Monthly Archives: February 2014

A way-too-early look at Tennessee’s spring roster and depth chart

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Want to help crowd-source Tennessee’s spring depth chart?

I’m taking suggestions.

Tennessee starts spring football practice on March 7, but we’ll take any early glance at the spring roster above. (We’ve finally added numbers!)

We’ll update the weights as they are changed on Tennessee’s official roster, but be aware that many of the current weights are out of date.

In addition to the full numerical roster, you can click on each tab to view players by position. I’ve started a very, very rough outline of a spring depth chart by sort of ranking players at each position. Generally, I’ve erred on the side of favoring veteran players over newcomers. But the lists are 99 percent speculative. Some positions — like specialists — could barely be considered educated guesses at this point. I haven’t spent a lot of time on it, so there could be some obvious misses. But like everything else, we’ll keep it updated as the spring goes on. And by then, we’ll actually have something to go on.

When the summer hits, we’ll add the newcomers (currently in red) to the mix.

TMZ headlines Vols arrests as ‘insane house party’

TMZ headline after Vols' arrest.

TMZ headline after Vols’ arrest.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — TMZ, a well-known gossip website, has branched out from Hollywood to sports.

The salacious headlines are still part of the site’s hook. Even when it involves a few misdemeanor arrests and some underage drinking citations.

For TMZ, that’s an “insane house party gone wrong.” How would an insane house party go right, I wonder?

Butch Jones faces 1st off-field incident of his tenure after 9 Vols arrested or cited Sunday

The apartment complex where Knox County Sheriff’s deputies arrested or cited 25 people on Feb. 9, 2014. (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee coach Butch Jones learned on Sunday that not only were nine of his current players arrested or cited, but that some of his most trusted and experienced players were included on the list.

News Sentinel subscribers can read the full report of Sunday’s incident here.

Jones and his staff have likely spent the last 24 hours weighing how to react. After all, most of the players swept up in the massive police presence at Quarry Trail apartments were likely the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Underage consumption of alcohol, while illegal, is something so common on college campuses as to barely register notice.

Allegations against A.J. Johnson and Danny O’Brien, as well as former player Dontavis Sapp, are more serious. But we don’t have any track record for how Jones handles off-the-field disciplinary matters, as this is believed to be the first arrest of his tenure.

Here’s the tally of the 12 current or former members of the Tennessee football team who were arrested or cited:

Current players

Arrested

LB A.J. Johnson: providing alcohol to underage persons; resisting arrest

DT Danny O’Brien: underage consumption of alcohol; resisting arrest; false impersonation

Cited

LB Curtis Maggitt: providing alcohol to underage persons

LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin: providing alcohol to underage persons

LB Jakob Johnson: providing alcohol to underage persons

OL Dontavius Blair: underage drinking

DL Dimarya Mixon: underage drinking

CB Justin Coleman: underage drinking

DL Malik Brown: underage drinking

Former players

Arrested

Dontavis Sapp: providing alcohol to underage persons; resisting arrest

Isaac Mobley: underage drinking

Cited

Daniel Sola: underage drinking

Ranking SEC teams in recruiting over last 4 years: Vols fare better than you might expect

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Now that National Signing Day is in the books, let’s take a step back and look at recruiting in the SEC over the last four years.

These are the players — if they’re still around — who will have the greatest impact on a team’s success in 2014.

The numbers don’t lie: Alabama has dominated the recruiting game just as it has on the field.

That’s not a surprise. But Tennessee’s ranking relative to the league average might be better than many expected.

We used the 247Sports Composite rankings in order to get a broad perspective from all the major recruiting services. We also wanted to go beyond a simple ranking to see the relative strength of each class as it compared to the rest of the league.

A few takeaways:

1. Tennessee’s recruiting ratings are above the league average over the last four years both collectively and individually. The Vols have been above the league average in three of the last four years.

2. On the negative side, the Vols suffered serious attrition in the 2012 class. Some of it was natural (Cordarrelle Patterson) but there were also plenty of washouts. Also, some of the higher rated players from 2011 and 2012 simply haven’t lived up to expectations.

3. Florida, despite last year’s debacle, still has plenty of talent. If they can fix a few issues from 2013, they could be right back in the title race.

4. Auburn can still lean on several solid classes and has every reason to expect to be in the mix for the SEC championship again.

5. Texas A&M has put together three consecutive solid classes that should help mitigate the departure of Johnny Manziel.

6. The bottom of the conference is largely what you would expect. Despite recent improvements in recruiting from Kentucky and Vanderbilt, relative to the rest of the league, their ratings are still low.

7. Missouri’s recruiting may not be impressive on paper, but it’s worth remember that the Tigers won the SEC East in 2013 using classes that were ranked near the bottom of the league.

