After a surprisingly drama-free Wednesday, the recruiting season, for the most part, is over for the Vols. It’s a good thing I’m not a betting man, because I missed on every recruit’s decision yesterday. However, even though the Vols only went ¼ yesterday out of their remaining targets, that one is a big one. After a hot and cold recruitment, 5-star WR Cordarrelle Patterson announced early Wednesday morning that he would be a Vol. This addition goes a long way to giving even more depth to an already great WR haul this class: 5-star Patterson, 4-star Jason Croom, 4-star Pig Howard and 4-star Drae Bowles. Not to mention the two future NFL first rounders we have coming back. However, while this is exciting, it’s not the biggest NSD story in my opinion. As I mentioned in my last post, the main key to making this class a successful one was not landing all 4 prospects yesterday, but keeping the current ones that were committed. Outside of losing Otha Peters on Tuesday, Tennessee had every verbal commitment sign their LOI yesterday. Many, including myself, were concerned about the likes of Pig Howard and especially LaDarrell McNeil. But both had their LOI faxed in fairly early on yesterday.
So let’s evaluate the Vols 2012 recruiting class. Tennessee’s class this year is ranked 18th by Rivals.com, 19th by 247sports.com, 21st by ESPN.com (would be higher, does not include JUCO players), and 26th by Scout.com. As a Vols fan, it’s probably easy to look at these rankings and be somewhat disappointed. But why? Not only did we have a losing season last year, but we also had tremendous staff turnover this offseason. People can say well that’s an excuse, but if there is validity to the “excuse”, it goes from being an excuse to a legitimate reason. Not only were committed and uncommitted prospects losing their lead recruiters, but from that point on Dooley was recruiting with only 3 assistant coaches. So he wasn’t able to have a full staff out on the recruiting trail, and not only did he get a couple of late commitments, he retained the ones he had even after the staff they knew bailed on them. This is something every school can’t say. After the HS All-American game, Cal was boasting a top 10 class. After losing just one assistant coach (Tosh Lupoi), unlike us losing 4, Cal had committed recruits jumping ship left and right. They now sit at 24th on Rivals.com. The point I’m making is that the job Dooley and his new staff have done this recruiting season is extraordinary. Would I like to have a top 10 class? Sure. Do I expect it? Sure. But that’s only because I am a Vols fan and we have high expectations for our program. Truth is, it’s not realistic right now. Before we get back to that point we must start winning games. At any rate, if you stop and look at the facts, Tennessee is the only team ranked with a top 25 class that had a losing record last year. Heck, we finished one spot ahead of (11-2) South Carolina, one spot behind (12-1) LSU, and two spots behind (12-2) Oregon. That, my friends, is impressive.
When I look at this class I get really excited, not only because of the talent coming in, but because the staff addressed the needs that needed addressing. They took great steps to add depth at DL, WR, DB and RB, but the Vols are still bare at LB. Most people will say well we have stud LB right now and Lathers is coming back. True statement. However, with our base defense switching to 3-4, you need a lot of LB, and we all know how one injury can affect a season. I expect to see a lot from Sophomore Christian Harris this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see current DE’s Jordan Williams and Jacques Smith lining up at OLB in the 3-4 too. Dooley and gang are looking to add a little post-NSD help at the position from LB Kenneth Bynum. Bynum is a current Cincinnati commit that postponed signing his LOI to give the Vols a visit. He will be visiting on Monday and Tuesday and more than likely signing his LOI on Wednesday.
In conclusion, I am very happy with our 2012 recruiting class and if you are a logical, reasonable fan, you are too. However, as I mentioned earlier, this momentum must translate into wins. It does no good to buy an old bottle of wine just to let it gather dust on the shelf. Recruiting solid talent is great, but only if you coach them up to perform well. As well all know, this year is make it or break it for Dooley. He’s said it himself that this year he finally has the talent, depth and experience to compete. I look forward to spring practice and seeing how both the new players and staff settle in, and also the progress our current players have made. As always, it’s great to be a Tennessee Vol.