With QB a priority, Vols in battle for 5-star Torrance Gibson

Torrance Gibson (photo by 247Sports, a KNS partner)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Riley Ferguson‘s departure has highlighted Tennessee’s need for another quarterback in the Class of 2015.

There are few bigger targets than dual-threat quarterback Torrance GibsonAuburn and Tennessee are leading the seven-team race for his signature. Helpfully, Gibson has been tweeting and blogging about the recruiting process.

247Sports recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan chatted about Gibson’s visit to Auburn in today’s installment of GVX Audio. Gibson could visit Tennessee as soon as this weekend, but Callahan said the race should continue for some time.

The Vols already have Jauan Jennings in the fold. He’s a four-star athlete from Murfreesboro who is being recruited by most schools as a quarterback. Many think he could also be an elite college safety.

Butch Jones on fans at clinic: ‘The women here, they know their football’ (video)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The 275 women who participated in Saturday’s women’s clinic at Tennessee not only learned a lot in classrooms, they worked hard on the field.

I got exhausted just watching the ladies run through drills at Neyland Stadium, but they held up well. (Better, I daresay, than a group of sports writers would).

Butch Jones, who hosted the event with his wife Barb, said he hopes to do it every year.

I’ll have a larger story and more photos on the event online on Sunday and in Monday’s News Sentinel.

Butch Jones wishes Riley Ferguson well, but focusing on current players

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — If there’s even a sliver of hope that quarterback Riley Ferguson will return to the Tennessee football team, coach Butch Jones is doing nothing to encourage it.

Asked about Ferguson on Saturday night, Jones said “We wish him well,” but that he preferred to talk about the players who were on the team.

That does not include Ferguson.

UT could choose to place restrictions on Ferguson’s transfer, but I’m told no decision has been made on that front yet.

Ferguson hasn’t made a public statement (or tweet) since news of his departure became public, but the assumption is that he would like to join his brother at the start-up football program at UNC-Charlotte.

Tennessee roster update: Walk-ons come and go, plus new numbers

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee has added several new walk-ons, including a Vol legacy from Bearden High School and a transfer receiver from Virginia.

Tennessee also deleted several players from the official roster and assigned numbers to others.

First, seven walk-ons who participated in spring practice are no longer on the roster:

* Linebacker Michael Cantwell, a fourth-year junior from Morristown.

* Cornerback David Priddy, a second-year player from Hendersonville.

* Receiver Jaye Rochelle, a second-year player from Norcross, Ga.

* Linebacker Nikolay Timoshchuk, a third-year player from Chattanooga. (Timoshchuk was added back to the roster on Saturday, so his deletion may have been in error).

* Long snapper Andrew Henry, a fourth-year junior from Gallatin.

* Punter Trevor Daniel, a second-year player from Dickson.

* Linebacker Gage Beeler, a second-year player from Knoxville.

* Senior running back Deanthonie Summerhill has been moved to the bottom of the roster and no long has a number. He could become a player-coach or a volunteer coach this year.

Here are the new walk-ons:

* Isaiah McDaniel, a defensive back from Knoxville’s Bearden High, and son of former Vol Terry McDaniel.

* No. 89 Adrian Gamble, a receiver who transferred from Virginia.

* No. 45 Jase Stubbs, a fullback from Covington, La.

* No. 35 Troy Waites, a punter from Hattiesburg, Miss.

* No. 30 Bryson Durden, a defensive back from McDonough, Ga.

Finally, here are the new numbers.

* Freshman Ethan Wolf has switched from No. 88 to No. 82.

* The 17 new enrollees have been assigned new numbers. You can check all those out here, on the master summer roster.

Some very early bowl projections have Vols in Memphis, or sitting at home

Butch Jones after practice last month (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee coach Butch Jones might have to deal with increased expectations on the home front in Year 2, but the optimism hasn’t gone national yet.

Two ESPN reporters, in an admittedly “way-too-early bowl projection,” don’t expect the Vols to do much in 2014.

Brett McMurphy has the Vols in the Liberty Bowl against Oklahoma State. That generally means a 6-6 or perhaps 7-5 record for an SEC team. Mark Schlabach predicts the Vols to miss out on a bowl game for the fourth season in a row.

For what it’s worth, my way-too-early season prediction is 6-6, which is about Liberty Bowl level. Of course, that was my prediction last year. The Vols went 5-7 and missed out on a postseason trip.

49 SEC players were drafted by NFL teams this month, but 4 teams didn’t take any

Ja’Wuan James was one of 49 SEC players drafted (AP photo, J. Pat Carter)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — My radio colleague Vince Ferrara has written up a comprehensive rundown on the 49 SEC players drafted by NFL teams and where they fit on their new clubs.

He tackles everyone from Jadeveon Clowney, No. 1, to Michael Sam, the 49th pick from the SEC and the 249th overall.

Here’s another interesting tidbit: The Houston Texans took five SEC players, including Clowney, and the St. Louis Rams drafted four, including Sam. Seattle, Miami, Cincinnati and Kansas City had three each.

Four teams — Dallas, San Diego, Minnesota and the N.Y. Jets — didn’t have any.

Read the complete breakdown here.

Tennessee’s offense after Riley Ferguson: QB’s departure is bad news for 2014

Riley Ferguson in an interview this spring (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeRiley Ferguson has been the perfect subject for that segment of the fan base prone to extreme and sudden swings of emotion.

