KNOXVILLE -- Depending on the perspective, Tennessee is either two days into its football offseason or 64 days from signing day.
For the Volunteers' coaching staff, the focus is the latter.
The Vols hit the road recruiting Monday, and their year-round efforts reaped a reward when Quenshaun Watson, a running back from Clarke County High School in Athens, Ga., became UT's 20th public commitment for the 2012 class.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Watson is not even rated by Rivals.com or ESPN, but that didn't stop the Vols, who have been trying to upgrade their backfield talent.
"The first thing that he has is God-gifted speed," Clarke Central coach Leroy Ryals said. "He's got speed and has always been able to run well. He's done a great job with that, and the thing about Quenshaun is he also has learned to use that speed in a good way as a running back.
"He played for me as a freshman, and over all these years he's steadily learned how to play behind his pads, he's gotten tremendously better with his hands and catching the ball out of the backfield and he's always been a pretty good kick- and punt-returner type of guy."
Watson's lone other scholarship offer was from Indiana. He visited UT for the Vols' loss to South Carolina last month. Watson accounted for nearly 2,000 yards rushing and receiving and scored 30 touchdowns for the Gladiators, who lost in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
UT signed offensive lineman Alan Posey last year from Clarke Central, head coach Derek Dooley's alma mater. Ryals said the "low-key" Watson felt comfortable with Dooley and his staff, and though he admitted Watson could be a little undersized for a Southeastern Conference tailback, he said Watson's frame could handle another 10 to 15 pounds.
As for Watson's sleeper status, Ryals had an explanation.
"A lot of kids get a lot of notoriety on these websites," he said. "We're not big on that; we just try to win football games here. I tell the kids, 'When you're winning football games, coaches will come.' One thing about that [highlight] DVD, it won't lie. The film won't lie.
"In the summer, our kids don't do a whole lot of camping because we have such a big emphasis on our own program. That may have 'hurt him' a little bit."
The Vols already have two bigger backs -- Imani Cross (6-1, 220) and Alden Hill (6-2, 220) -- committed for the class that signs in February.
Rumors and speculation on the future of the UT coaching staff were running rampant Monday, but there's been no official news. The possibility of staff changes exists, especially after the Vols finished the season 5-7, but there's no timetable on when such decisions would be made. Most of UT's staff will spend the week on the road visiting prospects.
The Birmingham News named UT defensive line coach Lance Thompson as a potential candidate for the head-coach opening at UAB, which could target "younger assistant coaches or coordinators," the paper said. The Blazers, who went 3-9 this season, fired Neil Calloway after five years on Sunday.
ArizonaSports.com, a radio station that airs Arizona State football games, had Vols defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox on the early list for the Sun Devils' head-coaching vacancy. ASU fired Dennis Erickson after five seasons following a four-game season-ending losing streak.
The Vols finished the season 28th nationally in total defense at 340.5 yards per game allowed. Only Central Florida (13th), Kent State (20th), UT and Louisiana-Monroe (29th) finished in the top 30 defensively and ended the season with losing records, and 11 of the top 30 won 10 or more games. UT was 69th last season at 382 yards per game.
Offensively, the Vols finished 117th in rushing at 90 yards per game and 107th in scoring at 20 points per game. Those numbers are 20 yards and seven points lower than last year.
UT was seventh or worst in the SEC in 11 of the NCAA's 17 main statistical categories, including last in rushing (by 34 yards) and net punting.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...