'Sunday concluded a busy weekend for Butch Jones and staff. Probably the biggest prospect camp of the summer wrapped up Saturday, all but three 2014 verbal commitments were on campus, and Butch Jones handed out offers to 2014, 15, and 16 prospects like giving out candy to trick or treators on Halloween. Let’s be clear. Butch Jones is just not handing out offers because he can. Tennessee has generated so much intrigue and interest in the last 6 months. The quality of the prospects attending these camps is something that has been seen around Tennessee in years (Taken from a staffer who has worked these camps since the Fulmer days)
So let’s re-cap a few things that happened over the weekend good, not so good, and interesting.
The weekend got off to a nice start when 2015, Frostproof, Florida linebacker Cecil Cherry committed to Tennessee.
Though only coming into his junior year of high school, the future certainly looks bright for Cherry. There is some nice footage of Cherry on the internet. From watching his highlights, he certainly looks like a difference making linebacker. Cherry, a relative of ex-Vol Tony Thompson, is the type of prospect Tennessee has to land to make the ascent back to the top of the SEC. Cherry, as a junior to be in high school mind you, already holds 30 offers including schools like Florida, Alabama, Ohio State and other premier programs. In 2015, Cherry is likely to be rated as one of the nation’s top linebackers. Other schools will not quit recruiting Cherry.
Sunday brought another bit of good news. The 2014 class received another addition when Deerfield Beach, Florida athlete Brandon Powell shocked a number of schools and recruiting analysts by committing to Tennessee
. That is number 16 for the 2014 class. With the commitment of Powell, Tennessee just stepped over the half way point in rounding out the 2014 class as I expect Tennessee to sign 30 prospects
. Expect commitments to slow down a bit as Tennessee starts becoming more selective with these final 14 to 15 spots.
Now back to Powell. Though I personally would like to see Coach Jones mix in a defensive tackle or interior offensive lineman commitment with all these athletes, I like Brandon Powell's commitment.
Depending on the recruiting service you follow, Powell is either a 3 star or 4 star offer list. Powell has over 25 offers including schools likes Florida State, LSU, Auburn, North Carolina. He is a top 50 prospect in the state of Florida. Nationally, Rivals and ESPN have ranked as a top 25 athlete.
Powell will be asked to play a number of roles at Tennessee. He'll play slot receiver, and will line up at running back from time to time. I would expect him to get an early shot as a kick return specialist as well. Powell is a fast kid with shifty feet. Watch his film.
Though it is hard to gauge speed of high school kids, from highlights, I didn’t see anyone catch Powell from behind and he always seemed to be creating distance between himself and defenders. All in all a great pick up.
Powell's commitment means Georgia athlete Stephon Truitt, who has long since thought to a "silent commitment" to Tennessee, has part ways with the Vols. I really liked Truitt's skill set but he and Powell are similarly skilled prospects. Powell was ready to be a VOL while Truitt was still shopping. Advantage Powell.
The Not So Good:
In recruiting you never get all you want. Just the way it is. 2014 Tennessee quarterback target David Cornwell verbally committed to Alabama on Friday. Is this a setback? Not really. There are a good number of folks who believed Cornwell was far and away Tennessee's #1 quarterback target. I, for one, did not and still do not fall into that camp. I never thought Cornwell was coming to Tennessee even if he had not committed to Alabama. Plus, he isn’t a great fit for Tennessee's offense either
With Cornwell off the board, does Tennessee take a quarterback in 2014 with limited spots available or not? If you recall, Butch Jones publicly stated he wants 5 quarterbacks on the roster at all times. Taking him at his word, one of the 14 or 15 remaining spots will go to a quarterback. So who? One prospect to keep an eye on is Miami, Florida quarterback Quentin Flowers. Flowers is a three star prospect and thought to be one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in Florida. Pay no attention to his rating. Tennessee and Alabama have offered that is all I need to know.
Flowers is a bit raw but his strong arm and athleticism jump off the film.
