Andrew Gribble: Needs filled at WR, DL and RB, but questions remain at LB

Lauren Wood/The Hutchinson News
Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College football player Cordarrelle Patterson answers questions from the media after signing to play football with Tennessee on Wednesday at Stringer Fine Arts Center in Hutchinson, Kan. The sophomore wide receiver was a two-time NJCAA All-American while playing for Hutchinson Community College.

Photo by Lauren Wood

Lauren Wood/The Hutchinson News Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College football player Cordarrelle Patterson answers questions from the media after signing to play football with Tennessee on Wednesday at Stringer Fine Arts Center in Hutchinson, Kan. The sophomore wide receiver was a two-time NJCAA All-American while playing for Hutchinson Community College.

It only took one injury to expose how razor thin Tennessee was depth-wise at wide receiver last season. The impact of Justin Hunter's torn anterior cruciate ligament put players all across the field in unexpected positions and the drop-off was significant.

So, coach Derek Dooley and the Vols did something about it. They recruited the problem away with their 2012 signing class, adding three four-star wide receivers — Alton Howard, Drae Bowles and Jason Croom — and a five-star cherry on top in the form of junior-college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, who announced his decision early Wednesday morning.

The defensive line, which was steady but far from fantastic in 2011, has been similarly bolstered. Junior-college transfers Darrington Sentimore and Daniel McCullers have the potential to see immediate playing time while Danny O'Brien and Trent Taylor were both recruited heavily by college football's elite.

A running back position that lacked any sort of playmaking threat in 2011 now has three new players with three completely different running styles. Alden Hill (power), Quenshaun Watson (speed) and Davante Bourque (little bit of both) provide, if nothing else, additional candidates for a job that should have a wide-open competition starting at spring practice.

"Got to have a lot of good football players to win in this league because other teams get injuries, too, and you can't go blaming every year on an injury," Dooley said. "You've got to go put the next guy in and go win. That's what we were trying to do."

It just wasn't that easy at another position of need.

At linebacker, a spot that conceivably needed even more bodies than originally planned because of the anticipated implementation of more 3-4 formations, the Vols reeled in just two signees.

That group stood at four and featured two of the highest-ranked players at the position as recently as Sunday afternoon. It was what the Vols needed.

But on Sunday night, four-star Texas product Dalton Santos — who committed to the Vols during the summer but had his flirtation with other schools tracked like a soap opera — informed UT's coaches that he would be signing with Texas. On Tuesday, longtime commitment Otha Peters (Covington, La.), who 247Sports considers the 13th best outside linebacker in the nation, dropped the Vols for Arkansas.

"Neither of them surprised us," Dooley said. "We knew (with) those two guys it was going to be a tough road to close them out."

Left were two three-star players who each come to UT with a learning curve ahead of them. Justin King was a do-everything athlete at Dunwoody High in Atlanta. LaTroy Lewis (Akron, Ohio), formerly a defensive end who missed most of his senior season with a broken bone in his foot, will make a transition to the "Jack" linebacker position.

"I think both of them will be really good football players," Dooley said. "LaTroy probably wasn't as good a fit in our old scheme and he knew it. He was getting a little shaky in December. I told him, 'I'm going to fix it, be patient. You're going to fit in perfectly with what we're about to do.' "

Patience, though, wasn't something UT's coaches had at their disposal with fringe prospects because of the SEC's new 25-man signing cap. The Vols were unable to "stockpile" players at positions of need like they could in the past because those spots needed to remain open for potential, last-minute signees. Players like Patterson.

In early January, when numbers started looking tight, one of the first commitments, linebacker Khalid Henderson of Austell, Ga., was told his spot might not be safe. Henderson promptly de-committed, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the situation was "a bunch of crap" and eventually signed with Kentucky.

"You get criticized for it," said Dooley, who wasn't speaking specifically about Henderson. "The fact of the matter is, you have to make those kinds of decisions and you can't help them."

There's no disputing that the Vols do have quality players coming back at linebacker in 2012. Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson combined for 136 tackles and were shoo-ins for the All-SEC freshman team. Herman Lathers, who missed all of 2011 with a broken ankle, is "full go" and just one full year removed from a 75-tackle 2010.

Much like the wide receiver position in 2011, the question marks don't swirl around the projected starters. It's the next players off the bench — Dontavis Sapp, Nigel Mitchell-Thornton, John Propst, Christian Harris, Greg King and Raiques Crump — a group that combined for 37 tackles in 2011. A defensive end such as Jacques Smith and others could be in line for a move back to linebacker, but it's far too early in the process to prognosticate.

