Signing Day 2013: Recruiting changes coming for 2014 class
Former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley referred to his first season as "Year Zero."
Although his assessment didn't catch on with the general populace, it had merit. Dooley wasn't hired until January, and the program was reeling from the sudden departure of the previous coach, Lane Kiffin.
But the clock started just the same. Coaches no longer have time to recruit a roster full of their own players. Five- and four-year rebuilding jobs are a thing of the past. And Dooley had only three years to turn around a struggling program.
The same fast clock is already ticking for new coach Butch Jones.
Last week, he and his staff maneuvered as best they could to finish the recruiting class that Dooley's staff started, just as Dooley's staff did three years earlier when Kiffin vamoosed in a blaze of cardinal and gold.
Jones changed the minds of a few recruits, brought in a few of his own and came close on several other prominent prospects while eventually reeling in a class that was ranked as high as 20th by recruiting services. That was all done on the fly. There was little time for building relationships or making in-depth evaluations.
Nonetheless, the class is now Jones' for better or worse. You only have to revisit Dooley's three years on the job to realize how much the hurriedly assembled first class matters.
The next class will matter even more.
Dooley's first class was a rush job, recruited mainly by the previous staff. His third class was too little, too late for a coach on the hot seat. And his second class wasn't good enough quick enough.
Given that background, you can appreciate how crucial Jones' next recruiting class will be. The depth chart provides confirmation.
The Vols will lose the majority of starters on their offensive and defensive lines after next season. So what they lack in experience, they will have to make up for in talent when they take on a daunting 2014 schedule, which includes the usual SEC luminaries as well as a road trip to Norman, Okla.
They also will need a top-notch back in the next recruiting class. You always need a top-notch running back in the SEC. And better to have more than one, as the recent success of Alabama and LSU would attest.
Another apparent need is at defensive end, where the Vols could use a disruptive pass rusher. Actually, they could use someone who would at least make an opposing quarterback occasionally relocate in the pocket.
Tennessee's secondary was a popular target when accounting for the flagrant shortcomings in pass defense. But a pass rush that produced the fewest sacks in the SEC was a noteworthy accomplice.
If you're wondering how much difference a premier running back and pass rusher could make, consider what running back Marcus Lattimore and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney have done for South Carolina.
Not all of UT's needs are position specific. There's a general need for speed on defense, as all those unfulfilled chase scenes from 2012 demonstrated.
In a conference famous for defensive speed, Tennessee once was a frontrunner. It now has one of the slowest defenses in the SEC.
Get faster on defense. Add big-time running backs and pass rushers. Recruit depth for both lines.
The to-do list is long. And time is short.