Mizzou’s case, of course, is why factors like retention and development and coaching still matter.

But if we were to judge the 2014 season solely by its inputs, here’s what the standings would look like. Just for fun, we’ll use the four-year relative score (with 100 being average) and give 10 points to the home team in each game.

SEC East

1. Florida, 7-1

2. Georgia, 7-1

3. South Carolina, 5-3

4. Tennessee, 3-5

5. Missouri, 2-6

6. Kentucky, 2-6

7. Vanderbilt, 0-8

SEC West

1. Alabama, 8-0

2. Auburn, 6-2

3. LSU, 5-3

4. Texas A&M, 4-4

5. Ole Miss, 3-5

6. Mississippi State, 2-6

7. Arkansas, 2-6

It would be hard to imagine Missouri and Vanderbilt plummeting so quickly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Florida make a dramatic rebound.

Before you prepare your hate mail, remember this is just a “fun” excercise that does not necessarily reflect my actual opinion, nor does it have any effect on the real world.

5 Tennessee players invited to NFL Combine (report)

Antonio Richardson (KNS photo)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Five players from Tennessee’s 2013 team have been invited to the NFL Combine, according to an NFL.com report.

Offensive linemen Ja’Wuan James, Zach Fulton, Antonio “Tiny” Richardson and James Stone and defensive lineman Daniel McCullers have reportedly been invited to the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis. The event begins Feb. 19.

Tennessee is replacing all five starters from its 2013 offensive linemen. Among that group, only Alex Bullard did not get a Combine invitation.

James and McCullers both participated in last month’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., although James did not play in the game due to injury.

LB Jerome Dews says he’ll enroll at prep school rather than Tennessee this summer

 

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Longtime Tennessee verbal commitment Jerome Dews said Tuesday that he planned to enroll in prep school and indicated that academics may have played a role in his indirect path to college football.

Dews, a three-star linebacker from Maryland, announced the news on Twitter.

It is unlikely that Dews will formally sign with Tennessee on Wednesday, so his departure effectively reduces the Vols’ recruiting class to 33 players.

Dews could be considered a gray-shirt, in that he is delaying his enrollment to UT until at least January 2015, although he would be free to sign with any team or enroll at any school after his stint at prep school. With fewer spots available next year, there’s also no guarantee that the Vols will recruit Dews in the next cycle.

Here is Tennessee’s new commitment list.

 

We think Tennessee has 31 scholarships to give — here’s how we came up with that number

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — In all the talk about Tennessee’s numbers crunch, there’s one question we don’t know with absolute certainty.

Just how many scholarships does Tennessee have to offer in this recruiting cycle?

For competitive reasons, most teams like to keep that exact number under wraps.

Tennessee, like all teams, can offer no more than 25 initial scholarships in any given year. But they can “count back” some scholarships against the previous class, provided the prospects enroll early and there is space available.

One problem in determining the back-counted scholarships is that back-counting seemingly can go on in perpetuity.

Also, there’s no way of knowing for certain which players arrive with a scholarship and which are walk-ons. That distinction may become even more confusing in this recruiting cycle.

But we can make some educated guesses. And I feel fairly confident in saying that 31 is as good a “magic number” as any this year. Thanks to colleague Daniel Lewis, who helped me hash out some of the details during a math-heavy instant-message conversation. The result was this tabulation that I transferred to a spreadsheet above.

If you just want to trust me on 31 scholarships and skip this part, I don’t blame you. But here’s the nitty-gritty:

The Vols had 22 scholarship players in the 2013 cycle (after subtracting Jabo Lee and adding late signees Johnathon Johnson and Kendal Vickers).

They were able to count three of those back to 2012. The 2012 class had 23 scholarship players (including the gray-shirted Tino Thomas), and was able to count one against 2011.

This is where it becomes confusing, and this is where I think UT’s 2014 maximum grew from 30 to 31. Thomas was gray-shirted and pushed into the 2012 class because Derek Dooley didn’t think there would be room in the 2011 class. As it turns out, however, some very late academic casualties opened up a couple more slots that would have allowed Thomas to enroll. So after back-counting two early enrollees to 2010, UT had only 24 initial scholarships in 2011, allowing the Vols to count back one scholarship from 2012.

The trickle-down effect of that academic casualty in the summer of 2011 action may have led to an extra scholarship in 2014.

Of course, Tennessee may sign more than 31 on Wednesday. But that’s another story.

The geographic midpoint of Tennessee’s 2014 class? For now, Riceville gets the honor

This map shows the geographic midpoints of recent Tennessee recruiting classes. The Class of 2014 has not been finalized.

