Tennessee has 15 commitments with just five weeks left until National Signing Day. Time for panic? Not quite. Time for concern? That seems appropriate.
So why are the Vols not one of the darlings of the recruiting world, as they have been for the past two years? There are several reasons.
First, Tennessee is facing the same problem that any up-and-coming program would. Tennessee’s staff is constantly being mentioned for positions elsewhere. Special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Mark Elder has agreed to be the head coach at Eastern Kentucky. Passing game coordinator/receivers coach Zach Azzanni was repeatedly mentioned as a candidate at Maryland and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez is thought to be a potential candidate at Miami.
Second, Butch Jones has never been in this position before. With fewer scholarships to offer than any other time in his Tennessee tenure, Jones had to be picky while other SEC schools were much more aggressive. Jones and his staff took the SEC by storm during his first two full recruiting cycles. The Vols were often the first to offer early scholarships and, subsequently, secure early commitments.
In 2014 and 2015, Tennessee signed 60 prospects. Only nine committed later than December before their respective national signing day.
That raises the scariest question of the all for Tennessee fans. Can Jones and his staff close at an elite level? There’s reason to believe the Vols can, but there are no guarantees.
In 2014, Tennessee received January commitments from three highly-rated prospects: offensive lineman Jashon Robertson, running back Derrell Scott and defensive tackle Michael Sawyers. The Vols did even better in 2015 with January commitments from defensive end Kyle Phillips, quarterback Sheriron Jones, defensive back Justin Martin, running back John Kelly, linebacker Quarte Sapp and offensive lineman Drew Richmond.
Therefore, there’s reason to think Tennessee can quell the critics. However, to secure a commendable class, Jones will need to close better than he ever has at Tennessee. A handful of highly-rated commitments would boost the class. Eight-to-10 highly-rated commitments would make the class another spectacular one.
The dead period can’t end soon enough for Tennessee. There’s work to be done.