Even after National Signing Day, possibilities remain on the recruiting trail. The Vols have room to sign four more players and Dooley said he expects a few, talented prospects to be still available because of the fallout from the signing cap.

"Time will tell," Dooley said. "I wasn't going to take a marginal player to fill out everything because I'm not sure we can get to 25 next year."

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

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Comments » 67

FEARinSEC writes:

"LaTroy probably wasn't as good a fit in our old scheme and he knew it. He was getting a little shaky in December. I told him, 'I'm going to fix it, be patient. You're going to fit in perfectly with what we're about to do.' "

HMMMM... Sounds like there might be more to Wilcox and Sirmon leaving than meets the eye?
When did they inform Dooley they were leaving, end of December? Wonder exactly what Dooley meant by this comment?

tree_em_smokey writes:

Nice informative article Gribble! Hoping for another play-maker or two! GBO!!!

VatoMobile writes:

Any update on Kenneth Bynum?

RaineyVol writes:

Otha was a major loss... but i really do think that Aj Johnson and Curt Maggit are going to be animals with Herman Lathers. but we do need depth . we will stack that next year with LBs and OL

born2ride writes:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

jamgod writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

What was Tereance Cody at alabama? Juco...think his job was in jeapordy....every time you post on here you just show your ignorance a little more...keep doing it, I like to laugh at how stupid you look from time to time...scratch that, evvvvvvery time!!

McMinnVol writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

Seems to me that JUCO transfer Cam Newton did an OK job of helping out at Auburn in 2010.

Highlands_Whisky writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

Not sure where exactly your fan allegiance lies, but you are either ignorant of the general nature of recruiting, or ignorant of the makeup of the roster faced by Dooley when he stepped on campus.

I've observed your mental onanism on pretty much every comment thread of every article on this site. Therefore, you must be aware of the results of the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes which left Dooley's inherited roster utterly devoid of upperclassmen with either experience or talent. The only way to plug gaping holes like that is with talented players ready to go day 1 they step on campus. This is achieved by signing JUCO players like Patterson and the two big time DL hogs. Every elite school in the country was going after these 3 prospects.

I'm going to go back to reading 'Pease Porridge Hot' to my 15-month-old who can't sleep due to his RSV infection.

GO VOLS, VFL, Dooley, it's tough to have your back but you and your crew sure can recruit in spite of insane coaching turnover, a losing season and a tsunami of negative recruiting thrown against you.

flatrock writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

Crawl back in your cave...2 JUCOs who can help a very young squad is an absolute plus!

Snapshot writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

What a lame statement. Saban has signed Jucos before and it doesn't seem to have hurt him any!

TheVolSnake writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

Sir

Apparently you are not a student of college football, JUCO players fill vital needs that accrue because of injuries, early departure for NFL or other leaving because of various reasons or don’t pan out. About 70% of these players start or play significant time. The ones that we signed this year were all top rated at their positions and will be a big help (If they stay injury free), I am not saying all will be starters but all will contribute this year and next year. Also JUCO give the team time to develop other younger players for those positions.

Now JUCO players have experience both football and college life so the adjustment is not as great as with an 18 year old freshman. Normally in a year only the top 30 or so JCO players go to a D1 school and it can be a risk because of level of coaching they have received. But when you get 3 of the top 10 in the nation you risk is minimal.

This whole article was on the holes that one or two injuries caused this year and the need for backup players at several positions.

Has nothing to do with the coach being in trouble, I think you are a Vol Basher and hope that Dooley will fail instead of supporting the team and coach.

Huttdawg100 writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

That's wayyyy off base. Jesse Mahelona along with countless other Fulmer recruits were JUCO guys. Moreover, look at teams that don't recruit JUCO guys, and tell me how they've performed on the national stage. Here's an example: Notre Dame.

JUCO guys have value because they have experience, and their bodies are more mature to come in and contribute early. I, for one, am glad and excited to see Sentimore, Couch, Patterson and D Mac in orange. If we can get a pass rush, our D Line is significantly upgraded.

Huttdawg100 writes:

in response to RaineyVol:

Otha was a major loss... but i really do think that Aj Johnson and Curt Maggit are going to be animals with Herman Lathers. but we do need depth . we will stack that next year with LBs and OL

Otha was a HUGE loss. LB depth is a huge question for me going into next year. I think there was some foul play regarding Otha. I checked out his twitter account, and he said "there sure are some pretty girls in Arkansas." i.e. Beer goggles.

eprahm (Inactive) writes:

Good article!