Tennessee is pursuing 2012 Ohio State signee Se'Von Pittman. Pittman, a strongside defensive end, from Canton, Ohio was ranked 8th nationally at his position out of high school. A 4 star prospect, Pittman signed with Ohio State. I don’t know the story but he redshirted last season due to an injury. The injury coupled with an off the field incident led Pittman to seek and be granted his release from the Buckeyes. You just know Jones and staff know Pittman from their days at Cincinnati and probably recruited him out of high school. That type of connection plus an opportunity to play on a national stage can't hurt.
I believe regardless of where Pittman winds up he must sit out one year leaving him with three years to play three. Pittman has either been on campus during the last week or possibly still on campus now. Landing difference making defensive linemen is a spot Tennessee has struggled with over the last few years. The 2014 recruiting cycle is no different to be honest with you. Pittman hasn’t played a down in college but was on track to be a key contributor as a true freshman at Ohio State before he suffered a season ending injury. Sit tight on this one. We'll probably know sooner than later whether Pittman winds up at Tennessee or another destination.
Later this week I will have my pre-July 4th look at the prospects that fill out the final 15 spots in the 2014 class.
Tennessee landed its 14th commitment Thursday in defensive lineman Joe Henderson from Cleveland Shaker Heights High School, Ohio. Henderson is a nice addition to a recruiting class that up until yesterday had been void of defensive lineman. The Henderson commitment represents a good start recruiting wise at a position where a lot of help is needed next season.
Henderson visited campus earlier this month. It hasn’t been a secret Tennessee has been the team to beat since he received the offer. Already holding over twenty offers, Henderson chose Tennessee over Michigan State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan and others. This is a talented kid that committed to Tennessee. I would expect other schools to continue come after Henderson as National Signing Day draws closer.
Henderson's commitment to Tennessee is as much about the relationship he developed with Butch Jones and his staff while they were coaching at Cincinnati as it is about Tennessee and the opportunity to play very early in his career here. Butch Jones and staff have been recruiting Henderson and family for approximately 4 years.
Though Henderson has yet to play a down of football as a high school senior let alone in the SEC, he looks like that athletic, off the edge rush end Tennessee recruiting classes have missed on in the last few recruiting cycles. Landing a commitment from a talented prospect like Henderson this early in the recruiting cycle is huge.
Henderson is just beginning to grow into his frame 6'4" frame. He added 15 pounds to his frame since last season and now weighs in at 225 pounds. He will likely add another 20 to 25 pounds before he gets to Tennessee. On film Henderson is just now scratching the surface. You can’t teach size, speed and athleticism. Henderson has them all. Henderson has an above average initial burst off the line of scrimmage, plays upfield which is something you like to see in a defensive lineman, tends to play a bit out of control at times, needs to works on his technique but his athleticism is obvious. I encourage each one of you to jump on line, watch Henderson's film, make your own decision.
For you star gazers and rankings guys, Henderson is a 3 star recruit on Rivals and a 4 star prospect by 247. Nonetheless, with 14, 2014 commitments some recruiting services have Tennessee's class ranked as the top class in the country. Certainly been a long time since Tennessee had anything related to football to boast about.
More importantly, the month of June and into July will be a productive stretch for Tennessee as it continues to build the 2014 class. I expect Tennessee to be hovering around 20 commitments by the time fall practice begins. They are on the verge of public commitments from a number of their high profile targets.
Football season is days away … for me. For a strange and somewhat bizarre reason, I have always connected the start of the college football with the date the incoming freshmen moving into the dormitories for the first session of summer school.
I have suffered from this affliction for years. The affliction has gotten worse not better. This is a bellwether event for X. More now than ever. The proliferation of incoming freshman being counted on to be major contributors by so many programs these days is greater now than ever. In Tennessee’s case, maybe this year more than previous seasons. True freshmen are going to be counted on to play early and be solid contributors starting with Game 1. When the incoming freshmen join the returning upperclassman for that first lift in the weight room or the first drill of those summer “informal “ practices, the 2013 team starts being melded together.
