Vols football adds a late trio of elites in Quavaris Crouch, Aubrey Solomon, and Eric Gray

Early Signing Day was a pretty good day for the Vols. They secured 20 players who signed on the dotted line to help Jeremy Pruitt flip the roster from the largely forgettable Butch Jones era.

The past two days have been even better.

The Vols brought in three elite prospects over the past two days, players who possess exactly the kind of star potential necessary to pull them back to the top tier of the SEC. Even though there were whispers about Pruitt’s inability to close following the lackluster late signing period last year and some misses on late-swing prospects this cycle, that narrative is now tired.

Quavaris Crouch provided the biggest splash of the bunch tonight when he chose Tennessee over Clemson and Michigan, stunning the college football world that thought he’d choose one of those elite programs over a UT team that is trying to rebound from a 5-7 season. Instead, things started turning in the Vols’ favor when he visited Knoxville on the final weekend before early signing period after a slam-dunk in-home visit by Pruitt, lead recruiter Brian Niedermeyer, and others.

https://twitter.com/Vol_Football/status/1076307204821737472

Crouch joined 4-star Memphis running back Eric Gray, who chose the Vols on Thursday over Michigan, South Carolina, Ole Miss and others. Also, before Crouch’s massive announcement Friday night, the Vols announced former 5-star recruit and Michigan transfer defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon will play his final two years of eligibility in Knoxville. Though he may have to sit a year due to transfer rules, he’s going to seek a hardship waiver, according to several reports.

Those are big, but Crouch may be the biggest of all the news so far.
Crouch is a 6’3″, 230-pound dynamic two-way athlete who projects as a star on either side of the ball. Though he could probably be one of if not the nation’s top running back prospect, he’ll probably start his career at Tennessee at outside linebacker. He can change the entire face of UT’s defense, and that corps all of a sudden looks a ton more athletic with him, JJ Peterson, Jeremy Banks and Roman Harrison. If the Vols can keep Lakia Henry in the fold, that’s an impressive, physically gifted group.
The recruitment for the big man has been weird, to say the least, but credit the Vols for being relentless and never giving up. That didn’t pay off in trying to lure Bill Norton or Zion Logue, but it did with Wanya Morris, and it did with Crouch. Maybe it’ll do the same with Darnell Wright.

Crouch had Tennessee at the top of his wish list for a long time throughout the summer and leading up to the season before UT went out and struggled in his hometown of Charlotte in the season opener against West Virginia. Not really interested in a rebuild, Crouch started favoring Clemson and Michigan while keeping the Vols on the periphery.

Still, he visited UT during the season and then when he came on the final weekend leading up to the early signing period, it seemed things may be trending in the right direction. The Vols closed the deal, and it’s a huge pull to get him in Tennessee orange.

Could we see some future running back packages for the massive man? It’s certainly possible, but the Vols need to fix the defense, and Crouch can go a long way in doing that. He missed his senior season with a hip injury, but he’s expected to be ready and rolling.

Speaking of running backs, Gray brings elite quickness and vision to the position for the Vols. It’s not out of the question that he can be an immediate starter, even with Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan in the backfield. Yes, he’s that good, and he has that “it” factor UT needs. He’ll be a great backfield mate to those two at the very least. Getting Gray also allows the Vols to go after a bigger back or two in the 2020 cycle.

At 5’10”, 195 pounds, Gray proved he can run between the tackles, but he’s at his best as a one-cut runner who can gain the edge and catch passes in space. If the Vols’ offensive line gets a lot bigger, stronger and better this offseason, Gray can do a lot of things with just a little room, and he has the wiggle to get into the open field. Though he isn’t a burner who’ll outrun everybody, he’s got good speed and will be a difference-maker right away.

Then there’s Solomon, who surprisingly chose Tennessee over a ton of interest from other programs just a week after announcing he’d leave Michigan. The Vols were always going to swing there, especially considering virtually everybody on that defensive staff has a relationship with him. Tracy Rocker recruited him when he was at Georgia, and Solomon was once committed to the Dawgs. Pruitt was his main recruiter at Alabama, and Kevin Sherrer had a relationship with him at UGA as well. Charles Kelly was his primary recruiter at Florida State, so there are a lot of relationships that date back a long time there.

Solomon has two years to play, and it would be a big deal if he could get eligible to play in 2019, especially considering UT must replace Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle and Alexis Johnson off that defensive line. You never want to anoint somebody a guaranteed starter, but if Solomon is healthy, he’d be a virtual lock to be inserted into the first team.

Even if UT has to wait another year for him, he’s going to be a valuable cog in that rebuilt defensive front.

It’s obvious that this year of losing did not sit well with Pruitt, who didn’t always wear it well. But he’s gone out and is making a splash in recruiting while trying to change it in a hurry. Nobody is saying the Vols are going to go out and beat Alabama and Georgia in 2019, but it’s vital for the program that they get back to the postseason and start winning more conference games. This trio of players gets them closer to the pack in that regard.

It’s been a big couple of days for Pruitt, the Vols and the future of the program. Now, what about that OC?

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