What Roman Harrison’s Commitment Means to the Vols

Over the past decade, new Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt has developed a reputation for building some of the best collegiate defenses the sport has ever seen. So, you go into his tenure with the Vols trusting that UT is going to be much-improved on that side of the ball.

“Trust” is the perfect word for what followers of Vols football recruiting are having to do in the first year of Pruitt’s work on the trail. While Tennessee has landed several high-profile recruits, the Vols also are taking some virtual unknowns along the defensive front.

Right now, you shrug it off and say, “Pruitt knows what he wants on that side of the ball.” That may be true, but it’s also important for Vols fans to still be in show-me mode until he proves something. There are an awful lot of defensive linemen who don’t fit the bill of having a huge offer sheet.

The latest in the long lines of little-known DL commitments came Wednesday with the pledge of 3-star defensive end/outside linebacker Roman Harrison. The 6’2″, 241-pound defender camped at UT a few weeks ago and showed out, leaving Tennessee’s coaching staff wanting him in orange.

Harrison hails from tiny Bainbridge, Georgia, and his only two high-major offers besides the Vols were Michigan State and Georgia Tech. But Tennessee loved his explosion, and Pruitt was comfortable enough with his in-person evaluation to take him this early in the process.

Despite his pedestrian ranking, Harrison gives the Vols “a lot to be excited about,” 247Sports Director of Scouting Barton Simmons told GoVols247’s Ryan Callahan. Still, with few spots remaining in the class and some big names left on the board, this was one that came a bit from nowhere.

That’s no knock on Harrison, who analysts seem to love while talking about his pass-rushing speed and his motor. It’s just a left-field pledge to UT, and it seems this is a big reason why the Vols backed off North Carolina pass-rusher Terrell Dawkins, who is destined to go elsewhere.

Apparently, Pruitt loves Harrison that much.

With all the defensive back needs, another wide receiver, another offensive lineman and a few other needs out there, the Vols aren’t being judicious with their spots. It seems they’re taking guys they like and will sort things out later.

Pruitt doesn’t really care about your stinking rankings, and — again — he trusts what he and his coaches see at camps. In a year where a ton of instate prospects are looking elsewhere, that’s tough for some Vols fans to stomach. It’s difficult seeing athletes like Woodi Washington, Lance Wilhoite and Kane Patterson head to top-shelf programs like Oklahoma, Oregon and Ohio State.

It’s really hard to watch Tennessee boys and big needs like defensive linemen Bill Norton and Zion Logue go to rival Georgia or another big-name prospect like Joe Anderson at South Carolina. Even instate lineman Tymon Mitchell looks like he’s visiting the Dawgs, too.

So, when you see a commitment from a guy like Harrison who event the most fervent recruiting followers haven’t heard of, you do one of two things — you make the assumption that the Vols are “settling” or “reaching” or you trust the staff.

There’s a lot of trusting going on dating back to the last class.

The Vols’ defensive lineman pledges under Pruitt began with little-known lineman Kingston Harris, who played at powerhouse IMG Academy and didn’t even start. Even so, he reported to school at 6’3″, 316 pounds and looks ready to play. Pruitt also “discovered” a guy like Kurott Garland, who played at a small Georgia school. Three-star defensive lineman John Mincey had some good offers but wasn’t a hot commodity, and JUCO Emmit Gooden was a late addition.

This year, the Vols followed up those signings with commits from LeDarrius Cox, who is a 3-star prospect but has offers from Auburn and others; little-known Starkville, Mississippi product Jalil Clemons, who doesn’t have an offer from the hometown Bulldogs; former Oak Ridge standout and JUCO prospect Darel Middleton; massive 350-pound nose guard Elijah Simmons from Pearl-Cohn High School whose only other SEC offer was Mizzou; and now Harrison.

Maybe these are all diamonds in the rough; maybe they’re rough around the edges. We have no idea of knowing. But while it’s easy to trust a defensive-minded coach, it’s hard for us to trust after the past decade on the football field.

It’s a tough spot as a follower of recruiting.

There are a lot of reasons to like Harrison. Pruitt and staff loved him at camp and offered him. He’s playing out of position for a small school, lining up at nose guard and wreaking havoc. Simmons told Callahan:  “The fact that he plays out of position makes him that much more intriguing to me. (He is) tough and strong enough to be an inside guy, but clearly brimming with edge athleticism.”

I mean, you know this guy isn’t going to be a high-visibility prospect when one of the best recruiting pics we get from him is this:

That’s small-town ball, y’all.

Pruitt going on his own evaluations is a reason why the Vols are currently ranked ninth in recruiting in the SEC. Yes, there are some big targets remaining on the board, but it seems Pruitt’s immediate plan are for the Vols to be a whole lot bigger as a team, rankings be darned.

Just how high can this class go? I’m sure Pruitt isn’t going to stop recruiting marquee players, and if better, higher-ranked guys want on board later, he’ll make it work. But what if Harrison and Co. are the better, higher-ranked guys at a later date? Pruitt has a long history of developing top defenses.

Maybe these guys are top defenders. Maybe his staff will turn them into those. We’ll all find out.

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