With the team on its first of two bye weeks of the season, the Tennessee staff took the opportunity to hit the road and grant new offers to multiple prospects. As discussed last week, while the Vols are still very much in play for many of their top targets they are at the same time long shots for many of the elite prospects with whom they were very much in play before the season started. In fact, OLB Sa’vell Smalls, one of those 5-star prospects who visited over the summer and was heavily considering Tennessee, committed to his homestate Washington Huskies this weekend. Therefore, in order to have a large enough board to work from heading into the next two months before the early signing period, it was imperative that the Vols staff widen its net some.
DT Jayson Jones is an Alabama commitment but hasn’t been shy about the fact that his recruitment is pretty darn open. Jones is a mountain of a man at 6’5+ and ~340 pounds with great mobility for that massive size, and checks in the Top 175 nationally in the composite rankings. Jones took a summer official visit to Georgia Tech and is currently scheduled to OV to Michigan in November, but importantly will be in Knoxville as an unofficial visitor for the UGA game after a school visit by ace Vol recruiter Brian Niedermeyer. Jones is the kind of DL that the Vols simply don’t have right now in terms of elite size combined with solid athleticism, and though his motor doesn’t always run hot that’s something that Tennessee coaches would love to have the chance to unlock. We’ll know more about the Vols chances with Jones, who will be a December signee and is potentially an early enrollee to boot, after this weekend, but the Vols clearly sense an opening with a kid from Alabama so they’ll look to pounce.
OLB Tamarion McDonald is a Mississippi State commitment who is teammates with bigtime Vol target and fellow Memphian Bryson Eason. McDonald is a bit of a tweener at 6’3ish and ~220 pounds, but he’s a playmaker all over the field for a very talented Whitehaven defense that also includes Arkansas LB commitment Martavius French. As has been well-documented by Austin Price of Volquest, with the Vols in a dogfight for Eason and at the same time needing talented bodies across the entire defense, making a push for French in particular in order to package him with Eason makes a lot of sense. And if a) McDonald making it a 3-man package increases those odds, b) locking all three up meaningfully helps with bigtime DL priority Omari Thomas – also from Memphis – and c) most importantly, Jeremy Pruitt and his staff think all three are upgrades to what they have on the current roster, than these offers are a no brainer. Notably Pruitt made the offer to McDonald after seeing Whitehaven in person this past Friday so clearly he feels at least “c” is true. With top LB target Len’neth Whitehead taking his OV to South Carolina this weekend after having been a UV just two weeks before, he could be trending that way which would make Eason (and then McDonald and French) that much more important. How soon they can get the Whitehaven Three to Knoxville will be telling in terms of how serious this all is.
DEs Jasheen Davis and Jimari Butler are pass rushers, and that’s an area where the Vols very plainly need help. Davis is a Wake Forest commitment from Snellville, GA with summer offers from the likes of Michigan and Penn State and has had a great start to his senior season. It remains to be seen how much reciprocal interest Davis will show, but he’s a solid prospect at a position of need. Butler is a very raw and inexperienced prospect who’s only played one season of football but has great size at 6’5 with plus-wingspan and is rising up boards. The Vols were the first SEC school to offer and it will be interesting to see who else follows.
OTs Jose Gonzalez and James Pogoreic are two relatively lightly recruited Tackle prospects with great size who the Vols have seen a lot to like on their respective senior film. Gonzalez is 6’9 (!) and over 320 pounds, but right now only holds offers from P5 programs like Minnesota and UCLA. Pogoreic is also very tall at 6’7 but very light at a listed 260 pounds, yet his offer list has exploded since his early senior film got out with the Vols being joined by the likes of Stanford, UNC, and UVA to recently offer him. Given the caliber of institutions on that list it’s easy to see that academics are extremely important to him, so if Tennessee truly wants to be a player in this recruitment – and that might remain to be seen depending on how things look with instate priority Chris Morris – they’ll need to sell him on the Josh Dobbs/Grant Williams/Josiah James plan. ILB Sione Fotu is an interesting looking prospect from Utah with offers from Utah and Washington State. Notably, Fotu is planning on taking a mission after high school, so given the Vols immediate needs at the position and incredibly valuable scholarships with the state of the program’s rebuild, I would be surprised to see the Vols go all in for Fotu.
As the calendar turns to October the Tennessee staff is being opportunistic and strategic about who it offers and who it turns up the heat on. The new offers are tiered by those who already have really nice offer lists (Jones, the Whitehaven kids, Davis, Pogoreic) and the rest who the Vols are getting out in front for. It goes without saying that turning things around on the field this season is the most important factor in terms of closing out the 2020 recruiting cycle, but the Vols doing the smart thing by broadening the board and giving themselves more options to end up signing a 25-man class that’s necessary to move the program forward in terms of improving the overall talent on the roster.