Tennessee’s 2018 recruiting class was looking rough for a while after Butch Jones was fired, the prior administration — led by rogue athletic director John Currie — botched hiring his replacement and Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was brought in to be UT’s new head coach.
In nine days, the man who has orchestrated a championship-caliber defense in Tuscaloosa and helped build a recruiting machine that leads to top class after top class salvaged an early signing period of which Vols fans could be proud.
This 2018 haul was never going to be a highly ranked group after Jones left, and it especially wasn’t after Pruitt severed ties with nearly half that class. But the guys he ultimately brought in surged UT nearly 40 spots in the rankings.
Work remains to make this class strong, but there are time — and spots remaining — to do it. Currently, Tennessee has the nation’s 27th-ranked recruiting class according to the 247Sports Composite. Needless to say, that’s not great. But it won’t end up that way. Pruitt still has some targets who could help the Vols reach a class that will wind up from 12-15 potentially.
Yes, losing offensive tackle Cade Mays (Georgia), safety Trey Dean (Florida) and quarterback Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) hurt. But the gains were good, too. Let’s take a look at UT’s 13 early offensive signees.
Alontae Taylor 6’0″, 184-pound 4-star wide receiver; Manchester, Tenn. (Coffee County Central HS)
It was a topsy-turvy recruitment for Taylor, who flipped from Vanderbilt to Tennessee early in the recruiting process but enjoyed recruiting, listening to other programs who came calling. Many of those extended offers, and Georgia seemed to be the biggest threat in the end.
After he decommitted, Taylor gave Pruitt the opportunity to re-recruit him and became the new coach’s first commitment after visiting Knoxville the first weekend Pruitt was onboard. Alabama recruited him to play defensive back, so Taylor wanted to verify he’d be a receiver at UT. Once that happened, he was back on board.
That’s big news for Tennessee. Taylor is the type of athlete with the “suddenness” UT lacks on that side of the ball. He played quarterback in high school, so he’s used to having the ball in his hands, and while he may need a little polish catching the ball, he’s a terror in space. Blessed with great quickness and football speed, Taylor almost certainly will have a role in this offense early. He was the biggest senior playmaker in the state.
Dominick Wood-Anderson 6’5″, 245-pound 4-star JUCO tight end; Yuma, Ariz. (Arizona Western College)
Few JUCO prospect had as much drama surrounding his recruitment as Wood-Anderson, who is the nation’s top junior college player at his position. He was thought to be a huge Alabama lean and commitment for a long time, and Pruitt wasn’t his lead recruiter with the Tide, either.
But when Pruitt came on in Knoxville, he desperately needed an impact tight end. Currently, the Vols have Latrell Bumphus (who is perhaps better-suited for defense), as well as Austin Pope and former walk-on Eli Wolf. That’s basically it. Though UT had a commitment in Knoxville (Farragut) Jacob Warren, he needs about 30-40 pounds to be able to survive in the SEC. So, the Vols needed an impact player who could step right in and take the snaps vacated by departing seniors Ethan Wolf and Jakob Johnson.
DWA is a big, athletic prospect who can catch the ball and do things with the football after the catch. He reminds me a little of Mychal Rivera, who left UT and has enjoyed a decent NFL career. Brian Niedermeyer deserves a ton of credit for getting DWA on campus, and Pruitt deserves a ton for getting him signed.
Let’s hope this Tennessee staff is better at utilizing tight ends than Alabama.
Jerome Carvin 6’4″, 330-pound 4-star offensive lineman; Memphis, Tenn. (Cordova HS)
Losing long-time UT commit and Vol legacy Cade Mays hurts, especially to division rival Georgia. But Pruitt was able to salvage some of the in-state beef when he swooped in and convinced Carvin to come to Knoxville. That’s a major win for a prospect wanted by the prior staff as well as many as the top programs in the country.
The Vols were able to get him to sign despite him not visiting the final week before the early signing period. He chose UT over Mississippi State and Florida, where he’d developed a relationship with new coach Dan Mullen when he was in Starkville. Had Mullen stayed with the Bulldogs, it would have been an uphill battle for Tennessee to get him.
As it turned out, the Vols not only wanted him but also his teammate, 3-star running back Jeremy Banks, who was a 4-star on some services. Carvin also has a relationship with Smith and Drew Richmond, so that was a bonus for the Vols, too.
Carvin is a big, ol’ mean lineman who is country strong. He needs to be coached, taught technique, and he certainly needs to work on his drops, spacing and hand placement. But he has violent hands and a strong first push. He is the type of player who should be easy to teach, and though he probably projects as an interior lineman, the Vols need help everywhere on the offensive front, so he’s got the opportunity to step in and play.
It would be better for UT, however, if the Vols could sign a slew of JUCO offensive linemen to build depth right away and allow guys like Carvin to either play in a reserve role or to redshirt.
Jeremy Banks 6’2″, 215-pound 3-star running back; Memphis, Tenn. (Cordova HS)
How in the world is a power runner like Banks from your own state not recruited to come to Tennessee when teams like Florida, Nebraska, UCLA and others wanted him on their team?
Butch Jones, ladies and gentlemen.
Pruitt identified him early on, and it wasn’t as a package-deal situation to get Carvin, either. Banks deserved a scholarship in his own rights, and the Vols needed a power back of his ilk with John Kelly entering his senior season. Tennessee already has speedier backs such as Ty Chandler, Carlin Fils-Aime and Tim Jordan, but the Vols need a guy who can get between the tackles and carry the load. Banks looks like the dude to do it.
