Doug Mathews’ Chalk Talk: Signing Day Aproaches

While closing in on national signing day February 4th, 2015 let’s look where the Vols are this first part of January. We will start with the four key positions that are always at the top of a good recruiting class: QB’s, defensive tackles, offensive tackles and cornerbacks.

Two quarterbacks (Dormady and Jennings) are in school as early enrollees as is Shy Tuttle, a big time defensive tackle recruit. Jack Jones and Chance Hall, talented offensive tackles are in early also. Hall is also recovering from ankle surgery and will be limited for a while.

A six month head start in academics, strength training/conditioning, system installation and understanding of what is expected of a Volunteer football player should provide a big advantage for these five who will most certainly be needed next fall. While no corners are in early the commitment of Justin Martin (with three years eligibility) from Northeastern Oklahoma junior college, along with Micah Abernathy give the corner position a big boost. There will likely be two more corner signees in the 2015 class, likewise at the defensive tackle position in Kahlil McKenzie and another recruit.

Two QB’s, three defensive tackles, two offensive tackles and four corners are just what the doctor ordered at the four most important positions in a recruiting class. A look at the depth chart coming out of the 2014 season reveals how even more important these positions are with this recruiting class.

Five other signees are scheduled to enroll in January: Stephen Griffin a safety, middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland, junior college running back Alvin Kamara who has three years eligibility and two defensive ends Andrew Butcher and the Vols latest commitment Kyle Phillips from Nashville. Phillips was/is one of the most sought after players on Tennessee’s recruiting board and is a huge get for the Volunteers.

Coach Butch Jones is in the enviable position of waiting for a couple of great players if he chooses because of the depth and talent of the 2015 recruiting class as it stands right now. This will be another top class following last year’s big group but unlike last season very few incoming freshmen will have to be a starter on either side of the ball.

There are a couple of indicators that a Tennessee team is ready to compete for a conference championship other than the obvious….talent. They are quality depth at most every position and the ability to redshirt freshmen instead of being forced to play them too early. The last few years we have not been in position to do either, this year we will be much closer in both areas. The best of Volunteer teams played freshmen because they were ready to play not because numbers and depth deficiencies forced them to play.

At present six middle Tennesseans will sign with the Vols this year and combined with the eight from last year will give the Volunteers the biggest two year total in modern history…..fourteen. Vic Wharton starting the Iowa game brought the number of true freshmen from middle Tennessee who started at least one game in 2014 to six. Now we know why Coach Jones spends so much time in the Nashville area.

College football is constantly changing and the programs that want to get to and stay in the championship mix better have a keen eye on the changing landscape. There is no area where this is more apparent and important that in recruiting by the head coach. For years, decades even, the head coach was the closer the man who came in late after the groundwork had been laid by an assistant and impressed the family and prospect late in the recruiting process. Today there is no such thing as “late in the recruiting process”, it is a 365 day business and the head coach now must be the lead recruiter who is in contact continually with the top prospects.

Coach Fulmer was the best I have seen in this area and was one of the very few head coaches in the mid 90’s who talked to prospects nightly building a relationship with the family that often paid off with top recruits committing the night before signing date to seal a top ranked class. I believe it was the biggest reason he had such great success for so many years on the Hill.

Coach Jones is from the same mold and with all the technology available to contact prospects today, has been the difference in many of the young men who will be in this 2015 class. It appears to me he spends more time in this area than in any other and it is paying off in a big way. I don’t think I am overstating the importance in a head coach who is a great recruiter by saying that IMO it is the most important quality a head coach needs in today’s college football. Even the best of assistant coaches are playing with a short stick in recruiting when they go up against a hard recruiting head coach, as Coach Cafego use to say it “is like taking a knife to a gun fight”.