A few weeks ago, according to some, he was the best the quarterback on the team. (His main qualification for that honor was that he was the only who had yet to take a college snap.)

Today, just as many contend that his departure is no big deal, and the Vols will be fine without him.

In fact, when he surprised coaches with the news that he didn’t plan to return to Knoxville, Ferguson still had a shot of winning the starting quarterback job. Despite a bumpy spring, I still think he had the best chance of any of the three competitors vying to unseat senior Justin Worley.

That’s what makes his departure so stunning. Coaches had invested a lot of time and effort into his development for a reason. They thought — and still think — he could be a good SEC quarterback. And now he appears to be ready to transfer to a lower-division team without even taking a snap?

Ferguson hasn’t returned a request for comment, so we haven’t heard his side of his decision to transfer. But he apparently indicated to coaches that he felt more comfortable back home.

Twitter myths notwithstanding, coaches didn’t “run off” Ferguson. They wanted him to stay. In fact, Butch Jones has carefully parsed every comment he makes about the quarterback situation with the express intent of discouraging anyone from transferring.

Ferguson did not arrive on campus with the same maturity as, say, Joshua Dobbs. Ferguson was high-maintenance. And he was certainly not out of quarterback central casting like his three other colleagues. But he had enough natural talent that coaches were to work with his strengths while they tried to fix his flaws.

If one quarterback seizes the reins of the offense this spring and stays healthy, Ferguson might be largely forgotten by November. But if the Vols suffer a rash of injuries  (like they did in 2013) or if none of the quarterbacks perform consistently (again, see 2013) then the loss of the inscrutable but talented Ferguson will really sting.

SEC meetings in Destin get underway today

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — SEC coaches are in Destin, Fla., this week for the league’s annual spring meeting.

Coaches have already done plenty of meeting with SEC commissioner Mike Slive in recent months, so the agenda should be light this week.

One issue in particular has already been resolved. Let’s let Les Miles tell it:

Miles, of course, was among the coaches displeased by the SEC’s decision to maintain its current 8-game format. LSU is stuck with Florida as its permanent cross-divisional opponent each season.

So what is on the agenda this week, aside from plenty of time on the beach or the golf course? Seth Emerson has a good summary here.

The big buzzword right now is autonomy. The five football power conferences are flexing their muscles and the NCAA appears willing to relinquish some control to those programs (like the SEC) that are on a different revenue plane than their peers.

There could also be some continued chatter over rules. Remember the Bret Bielema-Gus Malzahn tiff? Let’s hope they save some fighting words for SEC Media Days in July.

Hey, there are 100 days until Tennessee’s opener (or 99, depending on how you count it)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJqThkCAVLg
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — It’s either 99 or 100 days until Tennessee opens its 2014 season against Utah State. We commemorated the occasion with the video you see above. UT made a hype video that you can see below.

Unlike UT, we won’t be counting down each day until the season starts.

More numbers:

The first day of the main summer academic session begins in five days — May 29.

SEC Media Days begin in 51 days — July 14.

UT is on stage in Hoover in 52 days — July 15.

The first day of practice should be about August 1 — that’s 69 days.

Mark your calendars accordingly.

 

Undrafted James Stone fighting for spot on Falcons (updates on Vols competing for NFL spots)

James Stone (photo by KNS photographer Michael Patrick)

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeAntonio “Tiny” Richardson‘s NFL draft snub got most of the attention earlier this month, but there was another Tennessee offensive lineman who wasn’t selected.

Center James Stone signed a free-agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons after the draft. Like most free agents, his path to a roster spot is uncertain, but Stone has a handful of factors working in his favor. He’s smart, he’s versatile and he has well-respected people vouching for him.

“In one year’s time with him, I was just really impressed with how smart of a player he is,” Vols offensive line coach Don Mahoney told ESPN. “And you have to look at his value to play two positions [center and guard]. I know that’s a big deal, with how many players they carry on a roster. And again, because of him mentally being able to be such a smart player, I think there’s just a tremendous upside to him.” 

Although more than a dozen Vols either worked out or signed free-agent deals after the draft, the NFL is so competitive that very few of them are likely to be rosters by the time the season starts. For many of the players in the group, getting a practice squad job would be beating the odds. Will Stone fare differently? We’ll find out.

Here are some updates on the rest of the Vols selected in the NFL draft or signed afterwards:

Currently on official NFL rosters…

Ja’Wuan James, selected in first round (19th overall) by Miami Dolphins…likely to open season as starter.

Zach Fulton, selected in sixth round (193rd overall) by Kansas City Chiefs….signed 4-year contract.

Daniel McCullers, selected in sixth round (215th overall) by Pittsburgh Steelers…signed 4-year contract.

Richardson….free-agent signee with Minnesota Vikings

Stone…free-agent signee with Atlanta Falcons

Dontavis Sapp…free-agent signee with Dallas Cowboys.

Rajion Neal…free-agent signee with Green Bay Packers

Jacques Smith…free-agent signee with Atlanta Falcons

Alex Bullard….free-agent signee with Detroit Lions

Others…

Michael Palardy…attended New York Jets minicamp.

Mo Couch….attended Dallas Cowboys minicamp

J.R. Carr….attended Washington Redskins minicamp

Corey Miller…attended Kansas City Chiefs minicamp