Why Harrison Bailey Could Finally Be the Key For Tennessee

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It’s ridiculous to anoint a high school junior as the savior of a long-dormant program. But, for Tennessee fans needing a future on which to cling with no present to speak of, Thursday’s commitment from Marietta (Ga.) High School 4-star quarterback Harrison Bailey meant more than just an announcement from a talented high school kid.

Though Bailey could still reclassify as a 2019 recruit [he says he won’t], his pledge for the Vols could be the key that turns Jeremy Pruitt’s already-quality recruiting toward elite status.

Could Bailey change his mind? Yes, any time. But signal-callers normally don’t. Bailey is a 2020 pledge, so there’s still more than a year until he can be on the field for a Tennessee team that desperately needs him now. But the future UT quarterback means a lot to everybody involved — fans, players, and a coaching staff that needed some good news after a 5-7 first year.

Bailey is arguably the best quarterback in the class-after-next, and given the the fact that the Vols haven’t gone out and gotten an elite high school quarterback since Jarrett Guarantano, this was necessary. Bailey committed to UT over Michigan on Thursday at a quick and classy ceremony at his school. When he gave the VFL sign, the Periscope video panned to the crowd where UT ’19 wide receiver commitment Ramel Keyton was visibly excited.  If things go as planned, Keyton will be one of Bailey’s top targets on the Hill, much the way he was at Marietta High.

It’s a testament to Pruitt’s recruiting prowess that Bailey committed to Tennessee despite the Vols’ former offensive coordinator Tyson Helton left to be the head coach at Western Kentucky. It’s a testament to the program Pruitt is trying to build and how he connects to recruits that Bailey chose to go to Knoxville over an established program like Michigan.

Though Guarantano showed signs of development this year, he didn’t have any real coaching until Year 3 in the program, and who knows just how much that stunted his growth? Who knows how good J.T. Shrout and Brian Maurer will be, but neither one was heavily recruited, so it’s not like UT went out and beat a bunch of elite programs for those guys even though one or both could turn out to be quality players.

But Bailey is a next-level recruit, and the last time the Vols went out and got one of those marquee guys who is a pure quarterback who can drop back and throw dimes was Jonathan Crompton. Yes, it’s been that long. Tyler Bray developed into an erratic gunslinger who led a prolific offense on a bad UT team, and Joshua Dobbs was a tremendous player whose athleticism helped UT overcome the limitations of Butch Jones’ offense. Neither was the prospect Bailey is.

He’s a legit 6’4″ and 217 pounds and has a rifle arm. He plays on a loaded Marietta High team [where one of his coaches and a big influence is former UT star Derrick Tinsley] and he is surrounded by stars like Keyton, 2020 5-star tight end/athlete Arik Gilbert, defensive end B.J. Ojulari, and Ohio State commit Jake Wray [brother of OSU OL Max Wray, who committed to the Buckeyes over the Vols when he was a Midstate prospect].

Could Bailey get the Vols’ foot in the door with some of those prospects? Absolutely with Gilbert, though Ojulari [whose brother is at Georgia] and Wray [whose brother is at Ohio State] are long shots. But it’s not just Marietta High prospects who could flock to UT. When you’ve got a stud signal-caller from a hotbed like the Atlanta area, he can bring elite high school prospects from around the region with him.

Think about when Hunter Johnson committed to Tennessee, and his pledge was a big influence on Oak Ridge star receiver Tee Higgins. When Johnson flipped from the Vols to Clemson, it was an ugly sign of things to come for the Butch Jones regime. What happened soon after? Higgins flipped, too. Now, though Johnson has transferred to Northwestern in the wake of Trevor Lawrence’s emergence, Higgins is one of the biggest, brightest stars in the nation.

Speaking of Lawrence, that’s a kid who grew up a Vols fan whose parents were from Johnson City. Tennessee also was in the early mix if not the leaders for Georgia freshman star Justin Fields and Florida freshman Emory Jones. They got none of those guys.

Even though there’s a long way to go until Bailey signs on the dotted line, he’s a massive pledge for the Pruitt era at this point.

There’s still a lot of work to be done by Pruitt and the gang in this year’s class, as players like Owen Pappoe, Khafre Brown, Eric Gray, Darnell Wright and other blue-chip big names are still viable options to pull the trigger for the Vols, but with Bailey and 4-star defensive end Jordan Davis, who UT flipped from Alabama, the ’20 class is off to a bang.

All the recruiting analysts raved today about Bailey’s potential. His upside is as high as anybody’s in this class or next. Perhaps it’s just as good news that Max Johnson [son of former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson and nephew of Mark Richt] didn’t go to Georgia and committed to LSU instead the day before Bailey. The Vols need not only to close the gap in the recruiting battle but to land some difference-makers.

Bailey will be arriving at a time when reinforcements should be in place for an awful offensive line, and the playmakers he could bring with him could mean big things for the Vols and whoever takes over for Helton as the offensive coordinator.

With Pruitt’s defensive acumen, you have to feel good about that side of the ball once he gets his recruits in there. Now, the offense feels like it’s turning a corner with Bailey in the fold.

So, even though Bailey’s arrival is months and months away, we’re fresh off watching an offense that couldn’t consistently move the football and a quarterback that — while improved — struggled reading blitzes and consistently hitting receivers in the intermediate passing routes, getting a commitment from a quarterback who is a polished prospect at this early juncture is huge.

Bailey’s decision to believe in Pruitt gives us more hope that things can turn around. The Vols have an elite recruiter in the head coaching position, and it feels like momentum is about to be on Tennessee’s side on the trail. They just need to find a way to parlay that good fortune into recruiting into some wins. This is, after all, the time of year when we start looking to the future because the present is one we’d like to move beyond.

It’s the curse of being a Tennessee fan, but the blessing is we still attract elite players, and you can’t be a great team without a great quarterback. The Vols got one of those on Thursday with the potential to grow and develop into a dynamic SEC throwing threat.


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1 year ago

Great commitment… just hope we can hold onto him until signing day. The way recruits are flipping and players are transferring I am always nervous until the ink is dry. Go Vols!!