With big hits looming via graduation, Tennessee on the prowl for linemen to sign in 2014

University of Tennessee offensive lineman Alex Bullard waits for instructions warming up with drills before a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 6, 2013 in Knoxville. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

University of Tennessee offensive lineman Alex Bullard waits for instructions warming up with drills before a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 6, 2013 in Knoxville. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

UT football scrimmage on Saturday at Neyland Stadium

In February 2014, Tennessee will sign its first class researched, nurtured and recruited entirely by Butch Jones and his staff.

If everything goes as planned, Jones will sign a big class stocked with big men.

The Vols lose at least four offensive linemen and six defensive linemen to graduation after the 2013 season, depleting positions on the roster that are already thin.

“We need to up our numbers,” said defensive line coach and associate head coach Steve Stripling.

That makes the 2014 signing class — which has jumped to No. 6 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings — both vitally important and exceptionally challenging. After signing only 21 players in 2013, UT could bring in as many as 29 in 2014, assuming four enroll early. Roughly one-third of that group could be linemen.

Linemen, and especially offensive linemen, are notoriously difficult to evaluate compared to peers who play running back, receiver or safety. They’re are also the least likely to make an immediate impact as true freshmen, meaning the Vols might consider browsing the junior college ranks to balance out the roster.

While Stripling and offensive line coach Don Mahoney can evaluate prospects using metrics for height, weight, strength and speed — just like any other position — they’re also looking for players who have a certain mean streak.

“I want a guy who’s physical,” Mahoney said. “I want to see a guy on film who really excites me with the way he plays. That’s really important. You want to have a guy where that’s in his personality, and he likes to mix it up.”

Mahoney urgently needs reinforcements. Probable starters James Stone, Ja’Wuan James, Zach Fulton and Alex Bullard are all seniors. The fifth starter, junior Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, will have a chance to leave early for the NFL after this season.

The losses will be magnified because the line has so little depth. There are only 10 scholarship offensive linemen on the spring roster, although three freshmen will join the team this summer.

UT didn’t sign an offensive lineman in 2012. Jones wanted to bulk up the numbers in 2013, but missed on Dan Skipper, a longtime commitment who switched to Arkansas, and junior college prospect Chongo Kondolo who signed with Nebraska.

To reach 15 scholarship offensive linemen in 2014 — a reasonable but probably overly ambitious goal — the Vols would have to sign six this year. If Richardson leaves, that number would be seven. Any other attrition adds to that total.

Of the holdovers, third-year sophomores Mack Crowder and Kyler Kerbyson have made big strides this spring, Mahoney said. Juniors Marques Pair and Alan Posey still need to do more to factor in. Junior Marcus Jackson is the most experienced of the group and could fight for a starting job this spring.

Those five players have five career starts — all by Jackson — but could be the only veterans remaining in 2014.

Beyond that group, UT signed three freshmen in February — Austin Sanders, Dylan Wiesman and Brett Kendrick — and Coleman Thomas is the single commitment so far in the 2014 class.

That’s why Mahoney has been watching a lot of tape of potential linemen. What are the Vols looking for? He rattles off a list: “How athletic is he? Can he run? Does he use his hands well? Is he a great technician? How smart is he? Is he able to grasp things? In a system where you’ve got to play fast, under the pressure, under the noise, how quickly does he respond? And then, obviously, there’s size. The bigger, the better.”

The situation is almost as dire on the defensive line, where the Vols will lose Maurice Couch, Daniel Hood, Daniel McCullers, Corey Miller, Jacques Smith and Marlon Walls after 2013.

Those six seniors enter the year with 171 games and 50 starts between them. The other seven scholarship defensive linemen have only 30 games and seven starts.

The good news for Stripling is three freshmen arrive this summer, including well-regarded prospect Jason Carr, who could be groomed for one of those 2014 vacancies right away.

In a perfect world, Stripling said he’d love to have 18 linemen in his meeting room. Getting that many on scholarship won’t happen anytime soon. A more modest goal of 15 would still require the Vols to sign five defensive linemen this year. As of today, they have zero.

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 22

laraccoon writes:

wow if Jones and company can survive through these lean lineman times and win enough games to appease the fair weather fans that would be a tall order , for any coach . sounds like JUCO will be pivitol. I doubt Dooley expected another year or seems like he would have had a plan to replentish such a crucial spot/lineman on any team let alone one in this conference

nocleats writes:

Going to have to go to Juco. And HS as well but you wont get far in the SEC with True freshmen O and D lineman..

rockytopwestone writes:

Dooley = the gift that keeps on giving !

OwensboroVol writes:

I have no doubts that Jones and Company will attract and sign the talent they need on the Offensive Line. The one thing about Jones that I have been impressed with is his ability to accomplish the things he says.

Huttdawg100 writes:

If I could get one question answered it would be directed towards Mike Hamilton:

What did Dooley do or say in that interview that made you pick him?

Voltman writes:

Tennessee can sign up to 31 players this season evan. If you did your research for the last 2 recruiting seasons they signed 23 and 21 players. Let me explain this basic math to you. Counting the 23 from that class and adding 2 early enrollees this year towards that class then that means we essentially signed 19 for this recruiting class. Which means if we get at least 6 early enrollees we can have 31 total receuits for this upcoming class. Class dismissed.

Classof72 writes:

in response to Huttdawg100:

If I could get one question answered it would be directed towards Mike Hamilton:

What did Dooley do or say in that interview that made you pick him?

Dooley said, "Yes."

DC82_Vol writes:

It does make you wonder what Dooley was doing the last two years besides entertaining the media with his antics. Remember year 1 = year 0. What happened the last two years?

Listening to these coaches this spring; they act like they just inherited a lower level High school FB team. Seems like every quote is, “The players have great attitude but don't know how to play football.” Does make you wonder, how can we be so bad yet we beat Cincy.

