Yesterday, we took a look at Tennessee’s early offensive signees. Now, let’s examine the five defenders who the Vols desperately need to come in and provide some immediate help.
With defensive-minded head coach Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer and long-time SEC assistants Tracy Rocker and Chris Rumph, along with former Vol Terry Fair leading the charge on defense, players should be able to get plenty of coaching.
Let’s take a look at the guys who we know will be Vols in 2018, based on them signing last week.
Greg Emerson 6’3″ 280-pound 4-star defensive lineman; Jackson, Tenn. (North Side HS)
Tennessee has long had success recruiting in the Jackson area, and after that city yielded stud offensive lineman Trey Smith a year ago, the Vols highest-rated prospect hailed from there this year, too.
Emerson — who broke his fibula and fractured his ankle with a gruesome injury at The Opening that cost him his senior year — stayed true to his pledge through the coaching change, and he is one of the prospects who could benefit most from the Pruitt regime. Emerson wanted to stick at defensive end, anyway, and now he appears to have the perfect body type to play that spot in a 3-4 base defense.
The Jackson native has violent hands and is extremely strong. His first step may not be good enough to stay outside in a 4-3, but he’s ideal for this new base. He is a great athlete for his size, and he is a consistent weapon when healthy. Since he’s a bit raw, he’ll need to be coached up on a variety of moves, but he has very moldable assets with which Tracy Rocker can work.
Brant Lawless 6’3″, 285-pound 4-star defensive tackle; Nashville, Tenn. (Nashville Christian HS)
Lawless was the first of the “Big Three” defensive line prospects in Tennessee to commit to the previous regime, and D’Andre Litaker and Emerson followed. It’s unclear whether Litaker will be part of this class, but Lawless signed quickly after it was clear Pruitt wanted him.
Lawless looks like he will be able to add 15-20 good pounds and play inside in a 3-4 scheme. He isn’t fast enough to play on the exterior. He still needs work to be able to be a difference-maker in the SEC, but he, too, has plenty of traits that will be enough for a good DL coach to help mold. Lawless will have the opportunity to come in and play right away with all the holes UT has in the trenches, but he may be best-served with a year in the weight room and with a redshirt.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Lawless is ultimately utilized. If it’s on the interior, he needs to put on some weight and also to gain some strength. Perhaps the biggest improvement from the Jones era could come on the defensive line, where it wasn’t uncommon for Vols to get pushed around and opponents to dominate UT running the football.
It’s up to big guys like Lawless to make sure that doesn’t happen in the Pruitt era.
Jordan Allen 6’4″, 230-pound 3-star weak-side defensive end/outside linebacker; San Francisco (City College of San Francisco)
The last of the Early Signing Day commitments for Pruitt came late Wednesday night, but it wasn’t the least of the pledges.
That’s when pass-rushing outside linebacker Jordan Allen of City College of San Francisco decided to choose Tennessee over schools like TCU, Michigan State and Arizona State. This is after he told the Vols “thanks but no thanks” when they initially reached out to him to try to get him to visit on that final weekend before the dead period. Once Pruitt called and got involved, Allen decided to visit.
He ultimately signed.
Yes, Allen is raw, but he also possesses the size and speed needed for Tennessee to transition as smoothly as possibly to the 3-4 base. He’s a big, athletic kid who can play with his hand down but also standing up, and he’s expected to step right in and play for the Vols on the second level. It’s going to be interesting to see where Darrin Kirkland Jr., Will Ignont, Shanon Reid, Solon Page III and Quart’e Sapp fit in this offense, but it looks like — at least on the surface — that players such as Sapp, Austin Smith and Allen can play a “Jack” style pass-rusher.
If that’s the case, Allen is a necessity. Can he step right in and provide meaningful snaps? Any time you swing at a JUCO kid, it’s a crap-shoot. But when schools like TCU and MSU want you, you’re obviously a guy who a lot of defensive-minded programs believe can play. You don’t recruit JUCOs to stand on the sideline.
Kingston Harris 6’3″, 285-pound 3-star defensive lineman; Orlando, Fla. (IMG Academy)
One of the most puzzling pickups for Pruitt in his first few days was IMG Academy defensive tackle Kingston Harris, who had a difficult time cracking the rotation at one of the most loaded high school programs in the country. But that doesn’t mean he can’t play.
Harris was recruited by schools such as Maryland, Rutgers, Central Florida and others, but when Pruitt offered him and Harris visited the weekend before the dead period, he ultimately decided he wanted to play SEC football. The question is: How soon can he play?
Tennessee severed ties with former commitments like Jamarcus Chatman, and Litaker’s status remains in the air, but Pruitt actually laid eyes on Harris, who has the type of big body needed to clog up run lanes up front in a 3-4, and there was obviously something Pruitt and Co. saw in Harris that they loved and believed they could unlock. It would be a surprise if Harris was able to step right in and play, but he probably won’t be needed to.
Tennessee is going after a lot of guys it believes can provide depth in ’18 on the defensive line, but Harris more of a piece to the future. He needs to work on his body and especially his technique, but he looks strong and has the size and frame to pack on weight. This is a project Pruitt deemed worthwhile. With the defensive staff he’s assembled, the Vols won’t have to take too many “projects” in the future.
Paxton Brooks 6’5″, 170-pound 3-star punter; West Columbia, S.C. (Airport HS)
Tennessee once picked up a commitment from punter Skyler DeLong, who visited the Vols and committed on the trip. He flipped to Alabama almost immediately when he visited the Crimson Tide.
But UT moved onto Brooks, and he is an ideal prospect to take “Punter U” into the next generation post-Trevor Daniel. He is rated as the nation’s No. 2-rated punter and a 5-star prospect by Kohl’s Professional Kicking Camps, and he is the type of player who has the opportunity to step right in and play. The Vols may need for him to because Daniel is out of eligibility, and he was one of the best punters in the country a season ago.
He chose Tennessee over offers from several schools, including North Carolina State, and he’ll punt in the Under-Armor All-American Game. This could be the player who makes the biggest impact from this class on the field in 2018.