek Dooley are staggering. The results have proven that Jones’s approach is a better one.
“Relationships and trust are really the foundation of a successful recruiting class,” said Jones. “Everyone in our program, I thought, did a great job of really establishing those relationships and trust not just with the prospective student-athlete, but with the key stakeholders, whether it is mom, dad, aunts, uncles and the mentors. Again, everything is bonded on relationships and that family environment we talk about.”
Jones had some major needs in this recruiting class when it came to the defensive line, and he was able to get the reinforcements that he coveted.
“The thing that we’ve been missing from our defense is an overall edge presence, in terms of depth and then size in front. If you look at the big bodies in this recruiting class, we wanted length,” said Jones. “Length isn’t always measured just in height but in wingspan, and so we wanted to make sure we had that addressed. Obviously (Nashville Hillsboro 5* defensive end) Kyle Phillips addresses that, (Hopewell, VA 4* defensive end) Darrell Taylor addresses that. And then you look at our size inside with (Lexington, NC 4* defensive tackle) Shy Tuttle and (Concord, CA 5* defensive tackle) Kahlil McKenzie… and then you have the quickness from (Buford, GA 4* defensive tackle) Quay Picou that he’ll bring inside. He’ll be a great complement to those two individuals I just spoke about. (Alpharetta, GA 4* defensive end) Andrew Butcher is an individual who plays with a motor and plays with a high energy about himself. The six defensive linemen we brought in, they all complement each other, but they also have a little bit of a different skill set as well.”
The biggest cheers on National Signing Day from Vols fans came when it became official that Drew Richmond, a 5* offensive tackle from Memphis University School, was switching his commitment from Ole Miss to Tennessee.
“He brings everything that we’re looking for in an offensive lineman,” said Jones. “When you watched Drew Richmond on video, he was never on the ground, he could always recover, and so I’m excited because he’s going to add to the offensive line in a great way to finish the recruiting class off, to stay in-state, Memphis, and to keep the top three players in-state at home was big for us.”
Those three players would be Phillips, Richmond, and Murfreesboro Blackman quarterback Jauan Jennings, who might have the upper hand in the race with fellow freshman signal callers (Boerne, TX 4*) Quinten Dormady and (Moreno Valley, CA 4*) Sheriron Jones to see who will backup rising junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
Remember, the Vols have started three quarterbacks the past three seasons, so if the past is any indication one of those rookies is going to be called upon this fall.
“We have one quarterback on scholarship so it was a tremendous selling point for these individuals,” said Jones. “As we know, you’re one snap away at the quarterback position, or any position. But, you know, they all wanted that opportunity. They understand the magnitude and relevance of playing quarterback at the University of Tennessee, and that’s why I’m proud of them. They never looked over their shoulder. They knew what they wanted and they stayed true to form.”
Tennessee did pull JUCO standout Alvin Kamara into this class, but depth remains an issue at running back.
“A big concern. Right now we only have three scholarship running backs,” said Jones. We may look to add to that position but it is a concern. When you play in a physical league like us, like we do week in and week out, so that is a concern moving forward.”
Last year freshmen like defensive lineman Derek Barnett made an immediate impact. Will we see members of the Class of 2015 have success as well?
“We’re still not where we need to be from a depth standpoint, so we want every individual in this recruiting class to have the mentality that they are coming in and they are competing for jobs right away,” said Jones. “They’re competing for playing time, and then we will see how they develop.”
(Quotes courtesy UT Sports.com.)