With a roster that has been drastically improved since Coach Jeremy Pruitt took over but still has a ways to go in order for Tennessee to be a true SEC contender, there realistically isn’t one position that can reasonably be considered in strong shape top to bottom. There are certainly more blue chip players on the roster than there have been in a long time, and there is also hope that Pruitt and his very well-regarded staff can get step-up performances from a number of former 3-star recruits who were signed by the former regime. But no matter how you cut it, there are needs at every position. However, there are a finite number of scholarships in a given cycle, and staffs inevitably have to make concessions from one position to another as they put each class together.
That said, projected numbers at each position in a class can fluctuate depending on a number of factors, most importantly of course the number and talent of the current and future players on the roster. Specifically at Cornerback for Tennessee, three developments in camp so far have the potential to influence what Tennessee seeks to do at the position in the class of 2020:
- After two weeks of camp and one major scrimmage, one name has been prominently and consistently mentioned among the breakout players – freshman and veterans alike – so far this fall: CB Warren Burrell. Burrell was an even-at-the-time obviously underrated (by recruiting sites) prospects who chose the Vols over Florida, among others, and was an early enrollee who showed playmaking ability in the spring. At over 6’0 and with long arms and a nose for the ball to go with the kind of attitude needed to be successful at the position, Burrell has taken his strong spring performance and run with it. After receiving rare praise from Pruitt, Burrell by all accounts played most of Sunday night’s scrimmage with the starters at CB opposite Bryce Thompson and is at worst going to be the third CB in the rotation when the Vols start the season in less than three weeks, meaning the three top CBs will all be either sophomores or freshman. Both of the other class of 2019 prospects signed to be CBs – Tyus Fields and Kenny Solomon – have also had their moments early in camp, showing the tenacity and speed/length they are known for, respectively
- Tennessee’s only projected contributor in the secondary who is a Senior, Baylen Buchanan, has been injured since the spring and has not yet practiced. At this point, though details of his injury are very scarce, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to take a medical redshirt year in 2019 and come back for the 2020 season. If that happens, it would give the Vols another experienced CB in 2020 that they didn’t anticipate having
- Jerrod Means, a late take in the class of 2019 as a WR, was moved to CB before the start of camp and has already shown flashes of real potential. At 6’2 and around 215 pounds, Means has the length that is almost a prerequisite for a Jeremy Pruitt CB prospect. He’s also a kid who ran a 4.4 40 and produced a 39-inch vertical at a Tennessee camp last summer, so his athletic ability is borderline elite for that size. Everyone knows that Pruitt loves DBs who played both on both sides of the ball as that likely means they have ball skills that translate well to the secondary, and Means also played Safety in high school. While it remains to be seen whether he sticks at CB and then becomes a good one, he’s got everything you’re looking for at the position and his move means the Vols added 4 true CBs in the class of 2019
Tennessee already has two CB commitments in the 2020 class in early enrollee Art Green – the nation’s #2 overall JUCO player – and Lovie Jenkins. Jenkins is almost a carbon copy of Burrell in terms of size and length and chose the Vols over a heavy pursuit from Notre Dame as well as offers from Miami, Missouri, and many others. Do the Vols need another CB in this class? Maybe not, though it’s unlikely they’d turn down any of their top targets still on the board – namely Joel Williams (announcing in September, leaning towards Bama) and Kendal Dennis (Vols in Top 2 with Auburn, UF and Miami trying hard, could announce in August) – if they wanted in now. But as things change during the season and the December signing day approaches, the Tennessee staff could certainly decide that the 3rd CB spot is needed more elsewhere, and given the developments above that wouldn’t be surprising in the least. It’s a good problem for them to have to work through and a sign of the ever-improving roster as well as Pruitt and his staff’s evaluation acumen.