published Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Tennessee Vols set for quieter signing day

Butch Jones
Butch Jones
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

COUNTDOWN TO SIGNING DAY

National Signing Day for high school athletes is coming up Wednesday, and the Times Free Press will be tracking how Tennessee, UTC, Alabama and Georgia fare.

• See Wednesday’s paper for a look on how signing day is shaping up for local high school athletes, as well as for UTC, Tennessee and schools throughout the SEC.

• Check online throughout the day Wednesday for the latest updates on the latest signings and any last-minute surprises.

• Thursday’s paper will have comprehensive coverage of which schools came up big on signing day and where local players will be competing this fall.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee could be heading toward a fairly quiet national signing day Wednesday.

Four days from the finish line, Butch Jones' second signing day as the Volunteers' football coach is looking like it will be less dramatic than his first.

With 14 players already enrolled and on campus and going through the offseason workouts and 20 other commitments, there's little in the way of remaining targets for Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class, and the Vols are trying to hold on to a trio of defensive linemen commitments: Derek Barnett, Cory Thomas and Dewayne Hendrix.

Contrast that to signing day a year ago, when the Vols flipped quarterback Josh Dobbs from Arizona State and watched as Ridgeland safety Vonn Bell spurned them in favor of Ohio State on ESPN.

The Vols aren't expected to be in the mix for any of the high-profile recruits announcing their decisions after five-star California cornerback Adoree' Jackson trimmed his list to a final four of Florida, Southern California, UCLA and LSU and eliminated Tennessee and Oklahoma this past week on his Twitter page.

At this point, though, it appears likely that Barnett and Hendrix, both four-star defensive ends, will sign with Tennessee.

Though he took an official visit to Missouri last weekend, the 6-foot-5, 254-pound Hendrix, out of O'Fallon High School in Illinois, told St. Louis television station KSDK this past week he was sticking with the Vols.

"There won't be no surprises. I'm 100 percent committed to Tennessee," said Hendrix, who publicly picked the Vols in October.

Missouri and Ole Miss reportedly have come after the 6-4, 265-pound Barnett, but it appears the Brentwood Academy star, who was in Knoxville for his official visit last weekend, will not make any visits this weekend.

"They're going to have a good defensive line class regardless," 247sports recruiting analyst J.C. Shurburtt said this past week during an interview with "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM.

"To me, I think they hold on to Hendrix. Missouri's trying very hard to flip him. ... The reason he committed to Tennessee to begin with was he had family ties to the area. It seems like that was where he always wanted to go. Barring something crazy, I don't really see him flipping."

Thomas is scheduled to make his official visit to Knoxville this weekend, and the 6-6, 270-pound three-star defensive end from Alabama took visits to Clemson and Mississippi State earlier this month. He pledged to the Vols in November.

"I think you can send him a letter and wish him good luck, because I think he's going to flip to Mississippi State, which Mississippi State's always where he's sort of wanted to go," Shurburtt said. "The commitment to Tennessee was a surprise, and I think he's real leery, and it's strange, because Cory Thomas should not be worried about depth charts.

"He's a developmental guy [who] needs a year to get ready to go play. He's worried about early playing time his first year and all this other stuff. If you're concerned about that, sometimes it hinders your development. Mississippi State may be the best place for him considering it was the favorite to begin with."

Tennessee has two defensive linemen (Owen Williams and Dimarya Mixon) already on campus, four other committed (Hendrix, Barnett, Thomas and Joe Henderson) and two more (Charles Mosley and Jashon Robertson) who could play on either the offensive or defensive lines.

The Vols remain a possibility for Ensworth defensive tackle Michael Sawyers, a 6-2, 300-pound four-star prospect, and the former Vanderbilt commitment is scheduled to visit Tennessee this weekend.

Jerome Dews, Tennessee's three-star linebacker commitment from Maryland, posted on Twitter last Wednesday that he was going to have an in-home visit with Rutgers, but he tweeted the following day that he would sign with the Vols.

The biggest question for this class -- how the Vols, who can bring in 30 new players this cycle, will make their numbers work -- won't be answered Wednesday, however. Tennessee may not reach a solution on that front until the summer.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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