published Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Greeson: Vols at least in position for late recruiting surge

Maybe it's the influx of new coaching staffs at roughly a third of the football programs in the Southeastern Conference. Maybe it's the changing nature of the entire recruiting game. Maybe it's an outlier, an anomaly, in the ebbs and flows of adults with seven-figure salaries and programs with eight- and nine-figure budgets having a large part of their futures decided by teenagers.

Whatever the reason, it feels like this college football recruiting cycle is as tumultuous and fluid as any in recent memory.

The trajectory of football's top prospects picking their collegiate homes had moved toward earlier commitments and relative peace down the homestretch. This year, however, there's a sprint to the finish and a few SEC schools, including Tennessee, are poised to make some noise.

Tennessee's influx -- and out-flux, if that's a word -- has been jumpstarted by the coaching change. Nine players who formerly were committed to UT will not be part of the Volunteers' class next week. That's OK, and Butch Jones and Co. have done work replacing those guys and in a lot of ways upgrading from those guys.

Also of note, UT landed a commitment from MarQuez North this week. North, a four-star receiver from North Carolina, is a big talent at a big position of need for the Vols. And if you are going to replace an all-world talent and an all-world name like Cordarrelle Patterson, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound receiver with multiple capital letters in his first name is an excellent starting point.

The work Jones and Co. have put in went a long way to convincing North, who many believed was bound for UNC. That same effort got Tennessee back in the game with Vonn Bell, the five-star defensive back from Ridgeland High School.

If Jones can land Bell to go with the 11th-hour addition of North, this class has to be considered a success in light of the circumstances. If the Vols add any of the hodgepodge of big names the new coaches have made headway with -- such as defensive end Carl Lawson, linebacker E.J. Levenberry or offensive tackle Christian Morris -- this class has to be considered a smash.

In fact, if Butch and Co. land both Bell and Lawson, then UT will speed toward the top 10, but it will take those two and almost every other 50-50 name on the Vols' board to get into the top 10. The fact that Tennessee fans are contemplating possible paths to a potential top-10 national class is crazy and a testament to what Jones and his staff have been able to do, considering the Vols appeared doomed to an 11th- or 12th-best class in the SEC.

That said, if Tennessee finishes as a bridesmaid to a slew of these guys, this class could finish in the 30s nationally (UT's class is 32nd according to Rivals.com this morning, and that's counting the addition of North), which would feel like a disappointment considering the late charge and momentum Jones and Co. have generated.

Now it's tough to know where these kids will land, and it's tougher still to know how many will be stars on Saturdays.

Still the value of the momentum is of great aid to Jones' cause. Plus, there is the position factor, and UT is in the mix for a slew of highly regarded kids who play positions of great need.

When North signs, he likely is the most talented receiver in UT's program and figures to contribute this fall.

If Bell heads to Knoxville, he's likely the second-most talented defensive back. Lawson would be a contender to start right away at defensive end, too.

It's hard to foresee even a clean recruiting sweep making a huge difference this fall. These recruits would be upgrades over the current Vols, not necessarily upgrades against the Vols' current competition. At least not yet.

But adding those big-time names would lay a very strong foundation of talent for Butch Jones and Co., and it would be a nice beacon for future recruiting success, especially since the second class is always better than the first.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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