Monthly Archives: December 2013

A look at Tennessee’s 2014 scholarship roster before newcomers enroll

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Defensive end Jordan Williams will be a senior in 2014 (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The roster above will only be relevant for a few weeks.

(Here’s a link if you’re viewing this on a mobile platform).

At least a dozen early enrollees will arrive on campus in January. About 20 more new Tennessee players will join this summer.

But it’s still interesting to see the Vols’ roster at this snapshot in time, because it drives home the loss of several experienced seniors.

Of the 58 scholarship players currently on roster, only 23 have started a game. Dozens of players have little meaningful experience. As the roster crunch starts to hit, some players may be prodded to move on with their careers.

As of this moment, the senior class has 16 15 players. That number will likely dwindle.

There are three players left from the Class of 2010, 17 from 2011, 13 from 2012 and 22 from Butch Jones‘ inaugural class in 2012.

The geographic midpoint of the roster — near Cartersville, Ga. — hasn’t changed much from a year ago.

Check out this cool interactive map to get another geographic view of the Vols’ roster.

A look at the SEC’s response to recruiting ‘loophole’ theory

Tennessee coach Butch Jones (photos by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Last week I explored a hypothetical method by which Tennessee could sign as many as 35 players in this recruiting cycle.

As I tried to emphasize, the ploy wouldn’t be as radical as it sounds on the surface, because the Vols would still have to overcome the NCAA’s limitation on initial counters (25 per year) and scholarships (85 overall), which is a separate issue.

But by using a new NCAA rules interpretation to get a handful of players to sign aid agreements before Dec. 1, the Vols might be able to effectively “over-sign” in a way that would otherwise be prohibited.

This is all complicated stuff, of course, but the SEC did offer a statement in response to a blog by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“It has been, and remains, permissible for mid-year enrollees to be included in the initial counter limits for the current academic year when a football team does not use the permitted 25 initial counters for fall enrollees.

“Institutional financial aid agreements signed prior to the December 1 are not binding upon the prospective student-athlete. Thus, until the prospective student-athlete enrolls and becomes an initial counter, the individual is able to determine the institution he wishes to attend or to sign institutional financial aid agreements with multiple universities.

“The numerical limits on football signees is now an NCAA Bylaw and, should the existing policy require modification, the SEC will work cooperatively with the NCAA national office to achieve the appropriate outcome.”

The SEC raises an issue that I should have included in my original blog. The NCAA has changed its “over-signing” bylaw, so that the SEC and NCAA now have identical rules. It’s no longer a conference-by-conference rule. That’s an important distinction that I should have noted.

But you’ll notice that the relevant NCAA bylaw provides the same “loophole” as the SEC one.

13.9.2.3 Limitation on Number of National Letter of Intent/Offer of Financial Aid Signings—Bowl Subdivision Football. In bowl subdivision football, there shall be an annual limit of 25 on the number of prospective student-athletes who may sign a National Letter of Intent or an institutional offer of financial aid from December 1 through May 31. [D] (Adopted: 1/16/10 effective 8/1/10, Revised: 1/14/12 effective 8/1/12)
13.9.2.3.1 Exception—Counter During Same Academic Year. [FBS] A prospective student-athlete who signs a National Letter of Intent or an institutional offer of financial aid and becomes an initial counter for the same academic year in which the signing occurred (e.g., midyear enrollee) shall not count toward the annual limit on signings. (Adopted: 1/14/12 effective 8/1/12)

For the purposes of the signing limit, those prospects who signed aid agreements in November still won’t count against the signee ceiling. That means the Vols can, in fact, sign more players in February than they would have been allowed without the early aid agreements. As always, remember that signees and scholarships are separate issues. The Vols still cannot go over the annual or overall scholarship limit, and they will have to use several strategies this summer to get to the desired numbers.

Meanwhile, the Vols added another brick this week.

As 34th commitment, Charles Mosley continues to help bulk up Vols’ line depth

Charles Mosley (photo from 247Sports)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — An ice storm delayed Charles Mosley‘s official commitment last week, but he made it official on Monday.

Mosley is the 34th member of Tennessee’s 2014 class and the first from West Tennessee.

He also offers some flexibility at two key positions. The Vols are recruiting Mosley as a defensive tackle, but there’s some thought that he could end up on the offensive line — and perhaps rather quickly.