HooRay_Vol writes:

Might want to go to Hawaii and recruit some big boys like Jesse Mahelona!

CroKev writes:

Man, it's hard to believe that James Stone, Corey Miller, Jacques Smith, et al. are already seniors next season! It seems like Stone was sitting at that table at his HS just yesterday announcing he was going to UT vs. Bama since we'd gotten rid of Kiffin. Also, there simply is no chance at all that "Tiny" won't go pro.

Man we really need to sign our share of the following on OL:
Blair and Mavety (both JUCO), Shofner (legacy), Bars (in-state 4/5 *), Johnson, J. Jones, Martinez, Mustipher, Nelson, Prince, Ruble, Stanley (why haven't we offered him yet?!), etc.

I'll let someone else discuss the DL.

wagee12 writes:

Haw, haw, you just gotta love guys like this moron DC82 above and of course, Woodpecker, who made the net recently with his previous slinking around down in Alabama. Thanks for letting us know that there aren't any d-linemen committed yet there Woodpecker. We couldn't have figured that one out without your keen insight.

Voltman writes:

in response to CroKev:

Man, it's hard to believe that James Stone, Corey Miller, Jacques Smith, et al. are already seniors next season! It seems like Stone was sitting at that table at his HS just yesterday announcing he was going to UT vs. Bama since we'd gotten rid of Kiffin. Also, there simply is no chance at all that "Tiny" won't go pro.

Man we really need to sign our share of the following on OL:
Blair and Mavety (both JUCO), Shofner (legacy), Bars (in-state 4/5 *), Johnson, J. Jones, Martinez, Mustipher, Nelson, Prince, Ruble, Stanley (why haven't we offered him yet?!), etc.

I'll let someone else discuss the DL.

If they sign 3-5 offensive linemen then they will be just fine we would then have the same amount of scholarship linemen as last year with just three or 4 depending on tiny staying or leaving

Pompey writes:

in response to Huttdawg100:

If I could get one question answered it would be directed towards Mike Hamilton:

What did Dooley do or say in that interview that made you pick him?

....in fairness to Hamilton the word about him was already out in college circles and no good coaches wanted to even talk to him much less work for him...Dooley was one of those few..!

MrPid writes:

in response to Voltman:

Tennessee can sign up to 31 players this season evan. If you did your research for the last 2 recruiting seasons they signed 23 and 21 players. Let me explain this basic math to you. Counting the 23 from that class and adding 2 early enrollees this year towards that class then that means we essentially signed 19 for this recruiting class. Which means if we get at least 6 early enrollees we can have 31 total receuits for this upcoming class. Class dismissed.

Voltman,

There are two limits that are in play: 25 scollies max per year but up to 30 if the previous class is under 25 you can back count 5 earlier enrollies (in the SEC you cannot have 31 signees...although I believe this is a fairly recent rule as some schools signed as many as they could knowing a few would fall off the board because of grades). The other count is 85 total schollies which I believe will be the limiting factor next year. Now of course we could pull a bama and exceed 85 in the spring and make some cutbacks before the fall semester, when the 85 takes affect. If Tiny Richardson goes pro I believe we could then sign 30.

Voltman writes:

in response to MrPid:

Voltman,

There are two limits that are in play: 25 scollies max per year but up to 30 if the previous class is under 25 you can back count 5 earlier enrollies (in the SEC you cannot have 31 signees...although I believe this is a fairly recent rule as some schools signed as many as they could knowing a few would fall off the board because of grades). The other count is 85 total schollies which I believe will be the limiting factor next year. Now of course we could pull a bama and exceed 85 in the spring and make some cutbacks before the fall semester, when the 85 takes affect. If Tiny Richardson goes pro I believe we could then sign 30.

Hmmm interesting seems Texas A&M didnt get the memo last year anyways i know all to well about the 85 scholarship limit dont get me wrong i was just saying the max we could sign is 31 and not 29 like evan said. This team has 24 seniors graduating plus tiny being a maybe early entrant. So bybthat stance they can currently only sign 24-25 but knowing attrition that can always change. Which is why i said up to 31 and not 29. Still that 30 rule shows evan doesnt know what hes talking about when he said up to 29 max

SevenT writes:

Fulmer was the master of recruiting lineman. Forget about it UT Fan the good lineman will look elsewhere to play.

Just Saying

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

When will some of you guys stop cryin' about Hamilton and Dooley? Man up! Please!

rb4346 writes:

in response to SevenT:

Fulmer was the master of recruiting lineman. Forget about it UT Fan the good lineman will look elsewhere to play.

Just Saying

And how if you don' mind me asking, would you know this, Troll.

Just Asking

SevenT writes:

in response to rb4346:

And how if you don' mind me asking, would you know this, Troll.

Just Asking

Know What....that Fulmer was an ace recruiter that was particularly good at recruiting lineman? What proof do you need troll?

Voltman writes:

in response to SevenT:

Know What....that Fulmer was an ace recruiter that was particularly good at recruiting lineman? What proof do you need troll?

Dooley did get us Tiny and marcus jackson

rb4346 writes:

in response to SevenT:

Know What....that Fulmer was an ace recruiter that was particularly good at recruiting lineman? What proof do you need troll?

Agree that Fulmer was. Asking how do you know that CBJ will not be able to get great OL and DL also.

johnlg00 writes:

Gotta say, as I have heard about this DB and that "athlete" and the other receiver committing to the Vols for next year, a nagging little voice in the back of my head kept saying, "Great, but where are all the BIG GUYS?" Clearly Butch and company are aware of the gaping holes in the lines looming in the near future. I just hope they can get them plugged in time, or it won't matter how many good skill players they get.

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