This map shows the geographic midpoints of recent Tennessee recruiting classes. The Class of 2014 has not been finalized.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The geographic midpoint of Tennessee’s 2014 class is farther north and closer to Knoxville than it has been in at least six years.

That was the takeaway from the News Sentinel’s analysis on Tuesday (available for subscribers).

Why the shift north?

Butch Jones has added a couple of prospects from his old stomping grounds in the Midwest. But a bigger factor is the lack of any South Florida presence. For the first time since 2008, the Vols won’t have any prospects from the Miami, Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach areas.

If the hometowns of all 34 current commitments in the 2014 class are weighed equally, the geographic midpoint falls just 60 miles southwest of Neyland Stadium, near Riceville. (That map marker could change slightly based on last-minute changes, which is why we’re giving it an asterisk for now).

Here’s the midpoint of the other classes we reviewed. Want to find midpoints yourself? This site is really cool.

*Class of 2014: Riceville, Tenn.

Class of 2013: Calhoun, Ga.

Class of 2012: McDonough, Ga.

Class of 2011: Newnan, Ga.

Class of 2010: Memphis, Tenn.

Class of 2009: Trenton, Ga.

The 2011 and 2012 classes — both recruited and signed exclusively by Derek Dooley and his staff — are remarkably close. They’re both in the south suburbs of Atlanta.

The only real head-scratcher on the list is the Class of 2010, which is about 300 or 400 miles west of all the other midpoints. That class had several California prospects, which skewed everything west. If you take away three of the four West coast kids, the midpoint looks much more normal.

Here’s the map that shows all the midpoints if you want to take a closer look.

Oklahoma shifts 2014 schedule, will now play at Tulsa week before Vols

Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma Sooners logo

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Oklahoma has added a game to its schedule one week before Tennessee comes to town.

The Sooners will now play at Tulsa on Sept. 6 before hosting the Vols on Sept. 13 in Norman.

The Tulsa game had previously been scheduled for Sept. 20. A game against West Virginia, originally scheduled for Sept. 27, is now a week earlier.

Some parts of the Sooners’ Big 12 schedule are still up in the air. But the Sooners now know who they will be playing before and after their showdown with the Vols.

National Signing Day will answer some questions about Vols’ numbers crunch — but not all of them

Butch Jones (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — If you like a good mystery, the growth of Tennessee’s 2014 class has been fun to attempt to unravel.

We think — unofficially — that the Vols have scholarships available for 31 in this recruiting cycle. That’s the NCAA maximum 25 in 2014, plus six counted back against the smaller 2013 class.

Beyond that, we’ve engaged in a lot of speculation about Butch Jones and the Vols’ number-crunching strategies.

As of today, the Vols have 34 verbal commitments. Michael Sawyers, visiting this weekend, would be No. 35 if he chooses to commit to Tennessee ahead of Ole Miss and Georgia Tech.

So how does 35 become 31 in a climate in which once-routine “over-signing” has essentially been legislated out of existence?

We might get some clues about the answer to that question on Wednesday, even if the final resolution doesn’t come until this summer.

News Sentinel subscribers can check out a long story I wrote on that subject in Sunday’s paper.

In a nutshell, the Vols have a few options:

1. Pare down the current class to 31 (remember that 14 have already enrolled) by slicing off players who might have academic troubles and asking them to sit tight for the moment. If they qualify, offer them a grayshirt opportunity in 2015. If they find another home in the meantime, wish them well.

Advantages: Avoids negative “over-signing’ publicity.

Disadvantages: Might lose borderline academic cases.

2. Go full steam ahead with the so-called “loophole” strategy. In this case, Tennessee could sign 34 or 35 (or perhaps even more) and then worry about paring down the class later.

Advantages: By signing borderline players, UT would be in a better position to push them toward gray-shirting opportunities in 2015.

Disadvantages: Negative attention from alleged “over-signing” might not be worth the advantages of hanging on to only a couple of players.

3. A mixed strategy: This is what I think UT might pursue and I think it will leave the most unanswered questions. Let’s assume that UT wants to hold on to more than 31 of its commitments AND avoid “over-signing” in a way that will attract negative scrutiny. There has to be some way to let those 32nd, 33rd or 34th players feel like a part of the class without actually signing them to National Letters of Intent. How will that be done? I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps one or two will blue-shirt or others will gray-shirt. Academic risks could be held in wait-and-see mode.

So Wednesday might come down to semantics. A blue-shirting player can’t sign a Letter of Intent or an aid agreement. So could Jones comment about him publicly? Could he be mentioned in the UT press release? I’m not entirely sure.

Some of this is uncharted territory, which is why I think we’ll get at least a hint of clarity on Wednesday.