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Officially, the Vols have four offensive linemen and eight defensive linemen. The loss of Antonio “Tiny” Richardson to the NFL draft added another challenge to the rebuilding of the offensive line. There’s no way the Vols are going to reach their goal of 15 offensive linemen in this recruiting cycle. There’s just too much work to do.

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But the Vols can feel good about their defensive line haul in this class. Some of those ends will probably end up at tackle before their careers are over. They also have some ends on the current roster who could shift inside at least some of the time in 2014.

A look at Tennessee’s 2013 class: Who played, who will take a redshirt (chart)

Receiver Johnathon Johnson goes up for a catch during warmups at Missouri earlier this year (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Two members of Tennessee’s 2013 class played in all 12 games this year.

One is easy to guess. The other is much more difficult.

Freshman cornerback Cameron Sutton was likely the most pleasant surprise of the hastily assembled 2013 class, starting every game and emerging as perhaps the Vols’ most trusted defensive back.

Who also played in every game? Freshman safety Lemond Johnson was a special teams regular, despite (as far as I can tell) not playing a single snap on defense.

(Note: Freshman walk-on Devaun Swafford also played in all 12 games. Thanks to @donnieconley for the catch).

Receivers Marquez North, Josh Smith and Johnathon Johnson also played important roles in 2013. Some who I expected to have a major impact — like tight end Woody Quinn and cornerback Riyahd Jones hardly played at all.

As Tennessee welcomes a huge signing class in 2014, it’s worth remembering how difficult it is project freshman performance. Even arriving early is no guarantee of success. Of the five players who enrolled early and went through spring practice in 2013, only one made an impact beyond special teams. That would be defensive end Corey Vereen.

 Who can take a redshirt?

Officially, six players did not take a snap and are eligible for a redshirt season: Offensive linemen Brett Kendrick and Austin Sanders, defensive ends Malik Brown and Kendal Vickers, quarterback Riley Ferguson and receiver Ryan Jenkins.

Jenkins is battling a worrisome chronic injury, so it will be interesting to see how or if he responds in spring. The linemen weren’t needed immediately and got a chance to bulk up and work out during the season. Ferguson was on call until the very end, but ultimately survived the season with his redshirt intact.

In theory, there are two more defensive linemen who would be eligible for a medical hardship waiver — sometimes called a medical redshirt — if they sustained documented injuries during the season. Jason Carr and Jaylen Miller played in only three games (all during the first half of the season).

I’m not sure UT intends to request waivers for either player, however, because coaches didn’t “sell” the hypothetical “injuries” very aggressively during the year. In fact, Carr was even mentioned as a possible option to play late in the year.

We’ll find out soon enough whether Carr and Miller enter 2014 as sophomores or redshirt freshmen.

 

Name High school Position 247Sports Composite rating Games played Games started
Marquez North Mallard Creek (Charlotte, N.C.) WR 0.9574 11 11
Joshua Dobbs Alpharetta (Alpharetta, Ga.) QB 0.9276 5 4
Jason Carr White Station (Memphis, Tenn.) DL 0.9197 3 0
Jalen Reeves-Maybin Northeast (Clarksville, Tenn.) S/LB 0.9051 11 0
Ryan Jenkins Lassiter (Marietta, Ga.) WR 0.8832 0 0
Austin Sanders Bradley Central (Cleveland, Tenn.) OL 0.8793 0 0
Riley Ferguson Butler (Matthews, N.C.) QB 0.8741 0 0
Paul Harris Frederick Douglass (Upper Marlboro, Md.) WR 0.868 5 0
Corey Vereen West Orange (Winter Garden, Fla.) DE 0.8678 9 0
Lemond Johnson Cooper City (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) S 0.8656 12 0
Cameron Sutton Jonesboro (Jonesboro, Ga.) CB 0.8625 12 12
Jaylen Miller Gaffney (Gaffney, S.C.) DL 0.8566 3 0
A.J. Branisel Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin School (Chardon, Ohio) TE 0.8503 10 0
Johnathon Johnson Friendswood (Friendswood, Texas) WR 0.84 10 2
Malik Brown Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) DE 0.8387 0 0
Dylan Wiesman Colerain (Cincinnati, Ohio) OL 0.8352 10 0
Brett Kendrick Christian Academy of Knoxville (Knoxville, Tenn.) OL 0.8296 0 0
Malik Foreman Dobyns Bennett (Kingsport, Tenn.) CB 0.829 9 0
Riyahd Jones Carver High (Columbus, Ga.) CB 0.8262 2 0
Josh Smith Christian Academy of Knoxville (Knoxville, Tenn.) WR 0.821 11 4
Woody Quinn St. Margaret’s Episcopal (Calif.) TE 0.8091 2 0
Kendal Vickers Havelock (Havelock, N.C.) DE 0.7997 0 0
Jabo Lee Dillon High (Dillon, S.C.) RB

