In our last piece we looked at the 5 and 4-stars on the offensive side of Tennessee’s roster and wondered what the Vols’ offense would look like in 2019 if the most highly recruited players on the team – from seniors to true freshman – play up to their rankings this season.
Acknowledging that Tennessee not have enough bluechip talent, there is some on both sides of the ball. So what would happen if when camp starts on Friday Strength & Conditioning Coach Fitzgerald has worked wonders and then Pruitt and his staff can get all of his blue-chip talent to play up to those past rankings? Before we even get to former 3-stars being coached up and playing beyond those rankings, if the Vols can get its true top-end talent to play like it things could look much different this fall. As an aside, both the dearth of top-end talent that existed on the roster when Coach Prutt took over as well as how quickly he’s added a good amount of bluechippers is striking when you look at it from this angle.
Below, by position, are former 5-and high 4-stars on Tennessee’s 2019 defensive roster:
5-star Aubrey Solomon
4-stars Greg Emerson, Emmit Gooden, Savion Williams
Assuming Solomon gets his transfer waiver, he and Gooden and Williams are quite possibly the starting DL. That’s a legit SEC DL – each bluechippers as recruits and each with the kind of size and talent necessary to win the line of scrimmage more often than not. Emerson is coming off RS season after a gruesome injury cost him his senior high school season but he’s now almost 2 years removed and likely is in the best shape of his life. He’s not currently being counted by most observers as even part of the 2nd wave of the DL rotation, but what if he takes a leap and emerges as one of, say, the Top 5 DL? All of the sudden Tennessee’s DL goes from being arguably the biggest question mark on the team to a real strength.
5-stars JJ Peterson, Quarvaris Crouch
4-stars Daniel Bituli, Darrell Taylor, Will Ignot, Jordan Allen, Henry To’oto’to, Roman Harrison
The position with the most bluechip talent on the entire roster, the issue of course is that three of them are true freshman and one is a RSFr. However, this is a spot where guys playing up to their billing – both off the edge as well as ILB – would be just huge. A pass-rushing group led by Taylor, Crouch, Allen and Harrison playing like truly elite players, complemented by a an ILB wrecking crew of Bituli, Ignot, To’oto’to, and Peterson (who could also play some at OLB) would not only cause problems for offenses in both the passing and running games but also give DC Derrick Ansley tons of options and flexibility.
5-stars Nigel Warrior
4-stars Alontae Taylor, Bryce Thompson, Jaylen McCullough, Tyus Fields, Deangelo Gibbs
Another position where the majority of the elite talent on the roster skews incredibly young, the secondary will likely feature at least three former 5 and 4-stars among the five starters. If Gibbs is eligible he’s instantly vying for a starting spot at Nickel, and either way true freshman McCullough will be in the mix there. If the light turns on and Warrior takes a 5-star leap while both Taylor and Thompson make a big jump in their sophomore season, the secondary could end up being the #1 strength of the team.
As you can see, while there isn’t enough elite talent on the roster – yet – there is perhaps more than one might think on both sides of the ball. What Tennessee fans are hoping is that Coach Pruitt, Coach Chaney and Coach Ansley, along with the rest of one of the highest paid staffs in the country, can unlock that potential. If so, and of course if they can also get some 3-stars to play up a level at the same time, the program will make the kind of massive improvement in Year 2 that both fans and recruits are looking for.