Huttdawg100 writes:

Is Bowles going to play offense? I read some where that he could beef up and be a really fast outside linebacker.

Huttdawg100 writes:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce, Mr. LaDarrell McNeil:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02EK9c...

Pay close attention 38 secs into the film. Eric Berryyyyyy Eric Berry.

heyitsme writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

Your lack of college football knowledge is showing...

chattanoogavolsfan writes:

I would have takend those two LB's and left 5 star WR and any other WR on Rivals. With the DE big boy in the middle and Johnson with those new Freshman we could have had a wicked 3-4 defense with 4 LBs roaming around and lived with a three WR set. OHHHHHH those LB misses were BIGGGGGGGGG MISSES.... tear....

Razzle writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

Ridiculous comment.

FanNotSheep writes:

UT has some great LBs on the team already. Sure I wanted the two that got away, but the guys who signed want to be here. Now it comes down to coaching. If this staff can coach they finally have enough players to prove it. So let's all pull for the team and leave the name-calling behind. The Vols will have enough trouble on SEC game days, they don't need their fans to keep tearing the players and coaches down. The best way to get back to the top is to support all the players and coaches that come here. That's what always made the difference for a lot of the kids -- Neyland Stadium when it's full and the fans are going crazy is a lot more impressive than when its empty or when the fans sit on their hands.

I don't get to go to many games and I can't afford to pay for season's tickets. But when I do go, I do my best to make enough noise to get on all the opposing fans and little old ladies nerves. (And I don't even drink)

TheVolSnake writes:

You all need to read this article

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football...

volfanz writes:

in response to RaineyVol:

Otha was a major loss... but i really do think that Aj Johnson and Curt Maggit are going to be animals with Herman Lathers. but we do need depth . we will stack that next year with LBs and OL

I agree and with Herman coming back to lead these talented Sophomores, this linebacking corps will be one of the most anticipated in recent memory! I believe we have capable backups with good size and abilities, just hope the injury bug gets eradicated before any type of practices even start!

volfanz writes:

in response to flatrock:

Crawl back in your cave...2 JUCOs who can help a very young squad is an absolute plus!

Amen! You can't even begin to go wrong with 6-8, 370 lbs on the d-line and a 5-star receiver to augment already great talent on offense!

martinvol34 writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

Let it go. Don't you realize this is the kind of BS that puts doubt in these kids' heads. SMH.

VOLS_SEC_RULES writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

Hmmmm....Dale Carter, Leonard Little, Cam Newton, Terrance Cody,..... 3 out of 4 won national championships.

martinvol34 writes:

in response to RaineyVol:

Otha was a major loss... but i really do think that Aj Johnson and Curt Maggit are going to be animals with Herman Lathers. but we do need depth . we will stack that next year with LBs and OL

The question is what is Texas promising or "giving" that makes it so attractive to Torshiro Davis, our commit and others to make them leave programs like LSU on signing day. Hmmmm.

vut5686#1405392 writes:

I don't knock the article, but the lead knocks what we did not get vs. cheering what we did. With 21 signatures, we do not staff 85 positions. They addressed their perceived needs. Further, by some of the methods used, at our position, we rank only a few hundreth of a point lower than number one, Alabama. Numerically, the separation between the top twenty is more talking points than numerical advantage. I am not saying our class rates with Alabama; it is in the ball park and we need not hang our heads. For all, what they do on the field is what counts...and that is unpredictable.

Ironcity writes:

in response to VOLS_SEC_RULES:

Hmmmm....Dale Carter, Leonard Little, Cam Newton, Terrance Cody,..... 3 out of 4 won national championships.

With teh new rules its a real benefit to take JC players. It allow you get players physically ready for the SEC immediately, players who can fit a need immediately and players who are 1/2 way to graduation which is important when teams can lose a scholly for low grad rates.

I am pleased with this class give all the uncertainty swirling around the program. It still comes down to how they perform on the field.

Sir_Spanky writes:

in response to Highlands_Whisky:

Not sure where exactly your fan allegiance lies, but you are either ignorant of the general nature of recruiting, or ignorant of the makeup of the roster faced by Dooley when he stepped on campus.

I've observed your mental onanism on pretty much every comment thread of every article on this site. Therefore, you must be aware of the results of the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes which left Dooley's inherited roster utterly devoid of upperclassmen with either experience or talent. The only way to plug gaping holes like that is with talented players ready to go day 1 they step on campus. This is achieved by signing JUCO players like Patterson and the two big time DL hogs. Every elite school in the country was going after these 3 prospects.

