Vols expected to land elite recruiting class in SEC next week

Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs (three TDs against Kentucky last year) may be the early favorite to start in 2014, especially since Butch Jones (left) apparently didn't recruit any quarterbacks for his 2014 class.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football may be down, but it won’t stay there for long — if its incoming recruiting class lives up to advance billing.

Last year, new Volunteers coach Butch Jones arrived on the scene in early December. Two months later, his first recruiting class ranked 33rd in the country, according to Scout.com. But that still was only good enough for 11th out of 14 SEC teams.

With a full year to recruit for the incoming class, in advance of Wednesday’s National Signing Day, a total of 34 commitments has the Volunteers currently ranked second in the nation and trailing only SEC rival Alabama (according to Scout.com).

"Butch Jones likes to get out there and be seen," said Chad Simmons, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "He wants to meet all the parents and is very much hands-on. He wants to know the kids, and he wants the kids to know him."

Following a 5-7 record (Tennesee’s fourth straight losing campaign) and with roster needs at every position except quarterback, Jones can offer incoming recruits the chance to play early in their college career.

"Jones and his staff have a consistent energy on the recruiting trail," Simmons said. "They do a good job of working the prospects not only on a daily basis, but an hourly basis when they can. They are very good at staying in contact through social media."

Of the 34 commitments, 14 have already enrolled at Tennessee and will participate in spring practice.

"It also has a lot to do with the opportunity to play,"€ Simmons said of Tennessee’s recruiting success. "Kids coming out of high school these days want to get out on the field and play right away, especially in the SEC."

Five commitments will be counted in the 2013 recruiting class that had only 20 signees. NCAA rules allow for only 25 signees per class, meaning there will need to be several roster adjustments to fit all the signees, if all are ruled eligible.

While Tennessee is the only team currently ranked among the top 10 in recruiting without a five-star commitment (according to Scout), it does have 17 players ranked with four stars. That’s the most of any team in the country.

The remaining 17 commitments are three stars. Only No. 8 Miami (Fla.) has as many three-star talents as Tennessee. The current class of UT commitments includes 20 defenders, 13 offensive players and one specialist.

"When you sign 34 players, you fill a lot of needs," Simmons said. "You still have to get them signed and get them in school and get them coached them up."

Topping the class are two players ranked among the top 100 recruits by Scout.com. Wide receiver Josh Malone out of Gallatin (Tenn.) Station Camp is ranked 66th in the country, while running back Jalen Hurd out of Hendersonville (Tenn.) Beech is listed at No. 75.

Earlier this week, Tennessee got its third commitment from a running back when Havelock (N.C.) High’s Derrell Scott, a four-star recruit, chose UT over South Carolina. He joins Hurd (four stars) and Treyvon Paul, a three-star talent out of Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton.

All three running backs will vie for playing time this coming season. Senior running back Marlin Lane is the Vols’ only returning back with any significant experience.

There is not a quarterback among the list of current commitments. The Volunteers have four passers — senior Justin Worley, sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman, and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson — listed on its spring practice roster. Worley began last year as the starter, but was injured late in the season and replaced by Dobbs.

The Volunteers strongly recruited quarterback Jalan McClendon out of Charlotte (N.C.) West Mecklenburg, but he apparently will fulfill his commitment and sign with North Carolina State.

"There is still some questions about why they don’t have a quarterback in this big of a class," Simmons said.

Nine of the 34 commitments are in-state recruits. Joining Hurd and Malone are defensive tackle Jashon Robertson, Montgomery Bell Academy; defensive tackle Charles Mosley, Brighton; defensive end Derek Barnett, Brentwood Academy; safety RaShaan Golden, Independence; kicker Aaron Medley, Marshall County; safety Todd Kelly Jr., Knoxville Webb; and wide receiver Vic Wharton, Independence.

Three commitments have fathers who played at Tennessee.

Kelly Jr. is the son of Todd Kelly, a former Vols defensive end from 1989-92 who played four seasons in the NFL. Linebacker Dillon Bates out of Ponte Vedra (Fla). High is the son of former Vols and Dallas Cowboys safety Bill Bates, who played at Tennessee from 1979-82. Tight end Neiko Creamer is the son of former Vols defensive back Andre Creamer (1984-87).

Also committed to Tennessee are safeties Elliot Berry and Evan Berry, the younger twin brothers of former Volunteers star safety Eric Berry, now with the Kansas City Chiefs. They prepped at Fairburn (Ga.) Creekside.

Along with Alabama and Tennessee, the SEC has nine teams ranked among the top 16 teams. That includes No. 4 Texas A&M (21 commitments) No. 7 LSU (19), No. 9 Auburn (20), No. 10 Florida (21), No. 12 Georgia (18), No. 15 Ole Miss (24) and No. 16 Kentucky (28).

The remainder of the SEC rankings include No. 30 Missouri (26), No. 35 Arkansas (23), No. 36 South Carolina (18), No. 42 Mississippi State (18) and No. 76 Vanderbilt (9).