The first week of the offseason and contact period was an eventful one across the country and especially for the Vols. Below we take a look at a few of the emerging storylines and what to look for going forward.
Vols Strike Big with 2020 QB Commitment
The big news was obviously the commitment of bigtime 2020 QB Harrison Bailey. We’ve got you covered on the analysis of that massive commitment that along with JUCO DL Jordan Davis has set up Tennessee with cornerstones on both sides of the ball. Bailey will also be the peer-recruiting face of the class for the Vols, which should pay big dividends in 2020.
Follow the Visits – Vols Solidify Commitments and Look to Expand the Board
Pruitt and company hit the road to visit many of their current commitments, with Pruitt himself using his one in-home visit on most of Tennessee’s commitments who are very solid and also December signees/early enrollees, such as Ramel Keyton, Tank McCullough and Warren Burrell among others.
Tennessee also hit the bigtime names you know this week, including OL Darnell Wright (a February signee); LB Owen Pappoe (for whom they locked down what should be his last OV, the 12/7 weekend) and his teammate DB Kenyatta Watson (Texas commitment who has yet to decide on an OV to the Real UT); LB Trezeman Marshall (UGA commit for whom the Vols are hot on the Dawgs’ heels); DB Jammie Robinson; and LB Henry To’oto’to* in California.
*Alabama – Tennessee’s presumed top competition – picked up a commitment this week from LB Kevin Harris and appears to be the leader for 5-star LB Nakobe Dean from MS. Will the Tide have room come February for To’oto’to? That remains to be seen, but especially since Dean’s other frontrunner is UGA, Vol fans should be rooting for the Tide in that battle to potentially give Tennessee a leg up in the To’oto’to sweepstakes. To’oto’to could be even more important for the Vols if they can’t flip Marshall from UGA before he signs in December.
Pruitt also used his inhomes on a handful of uncommitted prospects who are either close to decisions (e.g., RB Eric Gray) or are committed elsewhere and with whom the Vols are trying to get back (e.g., UGA DL commitments Bill Norton and Zion Logue). Gray still appears to be a Tennessee lean but at the same time right now is scheduled to take OVs to Ole Miss (12/8) and Alabama (TBD). The extent to which those were used at the right time will be known when and if those prospects lock in OVs with the Vols and of course when they make their final decisions, but Pruitt clearly made some calculated decisions on allocations of time and resources.
In terms of trying to get involved with some other players, Tennessee’s staff (not Pruitt) also visited Oklahoma OL commitment EJ Ndoma-Ogar – who took a UT OV during the season and is currently planning on signing in December but hasn’t 100% decided; DL’s committed elsewhere such as Justin Eboigbe (Alabama) and Jaren Handy (Auburn); as well as ATH Quarvaris Crouch (still considered a Clemson lean) and Rush-End Khris Bogle (heavy Miami lean but Vols haven’t given up- I’d love to be surprised but I don’t see it, especially since Bogle’s already taken his UT OV). Additionally, as discussed earlier in the week, Tennessee visited and offered Dyersburg LB Chris Russell (a February signee) and also circled back with LB Jamie Pettway while visiting former Florida LB commitment Jamal Adams from Birmingham, who is also receiving interest from LSU, Auburn, and Mississippi State. Tennessee also visited and offered Minnesota JUCO DL commitment Keonte Schad (a December signee and early enrollee) and while he hasn’t formally scheduled an OV they clearly piqued his interest. He’s got his Minnesota OV scheduled for the 12/7 weekend so there are two more in which he could get to Knoxville, with Oklahoma also looming after recently offering as well. Finally, Tennessee visited with FSU DB commitment Travis Jay, another February signee who could see increased attention from the Vols and others depending on how December goes.
Addressing the Need for Speed
Quite simply, the Vols have a major need for speed on offense, and while track star WR Khafre Brown is considered a Vol lean, he’s not committed yet and Tennessee could even conceivably take a 3rd WR in the class if things break that way. To that end, Tennessee’s staff successfully turned assistant coaches visits into OVs for Texas WR (and Baylor commit) Jaylen Ellis as well as WR Xavier Legette from South Carolina. Legette is more of a late-bloomer on the recruiting scene than the Army All-American Ellis, but while Legette is geographically closer, from this vantage point Ellis is the more likely Tennessee signee. The Vols will get his last OV (12/14 weekend) before he announces his decision at the A-A Bowl and he certainly appears to see the need Tennessee has at his position and the chance for early playing time. Baylor won’t let go without a fight, and Texas is trying to get involved as well, but if that OV occurs and goes well Ellis could end up a Vol. In contrast, Legette has been on campus in Columbia multiple times and it just seems like he’s destined to be a Gamecock. Tennessee had seemed to get involved with 5-star WR Jadon Haselwood, a former UGA commitment, but at this point the Vols appear to have faded. We’ll see if things change there, but as of now the trio of Brown/Ellis/Legette appear to be the most realistic WRs on the board.
Weekend Visits to Watch
While Tennessee isn’t expected to have any official visitors on campus this weekend, some prospects the Vols are recruiting will be officially visiting elsewhere:
Aforementioned UGA DL commitments Norton and Logue are allegedly going to be visiting Ole Miss this weekend, though neither have been confirmed. Were either of those visits to happen they would obviously be indicative of softness in the respective recruitments. Both have been to Oxford this season so I wouldn’t count the Rebels out, but again should those visits indeed occur it could signal that the Vols actually have more of a chance with either/both of them than currently thought.
Emerging JUCO DL target Nick Figureoa will be OV’ing at UCLA, who at this time is his presumed favorite. Figureoa is both an early enrollee as well as a 3-for-3 player, and as such is a pretty valuable prospect on a Tennessee DL board that for the most part only contains players committed elsewhere. If Figureoa comes out of the weekend uncommitted the Vols will look to get him on campus in the next two weeks for an OV and he could emerge as a very important piece of the puzzle.
Another DL target, NY native Jared Harrison-Hunte, will be headed to Penn State after OV’ing to OSU last weekend. He previously had an OV scheduled to UT for the 12/14 weekend but that’s been changed and he’s now going to Michigan State that weekend instead. Penn State has been considered the favorite for Harrison-Hunte, so like Figureoa it will be interesting to see if he comes out of this visit to his presumed leader without committing and shutting it down. He’s currently planning on waiting until February to sign and will have one more OV left, so the Vols – along with FSU and Miami – will try and get the last one.
Auburn WR commitment George Pickens hasn’t been shy about visiting elsewhere and this weekend will be officially visiting LSU. Tennessee is a peripheral player at the moment but has been trying to get more involved, and if/when Auburn OC Chip Lindsay leaves (whether to Tennessee or elsewhere) Pickens’ commitment could be even more tenuous. Pickens is also a February signee so depending on what happens with other WRs on Tennessee’s board they could try and push.