While I haven’t been in this space in a few weeks, Butch Jones continues to unite the Big Orange faithful. This is a down time in recruiting a natural ebb and flow of the recruiting cycle. Yet, Butch Jones is keeping the VOL brand relevant. He continues to hit home run after home run on the Big Orange Caravan stops and his calculated use of the media during the down time something to behold . Spring practice is a month old. Spring evaluations are winding down. Summer camps are a week away.
Butch Jones gets it though. He is dealing with a passionate and hungry fan base who wants to see the program returned to prominence and more importantly recruiting momentum sustained.
During this slow period right before things really get cranked up (more to follow on this later), Butch Jones is doing his very best to keep the Tennessee brand in the public eye. From a public relations perspective, I don’t see how a Tennessee fan, even if you think Fulmer or Majors should have never been fired, can ask any more of what Butch Jones has given us to date.
I detect though some fans are getting restless. Whispers are the 2014 recruiting momentum everyone was so excited about has stalled. Yeah, Tennessee picked up commitment #13 on Wednesday when in state kicking specialist Aaron Medley publicly committed to Tennessee. Great pickup. After watching the kicking game for years, I don’t see how anyone could say this is not a position of need. With all due respect though, a commitment from a kicking specialist is not going to turn the crank of this fan base.
As will happen in recruiting, Tennessee has taken a hit or two of late. Top in state offensive lineman Alex Bars spurned Tennessee for Notre Dame. Honestly, this isn’t a surprise … still, you hate to lose an in state prospect at a position of need. I don’t think Tennessee’s staff ever felt Bars was going anywhere but Notre Dame. Surprisingly, another in state lineman decided to end the recruiting process. Offensive lineman Paul Adams Christ Presbyterian Academy, verbally committed to Missouri. Adams was an up and coming prospect in the eyes of many college programs including Tennessee. Personally, I really liked Adams as a prospect but Tennessee wanted to see him at camp before they finished their evaluation. Tennessee is still hoping Adams attends camp but the public commitment to Missouri was a bit out of left field. Here is hoping he does camp at Tennessee. While these are setbacks, Tennessee can overcome them.
So what can get recruiting momentum ramped back up? This Tennessee fan base is a knowledgeable one. They now need something more than another wide receiver (except for Josh Malone) or another “athlete” type to commit. What Butch Jones and more important VOL fans need is a slump buster. We need one of Tennessee’s high profile recruiting targets to drop the hammer and publicly their commitment to Tennessee. Butch Jones needs a high profile recruiting target to commit to propel this recruiting class through the summer and into the start of the football season. If this were to happen, I could see Tennessee picking up anywhere between six and eight new commitments between now and September.
So what public commitment would get the fan base juiced up? Here are my thoughts.
1) Dillon Bates. Master of the obvious I know. Bates is the #1 prospect, regardless of position, remaining on Tennessee’s board. Anyone who follows or has followed Tennessee knows who Dillon Bates is and his connection to the Program…….no need to rehash it here. What you should know regardless of what some recruiting analysts (use this term loosely) say Bates is a top #50 prospect in the country. If Bates isn’t the best outside linebacker prospect in the country, he is certainly in the discussion. Another thing about Bates. If Bates commits, you can group him with Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelley, Jr. as first day 2014 starters at Tennessee barring injury. It isn’t a given that Bates winds up at Tennessee, Texas and Alabama are really pushing for Bates and are likely to represent Tennessee’s stiffest competition for the VOL legacy. Nonetheless, Tennessee is in good shape with Bates and family. A Bates commitment would further validate the positive direction this program is heading.
