Class of 2018 Positional Review: Defensive Back – No Joy in Knoxville

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,

But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

At no other position did Jeremy Pruitt and Co. swing, and ultimately miss, bigger than at Defensive Back, specifically at Cornerback.  With a massive need at Corner in particular, Pruitt went after two 5-star Californians who ended up at USC (Isaac Taylor-Stuart and Olaijah Griffin) and a previously underrecruited TCU commitment who ended up at Alabama (Eddie Smith) along with Taiyvon Palmer (NCSU) – and missed on all of them.  To make matters somewhat worse, Tennessee also lost four prior CB commitments, two of whom were not “losses” per se in Brandon Cross and Tanner Ingle but the other two – Trey Dean and Jaycee Horn – ended up at SEC East Rivals Florida and South Carolina, respectively.

Tennessee didn’t come out of this class empty handed at the position, however.  That said, the Defensive Back position more than any other will immediately put to the test the evaluation and development skills of Pruitt, Sherrer, and Defensive Backs Coach Terry Fair.  That’s because the three DBs who are part of this class, two of whom are ticketed for blueshirts, were most certainly not household names or guys who are considered to be elite-level prospects.

Trevon Flowers was the most highly recruited of the three, and the Vols flat out beat Clemson and Dabo Swinney for the Tucker High School prospect from near Atlanta.  Flowers signed to play shortstop for Kentucky back in December but decided he wanted to pursue college football after playing football this season for the first time since 8th grade.    The Tucker football coach was quoted as saying “He can be as good as he wants to be. We’ve got guys who have played for us here playing in the National Football League. He’s as talented as anyone we’ve coached here. The sky is the limit for him” so there’s clearly talent there.  And Pruitt is apparently a huge fan, with thoughts of Flowers playing as early as the 2018 season somewhere across the secondary.  Some think he’s unlikely to end up at CB but he’ll certainly get a shot to see if he can play there – if not he’s likely ticketed for the Nickel/Star position.

Joseph Norwood came out of nowhere late in the process and ended up a 4-star on 247 Sports and went from likely signing with MTSU to realizing a lifelong dream to play for the Vols.  Another kid who didn’t play a lot of football prior to this season – and all of that was on offense, Norwood displays serious physicality and good ball skills (and a very long, thin frame) in a way that reminds a lot of people of recent Vol Rahsaan Gaulden. He’s anther multi-sport athlete – a 23-foot long-jumper and star basketball player. He’s raw and probably is only a Special Teams player in 2018 (potentially be a really good one) but has an incredibly high ceiling.  He’s a blueshirt so didn’t officially sign with Tennessee on Wednesday but will show up in the fall

Brandon Davis is the second blueshirt DB in the class and is another example of Pruitt and his staff combing All State teams (he made the Louisiana Sports Writers 5A All-State Team) and multi-sport athletes (he’s a legit MLB prospect).  He also has the requisite length that Pruitt wants in CBs, checking in at 6’0.  For a better evaluation, check this evaluation out – it came before his senior year. It’s also notable that Davis had an offer from CSU and Terry Fair, and it’s also likely that WR Coach David Johnson knew about him, as he had a track record of bringing kids to Memphis who were really good players though they were underrecruited. Davis could potentially jump to MLB depending on his draft spot, but given that Tennessee won’t have used a scholarship on him until he enrolls there isn’t a lot of risk

Despite Pruitt’s protestations to the contrary, DB was in fact a real need in this class.  Whether those needs were met despite missing out on guys who were considered to be blue-chippers and instead signing more under the radar players remains to be seen.  There is some talent in the secondary on the existing roster – CB Shawn Shamburger and S Nigel Warrior are legit high level SEC talents.  Micah Abernathy might not be an NFL player but has played better than he showed last year previously in his career and he’s an uber-high character kid and locker room glue guy.   Assuming Todd Kelly Jr. comes back he’s another guy who has played a lot of football at Tennessee and made a lot of plays in his career.  But outside of those four there just isn’t anyone who is remotely proven and there aren’t ton of bodies. And notably three of them are Safeties. Guys like Marquill Osborne (a former 4-star), Baylen Buchanan and Theo Jackson have played some at Tennessee, just not a lot and not particularly great.  Redshirt freshmen Cheyenne Labruzza and Terrell Bailey have talent but not experience.  So again, Pruitt/Sherrer/Fair have some pieces to work with and there’s hope here that simply having better coaching will get the Secondary to play at a higher level than it did last season.  If the Front Seven is as improved as I think it can be – again, due to some real talent and better coaching – that would make for an overall defense that plays well enough to allow Tennessee to have a much better season than it did in 2017 regardless of what happens on offense.

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