Do the Vols Have the Room (or Need) for Another Edge Rusher?

With around* 7 spots remaining to fill in the 2020 class, Tennessee has set itself up with a nice board on both offense and defense, and its existing 18 commitments collectively represent a step forward in terms of depth and talent across the board for the program.  What’s left for the staff to accomplish is filling as many needs as possible while leaving themselves wiggle room to go the Best Player Available route if necessary/possible.  At the same time they’ll need to keep all of their existing commitments, with the main focus on WR Jimmy Calloway (UK, OU, UGA in contention) and OLB Jimari Butler (Nebraska). 

At the specific position of Edge Rusher (OLB in a 3-4, DE in a 4-3), the aforementioned Butler is Tennessee’s only current commitment.  Theoretically, especially with the upcoming departure of senior Darrell Taylor, the Vols could use another prospect at the position.  To that end, the Vols hosted Kansas commitment Khari Coleman and FSU commitment Morven Joseph this past weekend on official visits.  Tennessee has been involved with both players since the summer, having them on campus for camp and offering them scholarships around that time.  Coleman is a New Orleans native who had an incredibly productive season and at around 6’1-6’2 and 210-215 pounds uses his speed around the edge as his calling card.  Joseph is a bit more physically imposing at 6’3 and 215-220 pounds and is also a more well-known prospect than Coleman, having formerly been a Florida commitment before flipping to the Seminoles over the summer. 

While Coleman came out of the weekend calling Tennessee his leader, Joseph was a bit more muted in his post-visit interviews although seemingly still being pretty impressed.  At the same time, both will be taking other visits, with Coleman scheduled to see TCU and then Vanderbilt before the Early Signing Period begins December 18th and Joseph set to see the Gators this coming weekend.  Therefore, there is no reason to think that Tennessee can definitely land either or both of these players should the staff decide to push.  What’s perhaps more pertinent is whether or not Tennessee truly needs either of them in this class – assuming Butler is solid – unless it were as a Best Player Available with a final spot.  With the emergence of junior-to-be Kivon Bennett over the course of the season and the continued development of true freshmen Quarvaris Crouch and Roman Harrison – all three of whom had a sack in Saturday’s season finale – there is perhaps a less immediate need for the 2020 season.  The team will also return senior-to-be Deandre Johnson, a solid contributor and certainly a rotational SEC player, along with Butler.  Commitments Martavius French and Bryson Eason, both of whom have played all over the field for their Memphis Whitehaven High School team including as pass rushers, could also figure into that mix both immediately in 2020 and also into the future.  Finally, Knoxville Catholic’s Tyler Baron, thought at this point to be a heavy lean to Tennessee, has the potential to give the Vols some immediate help on the edge in 2020 even if his future position is likely more as a true DL as his body fills out.

Tennessee 100% wants to add Baron along with DL Omari Thomas and Octavius Oxendine, and the Vols are at worst co-leaders for each of the three. DL Reggie Perry took an official visit to Tennessee this weekend as well and apparently made a huge move, and the Vols even got Georgia DL commitment Nazir Stackhouse on campus unofficially – Pruitt and Ansley will be in with him today, likely to try and see how serious Stackhouse really is and try and secure an OV.  They want at least one more ILB, with Vai Kaho, Desmond Tisdol, and Len’neth Whitehead (not a RB) all very much in play.  There is also speculation that Coach Pruitt would like to sign another DB, and JUCO Emmanuel Appiah is scheduled to officially visit the December 13th weekend.  TE Darnell Washington will have a spot reserved for him until his signed LOI is announced by another school.  And at least from this writer’s perspective the Vols could absolutely use at least one more playmaker, with ATHs Jimmy Holiday and Ramon Henderson, WRs Dee Beckwith and Jaylon Barden, and RB Jabari Small and Zaquandre White all in the mix (not to mention longshots Thaiu Jones-Bell and Rakim Jarrett).   Obviously Tennessee wouldn’t win out for all of these prospects whether it had the room or not.  The Vols are battling programs like Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Notre Dame for many of them, and some of them are committed elsewhere for now.  But the fact that Tennessee is in the mix with such a number of high quality prospects with such a relatively low number of spots gives one a sense for the kinds of decisions that Pruitt and his staff are going to have to make.

Both Coleman and Joseph are high-quality prospects in their own right and one could absolutely make the case that there is a real need for Tennessee to add another Edge Rusher in this class, especially in a vacuum.  However, although Pruitt has gotten the program into a much better spot than it was when he arrived (through both recruiting and development) there are still multiple needs across the roster.  And this position does have a good (if not great, where it needs to be) blend of depth and talent.  Therefore it won’t be a surprise to see the Vols go either way on this question, but the view here is that there are greater needs elsewhere and that if they do decide to push for one or both of them it will and should be as a Best Player Available with a final spot in the class.

*Will the Vols try and greyshirt someone like Darrion Williamson (injury) or Will Albright to fit another player into the class?  Does Melvin McBride’s medical retirement give the Vols room to enroll 26 in this class?  Both are questions that the answers to will determine how many more spots there actually are

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