2) David Cornwell. Cornwell is one of the top 2014 quarterback prospects in the country. From Norman, Oklahoma, it is interesting that Cornwell will likely wind up playing college football anywhere but Norman. Cornwell is a big kid with a nice arm. Though he is not the top 2014 on my board, he is the top quarterback on Butch Jones’ board and his board matters more than mine. I tell you what I like about Cornwell. He isn’t scared to compete. The depth chart at Tennessee doesn’t scare him at all. Recruiting analysts say Cornwell is down to two schools (Alabama and Tennessee). These experts further say Cornwell’s decision will likely be made by how he performs at Alabama’s quarterback camp in early June. If he performs well and receives a committable offer from Alabama, these experts say Cornwell will pick Alabama. Maybe. Though in my opinion, Cornwell to Alabama is far from a slam dunk. Tennessee is more than a fall back plan for Cornwell in the event he doesn’t get his Alabama offer. Cornwell has had great visits to Tennessee and is not scared off by the appearance of Tennessee or any other school having a logjam of scholarship quarterbacks already on campus. Georgia and Virginia Tech are in the mix for Cornwell too. A commitment for David Cornwell would be huge for those like me who are unsure if Tennessee has its quarterback of the future on scholarship right now.
3) Rashaan Gaulden. Gaulden is a 4 star, highly regarded defensive back from Independence High School in the Nashville area. Important to note about Gaulden. Tennessee’s evaluation of Gaulden has him rated very high on their board on par with current commitments like Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelley, Jr. Members of Tennessee’s staff believe by the end of the football season Gaulden will be in the conversation as the best 2014 prospect in the state. Gaulden has blossomed into a national prospect. Schools like Miami, Florida State and others are hot on his trail. I continue to be told Tennessee is in good shape here. A commitment from Gaulden would give this class another versatile option in a defensive secondary that is woefully short on athleticism and speed You could project Gaulden as an early contributor in 2014 if he chooses Tennessee.
4) Michael Sawyer, Defensive Tackle. Nashville Ensworth. My criticisms of Butch Jones’ recruiting have been limited. However, here are two of them. First, my primary criticism of Tennessee’s 2014 recruiting class is not one defensive lineman has jumped on board and 2) with Tennessee’s glaring need next season for interior defensive line and a prospect like Sawyer 150 miles away why wait so long to offer him a scholarship?
The reasons why I believe a commitment from Michael Sawyer would get this recruiting class jump started again are 1) a commitment from a prospect like Sawyers would help ease a concern many VOL fans have regarding the ability of this staff to land defensive lineman. 2) Sawyers is a quality in state prospect. Historically, the state of Tennessee hasn’t produced many defensive tackles plus it has been hard for Tennessee to pull quality defensive tackles from other states. Why perform exhaustive recruiting searches in other states when you have an SEC level defensive tackle, a position of need, 150 miles away.; and, 3) a commitment from Sawyers would also pluck a highly regarded prospect, who Vanderbilt would love to have, right out from under their nose.
5) Patera Wilson. Wilson is a 4 star linebacker from the Memphis area. Landing Wilson would be huge for the following reasons. Wilson is coveted by Tennessee as well as schools like Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Ohio State, and LSU. It has been no secret Tennessee has experienced one problem after another recruiting kids in West Tennessee. Much like fending off Alabama for Memphis defensive lineman and now Tennessee signee Jason Carr, landing Wilson would make a statement to the high school coaches in West Tennessee, the rest of the SEC “WHO HAVE HAD THEIR WAY IN MEMPHIS FOR YEARS”, and other rivals that Tennessee is now relevant in Memphis again. I give Butch Jones a fighter’s chance with Patera Wilson. A commitment from Wilson would further validate Butch Jones in west Tennessee. Though many disagree, it is important for Tennessee to be a prominent recruiting force in west Tennessee.
6) Dewayne Hendrix. Hendrix is a 4 –star strong side defensive end from Fallon, Illinois. A commitment from Dewayne Hendrix would be every bit as important as any prospect (one through five) mentioned above. I believe it. Hendrix has offers from the likes of Florida, Ohio State, USC, many other SEC and Big 12 schools. 20 plus offers and counting. The reason Hendrix is huge for the class is for many of the reasons I mentioned for Michael Sawyers plus Hendrix appears physically ready to play in the SEC now. Tennessee loses all its experienced edge rushers and defenders after next season. Barring injury, Hendrix would be in the defensive line rotation early in 2014.