I'm going to go back to reading 'Pease Porridge Hot' to my 15-month-old who can't sleep due to his RSV infection.

GO VOLS, VFL, Dooley, it's tough to have your back but you and your crew sure can recruit in spite of insane coaching turnover, a losing season and a tsunami of negative recruiting thrown against you.

The Subject of your reply is not worth anywhere near that many typed words.

tnsportsman writes:

in response to TheVolSnake:

You all need to read this article

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football...

Excellent Article, thanks. IMO it was right on about CDD. I think CDD really understands he has to win this year no less than 8 games.

I watched and listened last night at the celebration. CDD had a swagger and looked confident, something he has never shown the last 24 months. IMO it's because he finally has a Full Team, Options and can Scheme better now.

With 3 Top 17 classes now, Our VOLS should be better and WIN. No Excuses Now CDD, Just Do It! If not, Tennessee will be looking again!

GO VOLS, ALWAYS!

WSTNVLFN writes:

in response to TheVolSnake:

You all need to read this article

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football...

Good article that most of these negative nancies need to read. Everybody chill out. I don't know if Dooley is the answer for everything UT football but I am willing to at least give him time.

Bigger_Al writes:

Herman Lathers may well be back in 2013 as a Vol LB. He will be in his 5th year in 2012, but he has had two seasons wiped out completely by injury. So an appeal for a 6th season stands a good chance to be granted. He may not want to do that, but it is possible that Lathers, Maggit, and AJ will be awesome for the next two seasons.

rtrchatt writes:

One school finished the year in the top 10 for 2011 and top 10 for recruiting in 2012. Just one school, care to guess...

Good news for the orange nation is that CNS will retire by the end of this decade lol...

DalTexVol writes:

in response to Huttdawg100:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce, Mr. LaDarrell McNeil:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02EK9c...

Pay close attention 38 secs into the film. Eric Berryyyyyy Eric Berry.

Here is a short article from the Dallas Morning News on McNeil:

DEFENSIVE BACK LURED BY NEW TENNESSEE STAFF

Tennessee started recruiting Wilmer-Hutchins LaDarrell McNeil when he was a freshman, but it wasn’t until the coaching staff changed that the defensive back knew he wanted to be with the Vols. Derek Dooley took over as head coach in 2010 after Lane Kiffin left for USC.

“The big pull to Tennessee for me was Coach Dooley and all the coaches up there, “ said McNeil, who is ranked #4 on SportsDay’s area recruiting list, “Coach Dooley came into my house and basically took me in like family.”

McNeil had 124 tackles, forced four fumbles and had one interception last season.

hueypilot writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

Yeah Like Cam Newton. Jeez. You use juco players like every other tool in the box, as needed, where needed. How about 4th year graduated players. Think Wisconsin used the QB (Wilson???) from NC State this year? You use what's available to fill in your roster.

DalTexVol writes:

in response to rtrchatt:

One school finished the year in the top 10 for 2011 and top 10 for recruiting in 2012. Just one school, care to guess...

Good news for the orange nation is that CNS will retire by the end of this decade lol...

He will leave much earlier than that to take another shot at the NFL--especially after one of your ignorant boosters with too much money gets caught violating NCAA rules again.

AllVol311 writes:

I am so so so optimistic for next season. Like a true Vols football fan, naturally I'm always optimistic for the next season. But now reading this it feels like theres a little bit more reason to think we actually have a shot to do something special. I'm proud to say that I was never one to call for Dooleys head and get him out of here like most did. I've thought he would be the one to turn us around ever since I first saw his press conference when he was introduced as HC. Vol fans we are on the right track I really believe it.
GO BIG ORANGE

hueypilot writes:

I can think of several players from long ago (Tom Fisher who played QB in HS), one of the Kevins, Simon or Burnett who was recruited as a running back and Austin Johnson FB, and others (All American LB on our 1980 team who was a fullback) who converted to LB. Seems like it is the position where you can transition to, unlike wide receiver or DL where you need superior speed or size.
Some kids will be converted to LB and if Jacques Smith pans out, this LB corps could be the strength of the defense for the next two years.

Volunteer-Varmint writes:

in response to TheVolSnake:

Sir

Apparently you are not a student of college football, JUCO players fill vital needs that accrue because of injuries, early departure for NFL or other leaving because of various reasons or don’t pan out. About 70% of these players start or play significant time. The ones that we signed this year were all top rated at their positions and will be a big help (If they stay injury free), I am not saying all will be starters but all will contribute this year and next year. Also JUCO give the team time to develop other younger players for those positions.