He’s already big, and that’s before he gets in a college weight program. Pruitt wants to add another power back in this class, too, but Banks provides a need right away with some beef running behind what is expected to be a much bigger offensive line in 2018. It looks like Pruitt and offensive coordinator Tyson Helton (not to mention offensive line coach Will Friend) want to get back to the power running game (PRAISE GOD!) at Tennessee and get away from all this finesse crap. That’s music to my ears.
Banks is a pivotal piece of that. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he has strength, power, size and looks like the ideal type of running back for this system.
JT Shrout 6’3″, 190-pound 3-star pro-style quarterback; Newhall, Calif. (William S. Hart HS)
Once Adrian Martinez decided he was going to flip from Tennessee to Nebraska, the Vols were going to have to take a project at quarterback in this class. To be fair, though, Martinez was far from a “sure thing” considering he missed his entire senior season after suffering an injury. The Pruitt regime also severed ties with Florida quarterback Michael Penix, who wound up inking with Indiana and former UT coordinator Mike DeBord.
Meanwhile, Tennessee went fishing for a high-upside quarterback, and it didn’t take the Vols long to reach out to a vital target. It didn’t take long for Shrout to reciprocate the love, either.
The long-time California commitment left his homestate for a weekend visit to Knoxville the week before he was to sign. When he dropped his location via Twitter, UT’s fan base was all over him, trying to get him to come to play for the Vols. He fell in love with the area, decommitted from the Bears shortly after returning home and decided to be Tennessee’s quarterback in this class.
Yes, it’s a major red flag that Shrout threw 25 interceptions as a senior, but he has all the tools. Blessed with good size, excellent arm strength, adequate touch and sharp mechanics, he wowed scouts at a camp prior to his senior season. While it’s obvious he has to learn how to better read defenses, Shrout doesn’t need to step right in and start with Jarrett Guarantano, Quinten Dormady and Will McBride already on campus. If he is molded by Tyson Helton and is a quick study, he’ll have every opportunity to battle for that job.
Jacob Warren 6’6″, 211-pound 3-star tight end; Knoxville, Tenn. (Farragut HS)
Pruitt told Warren upon their meeting that — in so many words — he wouldn’t stand a chance in the rugged SEC unless he added weight. Thankfully for Warren, he has a very projectable frame and should be able to do that rather quickly. He needs to, and the Vols need him to.
As noted in the DWA blurb, Tennessee doesn’t have a lot of depth at the position, and Helton’s offense requires at least one (and sometimes two) quality tight ends. Warren looks like the type of athlete who can develop into a great player on the next level. He’s big and possesses great hands and has a knack for big plays. He’s just SO. DANG. SKINNY. He was used as a pass-catching tight end for the Admirals, and that’s the role he’ll fill at UT.
But if he’s on the field in 2018, it’s because Tennessee is in desperate need of bodies, Warren packed on some pounds or a combination of both. If there was ever a guy who needed a year to get bigger and stronger, it’s Warren. But this is a great local kid who has a future in an offense that will actually know how to utilize him.
Warren is one of those commitments you have to put on the top shelf and wait a while, but it’s like Christmas morning when he finally blossoms.
Tanner Antonutti 6’5″, 260-pound 3-star offensive tackle; Nashville, Tenn. (Ensworth HS)
Another player who needs a year to get in the weight room, get bigger and get stronger is Antonutti, a guy who wasn’t a for-sure take under the previous regime. Once LSU decided it wanted the Ensworth product, however, the Vols offered, too. Then, the long-time UT fan committed to the Vols and actually stuck with his pledge, unlike some other instate linemen.
The Vols will eventually be glad he did. Antonutti is one of the most athletic linemen in the entire class, and once he puts on 35-40 pounds, he will possess the kind of athleticism and skills to be a strong tackle. When you watch film on Antonutti, what stands out is how strong he is despite not having the weight of other linemen. He’s also very athletic and loves the Vols. Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State and others also saw those assets in Antonutti.
He played tight end and defensive line for Ensworth and was a finalist for the Mr. Football award, so his athleticism is noted. If he packs on weight and continues to develop, he has the chance to be a big part of the future of the offensive line — just most likely not in 2018.
Ollie Lane 6’5″, 307-pound 3-star offensive lineman; Corryton, Tenn. (Gibbs HS)
Lane is another Tennessee fan who ultimately chose to stick with his commitment to the nearby Vols. He was coveted by Georgia, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and others. He looks like an ideal player to slide in and play center in the future for the Vols, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if he wound up at guard, too.
Lane is a burly lineman who looks like a strong candidate to provide depth to the interior of Tennessee’s line. Just how much does it mean to Lane to play for the Vols? He told 247Sports’ Danny Parker that inking with UT “means the world to me.” That’s the kind of kid you want to sign, who will do what it takes to make the body changes and time commitment to be great.
Lane needs to add strength and needs to learn from Friend when it comes to technique, but he has a lot of positive assets that should make him a strong candidate to take over on the inside and battle Riley Locklear, among others, for that starting center spot. Lane has put on some 20-plus pounds in the past year to prepare to play in the SEC.
It’s going to be interesting to see if any of these youngsters on the offensive front are ready to help right away.