Report: Bowling Green interested in Tennessee coordinator Mike Bajakian

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian at practice last month (photos by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian could be an option for Bowling Green in its search for a new head coach, according to a report by CoachingSearch.com.

Bajakian, 39, has served as coordinator for Butch Jones during all seven of his years as head coach, including stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

Bowling Green is searching for a replacement for Dave Clawson, who was hired as new head coach at Wake Forest.

Like Bajakian, Clawson is an alumnus of Williams College. He served as offensive coordinator for Tennessee in 2008 before being hired as head coach at Bowling Green.

On signees and scholarships: Important point to highlight from my earlier recruiting post

I’ve received a lot of feedback about my post on the Vols’ 2014 class, so I want to highlight something that I wrote in the story but apparently didn’t emphasize enough:

Signees and scholarships (i.e., initial counters) are two different things.

SEC rules limit signees; NCAA rules limit overall scholarships and initial counters.

The possible loophole I described is for the former; there is no loophole for the latter.

At the end of the day, the Vols — like any other team — can give no more than 25 initial counters in any year and have no more than 85 scholarship players overall. 

Under the hypothetical theory I floated in the story, the Vols could sign 35 players, but they would still have to cross the scholarship hurdle. (I outlined gray-shirting and blue-shirting as possibilities).

However, under this hypothetical scheme, coaches would have all summer to figure this out. They have the luxury of time to see who qualifies, who’s ready to play, who isn’t, etc. The best signees go on scholarship immediately. The rest can be gray-shirted (or whatever plan they have to push them onto the 2015 class).

Long story short: Signees are a January/February issue. Scholarships are a May/June/July issue.

Has Butch Jones found a recruiting loophole? Vols could use complex strategies to manage brimming class

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — When Butch Jones met with the Knoxville Quarterback Club last week, he dropped a nugget of recruiting information that most wrote off as hyperbole.

“If we can find a way to sign 35, we’ll sign 35,” he said.

Was he exaggerating for effect?

Perhaps.

Or perhaps not.

As Tennessee’s list of verbal commitments continues to grow (it should be up to 34 if lineman Charles Mosley commits on Friday as expected), the Vols are contending with two limits.

One is the NCAA-imposed limit on scholarships. The other is the conference-imposed limit on signees.

There’s no loophole on NCAA scholarship limits. Teams can have only 85 total scholarship players, of whom no more than 25 can be “initial counters” in any given year. (There are some strategies to minimize the impact of the NCAA limits, which I discussed here. More on that in a second).

But is it possible that Tennessee’s staff has stumbled upon a loophole that would effectively allow the Vols to “over-sign” in a way that was common a few years ago but has largely been eliminated because of new rules?

Take a look at the text of the SEC rule limiting signees that went into effect Aug. 1, 2011 (emphasis added):

13.9.1 Letter of Intent – Limitation. Each SEC member institution is limited to signing 25 football prospective student-athletes to a National Letter of Intent, Conference financial aid agreement and/or institutional offer of athletics financial aid from December 1 through May 31st of each year. [Adopted 5/29/09; effective immediately; revised 6/3/11; effective August 1, 2011]

(Here’s a .pdf link if you want to peruse the SEC rules yourself.)

The dates are critical, because the SEC bylaw collides with a new NCAA rules interpretation that impacted this recruiting cycle. Academically eligible student-athletes who plan to enroll early (in January) are now allowed to sign aid agreements with universities as early as Aug. 1.

Tennessee had a flood of players sign aid agreements last month — perhaps a half-dozen players or more. Why is this significant? By the letter of the law, those players wouldn’t count against the SEC’s signing limit. They’re freebies, if you will.

