Biggest Needs: Tennessee loses the fewest starters of any team in the SEC East, but they have five gaping holes to fill on offense. Quarterback Tyler Bray, wide receivers Justin Hunter, Zach Rogers and Cordarrelle Patterson, offensive guard Dallas Thomas and tight end Mychal Rivera are all gone. Bray threw for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns, while Hunter, Patterson, Rogers and Rivera totaled 187 catches for 2,914 yards and 26 touchdowns. However, four offensive linemen return, along with two running backs in Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane. Tennessee had to sign a quarterback who fits Butch Jones’ offense and receivers to meet both immediate needs and for the future.
The bad news for Jones is that he inherits the statistically worst defense in Tennessee history, but he returns experience with eight starters, with linebacker Herman Lathers and defensive end Darrington Sentimore as the biggest losses. Twelve of the top 14 tacklers return with this group, and an added year of experience, a new coordinator and an offseason bodes well for improvement. Jones has a steady linebacking corps, but he needed to improve the defensive line and the secondary with his first class any way possible.
Needs Met: Butch Jones flipped quarterback Josh Dobbs on signing day from Arizona State and also signed Elite 11 quarterback Riley Ferguson. The Georgia-native Dobbs fits well in Jones’ spread offense possibly more than any quarterback currently on campus. He also signed two receivers who will compete for playing time in Marquez North and Vol legacy Ryan Jenkins. Early enrollee receiver Paul Harris should compete for playing time, too. Tennessee also signed two tight ends in AJ Branisel and Woody Quinn and one running back in Jabo Lee.
Tennessee added future star players on defense in linebacker and early enrollee Jalen Reeves-Maybin and defensive end Jason Carr. JRM is a safety/linebacker hybrid who will see playing time, and Carr was a big signee because he’s from Memphis, an in-state location Tennessee must recruit better in the future. The Vols signed just three defensive linemen, two linebackers and two defensive backs. Jones must make the defensive line a priority in 2014.
Biggest Get: In my mind, there are two big gets for Tennessee. For the near future, receiver Marquez North is the biggest impact signee. North is a star athlete who will excel at receiver, but quarterback Josh Dobbs could also impact the Vols’ offense in his first year. Both North and Dobbs are great picks, but North will have a bigger immediate impact.
Biggest Miss: Any time a coach misses landing a life-long Tennessee fan to a Big Ten school, it hurts, and that happened with five-star Vonn Bell. However, Bell signing with Ohio State is more of a reflection on Derek Dooley than Butch Jones. Bell would have been a big addition to the secondary.
Final Evaluation: Although Butch Jones barely finished with a top 25 class, signing 21 players, he got on more big-time prospects in four weeks than Derek Dooley did in three years. He did miss on some top recruits down the stretch, but if he had even a month longer to maintain and grow relationships, he may have landed Vonn Bell and others. But the reality is that Jones has a tough climb ahead to rebuild a once-dominant program from the ruins of Dooley and Lane Kiffin. Jones landed a solid foundation on offense with the likes of quarterback Josh Dobbs and wide receivers Marquez North and Ryan Jenkins. Jones must have a big haul on defense in the 2014 class, especially at defensive tackle.
Final Grade: B
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