Notes for Folks
1) I didn’t include wide receiver Josh Malone in my slump buster discussion above. The prospects above are likely to make their decisions sooner than later. Malone, a big time target, is not expected to make a decision until well into the fall.
2) Tennessee fans should start coming to grips with the fact that Nashville, Tennessee, is becoming the new Atlanta. There is a reason Butch Jones has assigned 2 VOL assistants to recruit the Nashville area. There is also a reason Butch Jones takes advantage of every media opportunity he can in the mid-state. In terms of growth, Nashville is simply exploding. Over the next few years, Nashville will become a hotbed for future college athletes in all sports not just football. This is good and bad. Good in the respect the athletic opportunities available for kids will only serve to improve the quality of athlete the area produces. Bad from the position that many families moving into the Nashville area likely do not have any allegiance to Tennessee football.
Like Atlanta, expect the football talent in Nashville to get better and better. You already see that. The 2015 crop of football prospects the mid-state is producing already looks deeper and better than the 2014 recruiting class. Though it’s early, the 2016 class may even be better. Like Atlanta, expect college football recruiters to literally camp out in the mid-state in the future. Look for Tennessee to be in a dogfight for each and every high profile prospect the area produces. The flagship university in Georgia doesn’t get every great prospect the Atlanta area produces…. but they get their share. Tennessee , in order to get the program back to relevance, will need to get its fair share of prospects out of the Nashville area this year and in years to come produces…. plus a couple more.
3) Speaking of getting the Tennessee program back to relevance. Here is something that gives me a glimmer of hope. Notice Tennessee is not competing with likes of Conference USA or directional schools for prospects. Tennessee is now regularly banging heads with Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Georgia, Florida State and other like schools for kids. Consider the kicking specialist who just committed to Tennessee. He had offers from Texas A&M and Oklahoma plus Ohio State is on the verge of offering the kid a scholarship. Tennessee seems to be winning a few of the these battles now. As Tennessee fans, we haven’t been used to that in the last few years. All you can ask is for Butch Jones to compete for the best prospects that fit his system and win as many of these battles as he can …
4) Think June is a busy month for Tennessee? Get a look at a few things going on.
a) Football camps begin on June 1 and run periodically through early July. Tennessee has evaluated a number of prospects during this spring. Many of these prospects will be attending a Tennessee camp looking to earn a scholarship.
b) Tennessee defensive back target Cortez McDowell will be visiting. Tennessee has been at the top of McDowell’s list February. Oh there will be more targets on campus, McDowell is huge one.
c) Rumored that Tennessee targets quarterback David Cornwell, defensive lineman DeWayne Hendrix, linebacker Greg MicLisse, outside linebacker/defensive end KeShun Freeman, and wide receiver Demarre Kitt will be announcing their decisions.
d) Possible that Dillon Bates could do the same.
e) Junior College targets offensive lineman Dontavious Blair and Chad Mavety, defensive lineman DeVonte Lambert, and running back Akeem Judd are scheduled to be on campus for visits
5) Speaking of Junior College prospects. Tennessee has been scouring the country for junior college defensive lineman. While two have been offered, I don’t think Tennessee is in very good shape with either. Evaluations of junior college defensive lineman will continue. Prospects like Corey Richardson from Los Angeles Pierce Community College, Thomas Coronado from the College of Fresno (December graduate with three to play two), Rika Lava from the College of San Mateo, and Victor Vernon from Deana Community College are just a sampling of JUCO defensive lineman that will continue to be evaluated. Vernon is intriguing. He is a disruptive type of defensive lineman. Originally from the south (South Carolina) who too is a December graduate with three years to play two).