As the offseason comes to a close, Tennessee wraps up its summer camp series with what is being billed as a mini-Orange Carpet Day tomorrow, July 20th. Multiple current commitments, including QB commitment Michael Penix and big timers from Georgia and Florida, will be there along with a group of top-of-the-board targets that has become really impressive at the 11th hour (more on that below.)
The Vols currently sit with 17 public commitments and a Top 5 national recruiting ranking, and as we discussed recently, have the luxury of being very picky with its remaining spots.
A few thoughts:
Mini-Orange Carpet Day Suddenly No Longer Looks “Mini”
Just 24 hours ago it appeared that the only two headliners for this weekend in terms of uncommitted prospects were going to be PJ Mustipher and Jaycee Horn. However, since then Volquest.com has reported that the visitor list now features multiple high-level targets, making the day a real opportunity for the staff. Below are my thoughts on each of them:
DT PJ Mustipher: I think the staff would like to add another DT to the class of 2018. That makes a guy like Mustipher incredibly important, and the fact that he made it out of his visit to PSU last weekend without committing and will be on campus tomorrow is very good news. This will be Mustipher’s third visit to campus, having attended the Bama game last season and then a spring practice in April. He would be another big time piece to what is already shaping up as one of the best DL classes in UT history.
CB Jaycee Horn: News broke a few weeks ago that Horn, who had recently eliminated the Vols and announced a top two of Alabama and South Carolina, was not only communicating with the UT staff but had scheduled another visit for the 20th. Since then things seem to have continued to trend Tennessee’s way, and this visit is a big opportunity for Butch and Co. to solidify themselves in this recruitment, if not end it. He is currently planning on going to Alabama’s Champions Cookout the next day, but there is speculation that he doesn’t currently have a commit-able offer from the Tide – that remains to be seen and is the ultimate wildcard here in my opinion. The good news for the Vols is that that Bama event is the same day as a similar event South Carolina is hosting. I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility at all that Horn commits to the Vols and shuts it down (to the extent anyone actually shuts down their recruitment anymore). He would be the type of elite talent at CB that Tennessee has struggled to land for a long time, and would be a great complement to the South Florida tandem of Brandon Cross/Tanner Ingle that project more at the nickel or even safety positions.
DE Adam Anderson The first of the new adds to the list, Anderson’s recruitment is a very interesting situation. He, along with current Vols commitment Jamarcus Chatman and their fellow Rome, Georgia teammate and DL Jaquon Griffin were all once LSU commitments. As we know, Chatman decommitted from LSU immediately after his Orange Carpet Day visit and subsequently pledged to the Vols. Griffin, while still technically committed to the Tigers, has expressed strong interest in the Vols as well, although at this point he is not a take. Anderson, who has now decommitted from UGA before LSU, is back on the market and is presumed to have UGA and Alabama at the top of his list, though he did list UT in his recently released Top Five. Many thought this was only for show, but just getting him to campus is a minor win in and of itself. We shall see how much this visit makes the Vols a player here, but the connection to Chatman and his family is strong for Anderson and you can be sure there will be some serious peer recruiting from Chatman and others (see: Harris, Jatavious, as the No. 1 example). Without a doubt Anderson becomes the top rush defensive end on the Vols’ board along with fellow Georgian Azeez Ojulari. Anderson is the type of talent that I am talking about in terms of aiming high and leveraging the kind of class the Vols have, both in quality and quantity, and taking big swings at big time talent.
DE Azeez Olujari – After spending two nights in Athens last week, there is a lot of buzz that UGA is the leader for this prototypical rush DE. That said, this will be Ojulari’s third trip to Knoxville since the spring and comes on the heels of his Orange Carpet Day visit last month. While no one seems to think the Vols are in front here, he obviously has a real affinity for the program, the coaches, and the campus. The more visits the better, and with a potential preseason decision the staff has to really like getting him back again.
DE Kayode Oledale –Oledale decommitted from FSU a few weeks ago and right now Miami is considered to be a the top – he’s been to campus a few ties and is expected at their Paradise Camp this weekend as well. That said, the Vols have been mentioned as a dark horse here for a while despite him never having visited, and we’ve seen what happens when kids from South Florida see what UT and Knoxville have to offer. He’s very raw and likely isn’t an immediate contributor, but he’s a “first off the bus” looking kid with the kind of size/athleticism/strength combo that suggests an incredibly high ceiling.
