After looking at players on Offense who’ve been linked to UT through the 2018 cycle, below is a look at the board on Defense as Coach Pruitt gets started. With only 6 commits on that side of the ball, there’s a lot of work to be done here:
There is always a need for more defensive linemen, and with Pruitt being a defensive guy and having two DL coaches (by trade at least) on staff in Tracy Rocker and Chris Rumph, you can be sure this will be an area of focus both in terms of the current board and also for new prospects. Tennessee’s current DL corps has some talent but needs to be upgraded to compete for championships.
Malik Langham – Another DL for whom the Vols have been involved with throughout the process, Langham, an Alabama native, has recently seen the home-state Tide put the pressure on after a great senior season. He was in Knoxville a few times over the summer and also took an UV for the South Carolina game, so clearly he has a lot of interest in the program. He’s a really nice looking prospect with the kind of grades to put Vandy and Notre Dame (where he’s OV’ing this weekend) in the mix as well. One would think that the new staff, and especially Pruitt, have a strong tie here. He’s a late signee so there’s time for the Vols to reestablish themselves, but he’s only got 2 OVs left taken/unscheduled. I expect Tennessee to get one and be a real player until National Signing Day
Caleb Tannor – After decommitting from UGA, Tannor’s is an interesting case. On the one hand he likely has a preexisting relationship with new DC Kevin Sherrer who’s coming over from Athens, but on the other hand, of course, he decommitted from there. Tannor liked the Vols a lot back in the summer before committing to the Dawgs and has been on campus a few times including recently for the LSU game. There’s some grade concerns, but Tannor is a really good prospect who I think deserves attention from the new staff given the need for pass rushers
Azur Kamara – I wrote about Kamara back in the preseason, and he’s done nothing during his season to make me think any less of him, posting 2.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss. He’s part of the Arizona Western JUCO crew that the former staff visited a week or so ago, but it’s unclear how much interest he still has. He’s only got two OVs open and Ole Miss and Oklahoma State appear to be the favorites to land those. We’ll see if the Vols can get (back) in the mix
Javonte Jean-Baptiste – The Vols have an in here because Jean-Baptiste comes from the same high school as Jarrett Guarantano. He’s a long and lean (6-5, 215) edge rusher with a great frame and had a senior season that saw him upgraded to a 4-star by 247. He had the Vols in his Top 4 with BC, Virgina Tech and UCF and was actually scheduled to OV for the Vandy game, so if Pruitt and Co. want to get involved I think they can. He’s OV’ing to BC this weekend and VT the next, and the new Nebraska staff (form UCF) has also reached out with an offer. This will be one to watch moving forward.
If Coach Pruitt is going to play more 3-4 in the future, he’s going to need more, and more talented, and perhaps different style LBs than what’s on the roster. The one LB on the commitment list, Matthew Flint, is very talented but this class likely needs more. The lack of numbers here reflects the fact that the Vols signed quite a few in 2017 and the fact that the old staff played much more 4-2-5 Base defense and just needed fewer bodies on the roster.
Caleb Johnson – A longtime Vol target who has seen his SEC interest increase throughout his season season, Johnson took his UT OV for the UGA game. Under a 4-3 he might be considered more of a 4-3 DE prospect, but I’m putting him here for now. Despite the coaching turnover and an uptick in interest from the likes of Auburn and UGA, Johnson has maintained high interest in the Vols. One has to imagine that new Defensive Coordinator Kevin Sherrer and his staff (which is still being added to) not only are well aware of Johnson but have a strong relationship with him. He’s a late signee who’s taken no OVs yet, so there is plenty of time here.
Cam Jones – We discussed his recruitment viz. Flint back in the summer. A Tennessee legacy who many thought was a fait accompli to the Vols, Jones never could get comfortable enough to pull the trigger and eventually recommitted to Indiana. He’s an outstanding athlete who projects to a number of positions – will the new staff try and get (re) involved? Would he have any interest? Remains to be seen…
Unfortunately, yet another position that needs both talent and depth. The new staff has work to do here.
Jaycee Horn/Trey Dean* – Two high level prospects who have decommitted since Butch Jones was fired, it’s pretty obvious the Vols have a better chance with Horn than Dean. Pruitt has prior relationships with both, and Horn was enamored with Bama throughout the process while Dean has basically closed the door on Tennessee (though I think there’s a crack there). Horn likes South Carolina a lot and the Cocks are and were always going to be in this one until the ink dries. With Pruitt in Knoxville one would think that strengthens Tennessee’s position, but we’ll see. He’s a February signee so there’s plenty of time, while Dean is signing in two weeks so there really isn’t
Tanner Ingle* – Beating a dead horse here, but I really like Ingle’s game. Right now NCSU appears to be his other option. Can the new staff get back in here? Do they want to? Open questions, but I hope the answer to both is in the affirmative
Dashon Bussell – Local product who’s a great athlete, Bussell is currently committed to Western Michigan. If the new staff wants to get involved it surely can, and with the numbers as they are it could be a necessity.
Myles Mason – Alabama native who didn’t have a Tide offer from Pruitt, nevertheless Mason is a really nice looking prospect who projects as a physical Safety. He visited Knoxville during the season for an UV, but then committed to Dan Mullen and Mississippi State soon after. He currently still plans to sign early with the Bulldogs, so the window is pretty narrow if the Vols want to get involved