Now, make no mistake: This loophole, if it’s real, doesn’t affect the scholarship limitations. But it would give Tennessee more flexibility than teams that haven’t yet discovered the loophole.

For example, let’s say five players sign aid agreements before Dec. 1, 2013, and enroll at UT in January.

UT can count back at least five scholarships against 2013 because that year’s class was under the 25-man limit. So that’s now 10 that wouldn’t count against the SEC signing limit.

Jones has said he wants to welcome 14 mid-year enrollees in January. If the Vols were able take 10 of those players “off the books” for the purposes of the SEC signing rule, they could sign another 21 players to traditional Letters of Intent in February.

Grand total? 35.

Continue reading

WR Josh Malone chooses Tennessee

Josh Malone makes his decision on NBC Sports Network.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Elite receiver prospect Josh Malone ended a fierce recruitment by verbally committing to play for Tennessee in a ceremony at his high school on Wednesday.

“Finally, after several family discussions and hours of prayer, I have decided to play football for the University of Tennessee,” Malone. “I felt like I had a better opportunity there. I put no emotion in it. Distance wasn’t a factor.”

Malone selected the Vols over Clemson and Georgia. He had signed aid agreements with all three schools, allowing coaches unlimited contact in the final days before his decision.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones and his staff had several lengthy in-home visits with Malone, a high four-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite ratings.

“Josh is a very, very talented young man who has a bright future ahead of him. He’s a complete football player,” Jones said.

(Coaches are allowed to comment about players who have signed aid agreements).

Malone, of Station Camp High in Gallatin, plans to enroll in January and participate in spring practice. He’ll be expected to contribute immediately in the Vols’ rebuilding receiving corps.

“I feel like the opportunity to come in early was better at Tennessee,” Malone said. “I talk to the coaches all the time about the quarterback situation, and I feel comfortable with that.”

The Vols now have 33 verbal commitments. Jones has said he would like to have 14 early enrollees in January.

Malone is the second highest-rated player in the Vols’ class of 2014, according to the 247Sports Composite.

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The Vols still wouldn’t mind adding a defensive tackle or offensive lineman (perhaps of the junior college variety), but most of their needs have been met. Even the weaknesses might not be so great, as some of the bigger ends could shift inside to tackle.

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Juco defensive tackle Jarran Reed, a Vols target, commits to Alabama

Jarran Reed (from News Sentinel partner 247Sports)

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeJarran Reed, one of Tennessee’s top remaining targets, is off the board.

He tweeted today that he has committed to Alabama: “Want to thank God and everyone but my decision is final I will be joining Alabama…I’m committed to Tide Roll Tide Roll,” he said.

Reed originally signed with Florida but failed to qualify out of high school and enrolled at East Mississippi Community College.

The 6-foot-4 , 310-pound defensive tackle is considered an immediate impact player. The Vols are losing two senior tackles from an already thin interior defensive line.

Tennessee hopes to receive better news when receiver prospect Josh Malone makes his announcement at noon today.

Josh Malone’s decision is 24 hours away: Will it be Tennessee, Clemson or Georgia?

Josh Malone (photo by 247Sports)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Elite receiver prospect Josh Malone will make his college decision on Wednesday at 1 p.m. noon at his high school in Gallatin.

Some say the race is a dead heat between Tennessee, Clemson and Georgia. Others give Tennessee the edge. (That’s the opinion of the 247Sports Crystal Ball.) Some think Clemson has made a late push. A recent article ($) in which Malone referred to Tennessee’s offense as a “work in progress” and Clemson’s as an “established system.”

Malone has signed financial aid agreements with all three schools, allowing the coaches to have unlimited contact with him in the days leading up to his decision. (The aid agreements also allow coaches to comment publicly about him and how great he is).

Tennessee and its coaching staff have all but camped out at Gallatin over the last few weeks. If they don’t get Malone, it won’t be due to lack of effort. I’ve heard that Butch Jones and his coaching staff have spent more time on Malone than any other player, ever.

Why is Malone important? Coaches hope he can be Marquez North, version 2.0. That is, an instant-impact receiver who elevates the speed, talent and depth of Tennessee’s struggling receiving corps.

Malone is a five-star prospect on Rivals. He falls just short of five-star status on the 247Composite ratings, which use input from all major recruiting services.

What do you think? Vote below. The polls close at noon on Wednesday.