DE Caleb Kelly – An interesting prospect who at 6’3 205 right now projects as an edge type, Kelly visited for Orange Carpet Day and very recently include the Vols in a Top Five along with Stanford, Michigan State, UVA, and Ole Miss. He’s a very high academic kid, with offers from lower-tier football programs with strong academic reps like Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, and Yale (along with, of course, Stanford), Kelly is likely a guy the staff wants to see perform during the season before taking (just my opinion, of course) but someone who looks like a really nice prospect.
DE/LB Richard Jibunor (tentative) – Jibunor is a guy who could project as an LB or a DE and is, quite frankly, a freak athlete. The word is that he likes the LB spot and while the Vols have been recruiting him as a rush DE there has been some speculation that the staff is perhaps actually looking at more traditional DEs like the guys above. My guess is that they also aren’t sure he would be good enough in space to play OLB. It could be moot, as right now by most accounts the Vols are behind Auburn. However, he may like the Tennessee more than anyone thinks, and if he does make it back to campus it’s not only a good sign of his continued strong interest but also may be an opportunity for the staff to see him at either position and make a decision.
DB Trey Dean (tentative) – While most consider Dean to be a strong UGA lean and a safety prospect to boot, the Vols appear to be recruiting him as a corner and/or nickel (where he has performed pretty well, especially at his size at some big time camps including the Rivals 5-Star Challenge). If he does show, it likely means he’s giving the Vols a serious look with a decision coming relatively soon. He’s the type of talent that you’d make room for as a fourth CB if you can land both him and Horn.
To Add Another TE or Not?
I’ve been pretty consistent in my opinion that if Tennessee can’t land one of its top targets for the second TE spot then they shouldn’t reach lower down the board and instead should use that spot in the class at a different position. Now that James Mitchell is no longer coming to campus tomorrow and appears to be a strong Virginia Tech lean, combined with further thought that Tommy Tremble is Notre Dame-bound, that thought hasn’t changed. That said, it is clear that the UT staff would like to add another TE to this class, as evidenced by this week’s offer to summer-breakout prospect Luke Ford from Illinois. Ford is a former Arkansas commit who now has offers from Alabama, Georgia, and Michigan (his presumed current Top Three) among other heavyweights. Although it remains to be seen if the Vols can truly get involved with Ford, a TE prospect of this caliber is the type of player the staff should be targeting if they are in fact going to sign two TEs in the class. If they can’t get in the mix here, my hope is that they will continue to aim high.
With 17 commitments currently and at least one very strong lean out there in Memphis LB Cam Jones who could pop any day (not to mention other top prospects that are possible preseason decisions like Horn, Mustipher, OL Jerome Carvin, and WR Shocky Jacques-Louis), the remaining spots are limited. Something I think would be interesting for the coaching staff to consider is the idea of leaving some powder dry in this class to ensure there is room for a graduate transfer for the 2018 season. Had UT not had scholarship room for Shaq Wiggins, either in terms of overall numbers or initial counters (and I don’t pretend to know the roster machinations behind the scenes), the outlook for the secondary this season would be vastly different. As grad transfers become more and more frequent in college football, UT will remain an attractive destination for kids looking to play for championships in their final season. Obviously, I am not privy to how and when the coaching staff finds out about these possibilities, but I think it is something the staff should consider and game plan for as they figure out how to fill out this class.
A Final Thought (for now)
Obviously, Butch is recruiting at a very high level now, both for the class of 2018 as well as into the future. We know what this class looks like right now, and the groundwork has been laid for success in what should be loaded in-state classes of 2019 and 2020. Along with that, the current roster is set up for the 2018 and 2019 teams to be loaded not just with high level talent but also tons of experience. Therefore, a strong season on the field in 2017 (I’d say nine regular season wins would qualify) would likely propel this program to heights it has rarely seen. If that happens, Butch will have to make some decisions when it comes to more and more elite players wanting to jump on board – just look at the kind of talent coming to town, yet again, tomorrow. Will be interesting to watch for sure.