Published on January 19th, 2011 08:11 PM
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Big Orange Report 1-17-11
By Warner Agee
Recruiting at the Far Turn
As January continues to melt away faster than a truck load of Gatlinburg snow stalled on the equator, football recruiting reaches critical mass, a fever pitch or whatever other colorful adjectives we might apply. With two weeks remaining before national signing day, teams are scrambling to fill out their “dance cards” while frantically attempting to reel in those two or three difference makers that will elevate the signing class to national prominence.
At Tennessee this year, Derek Dooley and his staff are under a microscope with every offer, every commitment, and every defection scrutinized by the boosters and fans of a program struggling to get off the ropes and battle its way back to championship contender status in the SEC. At this writing, Dooley’s verbal commits and early enrollees are hovering near the top 20 in most of the rankings of the five major national recruiting services. However, Tennessee is stalled at eighth or ninth among Southeastern Conference squads and that alone is cause for alarm in the minds of certain skeptical recruiting connoisseurs in the Big Orange camp.
There is little question among those who watch and rate recruiting that Dooley is assembling a solid, athletic group of youngsters that all seem very exciting about wearing the orange. Dooley is working against a numbers problem at Tennessee and first and foremost, at least this time around, he must be certain that each player he signs will not only be able to contribute to success on the gridiron, but also will be able to be admitted to the university this summer. In no particular order, Dooley seeks superior athletic ability, good scholastic forecasts and young men who will be of good will and become outstanding representatives of the University of Tennessee. A juggling act, yes, but a necessary measure this year if Dooley is to bring that football roster back to 85 strong on scholarship.
While many of the conference brethren are listing numbers that are near or exceed the SEC limits, Dooley still has some wiggle room to try and convince a hand full of blue chippers at the top of the Vols’ recruiting board that Knoxville is a destination that they should seriously consider. If Dooley and his ace recruiters, Charlie Baggett, Lance Thompson, Darrin Hinshaw and Chuck Smith can close with a flourish, then areas of need can be replenished with talent, the nerves of many fans and boosters will be calmed and the final ratings should see Tennessee crowding its way into the top 15 ranked classes in the country.
Of course, ratings by guys who want to take your money in order to read their opinions, are subjective and really keep the books open for discussion over the following 24 months, or until the new guys demonstrate just how much impact, positive or negative, that they will have on the school and the team.
One quick example for your consideration would be the only signing class from the one year reign of the ego maniac Lane Kiffin and his recruiting renegades. Six of the most highly regarded members of that group are history, gone bye-bye from Knoxville, never to return. Those players participated in mayhem, disruptions and a general degrading of the football program at UT. Their legacy is that now Derek Dooley must be ultra cautious and careful to be sure and bring in guys who want to play football, but also desire to receive an education at Tennessee and contribute to a rebuilding program that is back on the tracks, but still not under a full head of steam.
Dooley still has six or seven precious scholarships with which to pursue some of the nation’s “most wanted.” If he could somehow pry marquee defensive tackle Gabe Wright (6-3, 280) away from Auburn, then find a running back with speed to compliment powerful “downhill” tailback Tom Smith and also add a pass rusher deluxe at defensive end or outside linebacker, the talent roundup would begin to attract national attention. He has already addressed needs in the offensive line, wide receiver and defensive secondary. New tight end Brendan Downs (6-6, 230, 4.65) is already enrolled in school and will participate in winter workouts and spring drills. Remember his name; he will eventually be considered one of the real “steals” in this class.