- Signing day celebration at Neyland Stadium
- Derek Dooley addresses the question of athletic scholarships
- Derek Dooley talks about DB LaDarrell McNeil
- Coach Dooley talks about some of the players from the 2012 signing class
- How the 25-man rule impacted the Vols' 2012 signing class
- Derek Dooley addresses Deion Bonner's 2011 arrest
- Vols faced challenges on the road to National Signing Day
- Opening comments from Coach Derek Dooley on National Signing Day
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A look back at 2014
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."