Now JUCO players have experience both football and college life so the adjustment is not as great as with an 18 year old freshman. Normally in a year only the top 30 or so JCO players go to a D1 school and it can be a risk because of level of coaching they have received. But when you get 3 of the top 10 in the nation you risk is minimal.

This whole article was on the holes that one or two injuries caused this year and the need for backup players at several positions.

Has nothing to do with the coach being in trouble, I think you are a Vol Basher and hope that Dooley will fail instead of supporting the team and coach.

Nice bite back VIPER!

Go Big Orange. Can't wait til Fall.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to FanNotSheep:

UT has some great LBs on the team already. Sure I wanted the two that got away, but the guys who signed want to be here. Now it comes down to coaching. If this staff can coach they finally have enough players to prove it. So let's all pull for the team and leave the name-calling behind. The Vols will have enough trouble on SEC game days, they don't need their fans to keep tearing the players and coaches down. The best way to get back to the top is to support all the players and coaches that come here. That's what always made the difference for a lot of the kids -- Neyland Stadium when it's full and the fans are going crazy is a lot more impressive than when its empty or when the fans sit on their hands.

I don't get to go to many games and I can't afford to pay for season's tickets. But when I do go, I do my best to make enough noise to get on all the opposing fans and little old ladies nerves. (And I don't even drink)

Good comments. The Vols are ready this year. 9-3 + a bowl Couls be even better.This wasn't a bad class and we had pretty good players last year just lacked depth.
GBO

VolinCalif writes:

in response to martinvol34:

Let it go. Don't you realize this is the kind of BS that puts doubt in these kids' heads. SMH.

Of course he does. That is one of the things he wants. The other is to get your goat.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to Ironcity:

With teh new rules its a real benefit to take JC players. It allow you get players physically ready for the SEC immediately, players who can fit a need immediately and players who are 1/2 way to graduation which is important when teams can lose a scholly for low grad rates.

I am pleased with this class give all the uncertainty swirling around the program. It still comes down to how they perform on the field.

I really like what you are saying Ironcity.
Another thing is that the JC players are really ready to go all out because they know the NFL is only a year away if they can produce. Most are ready to do just that.

TheFuj writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

It would be one thing if we signed 10 JUCO players, but 2-4 JUCO players are fine. Especially if they can start early, and then it is almost better. Meaning enroll in January.

AlpharettaVol writes:

in response to VOLS_SEC_RULES:

Hmmmm....Dale Carter, Leonard Little, Cam Newton, Terrance Cody,..... 3 out of 4 won national championships.

I believe Charlie Garner turned out pretty well, too.

pj_ladyvolnMI writes:

Andrew, thank you so much for writing a good article on recruiting that we don't have to pay for. I don't have $10/mo. to give to the 247 crew, even though I'm sure I would love it. So have been frustrated that GVX has been giving us nothing. I hope you can continue to give us some more good articles along the way.

chuckfromwoodberry writes:

Speaking of recruiting, can we get Coach Majors to work with the kickers much like Coach Cafego did in his later years? Just a thought.

jbvols50#207168 writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

And the JUCO players we signed were recruited by all the big schools, including Bama. I'm not so sure I agree with you...to do so would be to conclude Saban's job is in trouble. Do you really think so? Players become JUCOs for all sorts of reasons, and I guarantee some of them would be welcome in any program.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to Huttdawg100:

Otha was a HUGE loss. LB depth is a huge question for me going into next year. I think there was some foul play regarding Otha. I checked out his twitter account, and he said "there sure are some pretty girls in Arkansas." i.e. Beer goggles.

Hog Hostesses? Too bad Kiffin got the Orange Hostesses shutdown.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to hueypilot:

I can think of several players from long ago (Tom Fisher who played QB in HS), one of the Kevins, Simon or Burnett who was recruited as a running back and Austin Johnson FB, and others (All American LB on our 1980 team who was a fullback) who converted to LB. Seems like it is the position where you can transition to, unlike wide receiver or DL where you need superior speed or size.
Some kids will be converted to LB and if Jacques Smith pans out, this LB corps could be the strength of the defense for the next two years.

Alvin Toles, for another example of success.

orange_eVOLution writes:

in response to born2ride:

When a coach resorts to recruiting JUCO players he knows his job is in trouble. You build a program with 4 year players.

What about Mount Cody at Bama?

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