Over the past few months while Tennessee has been burning up the recruiting trail addressing needs on the defensive interior, offensive line, at quarterback and in the backfield, one glaring concern remained.
Who was going to rush the passer off the edge?
The Volunteers must worry about that in 2017 with the departure of legendary pass-rusher Derek Barnett as well as veteran staples Corey Vereen and LaTroy Lewis. With a ’17 class that failed to feature any marquee names, the Vols have depth and experience concerns off the edge, fielding a unit that will see Jonathan Kongbo, Darrell Taylor, Kyle Phillips and a bunch of freshmen take snaps at defensive end.
Though UT was piecing together perhaps coach Butch Jones’ best haul, defensive end was still a major concern in the 2018 class.
Less than a week after netting the No. 1 player in the state in Greg Emerson, a 260-pound defensive end who some analysts project to play inside in college, the Vols again struck with a defensive end commitment on Thursday in talented JUCO lineman Dorian Gerald.
This is a big one for many reasons. Not only was Gerald a hotly coveted player with offers from Alabama, home-state South Carolina and plenty others, he’s a pure defensive end with excellent size (6’3″, 260 pounds) and has the ability to step right in and get major reps in 2018.
UT plucked the College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita, California) star away from an opportunity to play for head coach Will Muschamp and his home-state Gamecocks. The Vols actually sold Gerald on the opportunity to be used much like Barnett, according to GoVols247’s Ryan Callahan who quoted Gerald as saying:
“Just last year, with them having Derek Barnett and him having such huge success, and me being — I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m totally identical to him, but me being similar to him in size, height, everything,” Gerald said.
“They play the type of defensive front I need. Coach (Brady) Hoke also is a great D-line coach. I mean, he’s a legendary coach — D-line, head coach, it doesn’t even matter. He’s legendary. And we’ve built great relationships — not with just me. They did a great job building a relationship with my family, and that’s everything. My family is everything to me.”
Gerald may still visit other schools, but he seems sold on Tennessee. That’s huge news for a Vols team that continues to dazzle with a complete, star-studded class that not only is grabbing impact players but addressing major areas of need.
A season ago, UT fleshed out its recruiting class with developmental defensive linemen like Ryan Thaxton, Marquez Bembry, Deandre Johnson and Kivon Bennett to go along with Matthew Butler and Eric Crosby. Some of those guys will likely turn into quality college players, but a lot of them weren’t coveted by the top teams in the nation.
This year, new defensive line coach Brady Hoke (with a strong assist from top recruiter Walt Wells, who, again, was Gerald’s lead recruiter … note a trend?) possibly has amassed the best defensive line class (on paper) in school history.
Gerald is only a 3-star player, but his offer sheet suggests he’s better than that. He’s the nation’s No. 11 JUCO player and the second-ranked strong-side defensive end, and he joins an already strong defensive line class that includes Emerson (who is on the cusp of 5-star status), 4-star in-state defensive tackles D’Andre Litaker and Brant Lawless, and 3-star former LSU commitment Jamarcus Chatman, who flipped from the Tigers shortly after visiting Knoxville for Orange Carpet Day.
Gerald gives UT an embarrassment of riches on the line, and the Vols still would love to add a pair of speed rushers. While Memphis end and Alabama commitment Jordan Davis may be a long shot, the guys seemingly at the top of UT’s list right now are Richard Jibunor (from Athens, Ga.) and Azeez Ojulari (from Marietta, Ga.). There are several other names on the list, but that is a pair who UT is in the top few schools for right now.
Getting some pin-your-ears-back-and-go guys would be ideal with the jumbo duo of Emerson and Gerald already in the fold.
This is a major commitment for the Vols, who appear to have assembled an ace recruiting staff.