Tiny Richardson on improving and preparing for the 2012-13 season
Tiny Richardson on training camp, team building and becoming a leader
The best time for evaluating a recruiting class is three or four years after the fact. But if you can't wait that long, August is preferable to February.
No matter where recruiting services ranked UT's 2012 class on signing day, the number should be better now as preseason camp opens.
No recruit failed to qualify academically. None suffered a severe injury in a postseason all-star game. None has been imprisoned.
And that's not just happenstance. Minimizing risks has been a point of emphasis in recruiting for third-year coach Derek Dooley.
"We did the same thing last year," he said at Thursday's media conference. "We've had two full recruiting classes where we got everyone in."
But this class is distinguished from Dooley's first two in that there's less desperation surrounding it.
UT needed immediate help in 2010 when Dooley and his staff made a closing rush to finish what outgoing coach Lane Kiffin started. While Dooley had a full year to assemble his next class, the needs weren't drastically different. The roster had too many holes. Virtually every position qualified as a position of need.
The roster is no longer depleted. The depth chart reflects more experience and stability.
"This is what we hope is the norm," Dooley said. "Last year, (freshmen) had to play whether they were ready or not. We put some guys in that shouldn't have been playing.
"The rule of thumb is eight to 10 (freshmen), integrating them in, with one or two guys making a difference."
Talent can change the rule, though. Just because UT has a more SEC-like depth chart doesn't mean a new recruit can't crack it.
For example, seven returning offensive linemen have started at least five games. Yet, sophomore Antonio Richardson, who played sparingly in 2011, won a starting position in the spring.
The possibility of a talented recruit overtaking more experienced players could make for an interesting sidebar to preseason camp. The interest is heightened by the presence of three junior college transfers — wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and defensive linemen Daniel McCullers and Darrington Sentimore.
Dooley complimented McCullers for his low body fat, a relevant issue in that he's listed in the media guide at 6-foot-6, 377 pounds. Weight also is a factor for Sentimore, who looked more streamlined as a freshman at Alabama than he did this spring as a Vol. Heavy or not, he's listed as a co-starter with Steven Fowlkes.
Defensive line is a position of need. So is wide receiver, even though Da'Rick Rogers was first-team All-SEC last season and Justin Hunter looked even better before a knee injury in the third game knocked him out for the season.
"We've only got three guys (including wide receiver Zach Rogers) with experience," Dooley said. "It was an important year to sign wideouts."
Those wideouts are the main attraction of the class. Heralded when signed, they have further impressed their teammates during voluntary summer workouts. Hunter cites their potential when referring to UT's receiving corps as "the best in the country."
That's assuming there is no high-profile attrition, which came to mind when Dooley was asked about a rumor that Da'Rick Rogers had been suspended for the first game.
"No, he has not been suspended," Dooley said.
Speculation about Rogers' status has been ongoing since the end of last season. But the rumor isn't as scary for UT since it signed the last recruiting class.