State of the Vols: Post-Florida Edition

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    Justin Worley-1-31

     Football

    Saturday obviously didn’t go how anybody associated with Tennessee’s program would’ve liked.

    Simply put, this one hurt the Vols. It’s a game that, behind the scenes, had been circled for months as a game that could help put Tennessee back on the map in the SEC East landscape. Tennessee thought it had this one. And the Vols almost did, but that won’t be any consolation.

    What happened? You can’t pin the loss on one person or even one position, but the sum of all fears about the offensive line came true at Neyland Stadium. Simply put, the Vols got whipped up front. Florida’s defensive line had underwhelmed coming into the game, but UT’s inexperienced offensive line brought out the best in the Gators – as so often has happened in this series.

    A few bad decisions by Justin Worley, a couple missed opportunities by the skill players and a running game that never got off the ground all spoiled what truly was an impressive defensive performance, even against an anemic Florida offense.

    The Vols also showed a look with Jalen Hurd at wildcat where Justin Worley split out as a wide receiver – something Kentucky ran to perfection against South Carolina later in the day. But again, the offensive line stopped that too. The Vols committed had two false starts in that package, causing the Vols to scrap it.

    Speaking of Hurd, the true freshman did injure his shoulder late in the first half. He was checked out and cleared to go back in, though he didn’t look 100 percent. Butch Jones described him as “nicked up.” It’ll be interesting to see if the Vols hold him back any this week or if there are any further tests. Remember, Hurd missed all but one game of his senior season in high school with a shoulder injury. Jones did not indicate if it’s the same shoulder or not this time.

    Von Pearson saw some situational snaps, which is a testament to the training staff. He was considered doubtful by many last week, but he made a big jump in the past few days. The question for him will be how his ankle responds. The Vols do have some flexibility with UTC coming to town. They could get the talented junior some extra rest or continue to ease him back in the rotation.

    Josh Smith remains in a walking boot. A return for the Ole Miss game is certainly in play, however. Again, the Vols have options with the Mocs on the schedule next. If Smith does make progress this week, he could go a few snaps on Saturday, but look for a return at Ole Miss as the most likely scenario.

    In spite of what was a disappointing day on the field, the Vols did have a lot of positive momentum circulating around the program over the course of the weekend. Nearly 400 former players showed up for the VFL Reunion Weekend.

    Butch Jones had a message for the former players in attendance, via a story from our friend Brian Rice at UTSports.com:

    “We want you to feel welcome,” Jones said. “If you want to come to practice, come to practice any time you want. We want our players knowing you first-hand. I want them to understand all of the hard work, pride and tradition that goes into being a Tennessee Volunteer each and every day.”

    It’s also hard to call #CheckerNeyland anything but an overwhelming success. Players, coaches and recruits (more to come on that) all had nothing but positive things to say about it. That won’t take away the sting of a tough defeat, but expect that initiative to return in the future.

    Butch Jones wrapped up his press conference after the game, but obviously sensing the frustration in Neyland Stadium, he decided to sit back down and make one final statement. Here’s the full transcript:

    “I know everyone hurts. I know Vol Nation hurts, but I do want to thank the fans and the fan initiative. The Checkerboard Neyland was outstanding. I think it was a great illustration. Around the country, just keep your patience. We’re going to be alright.

    “I’ve told you before, it’s like raising your children. We’re raising a football program and I’m just as impatient as anyone. I’m angered and I’m upset, but I’m not discouraged because I see the progress everyday. You guys need to hang in there. We’re in it together. We’re going to get it together. We’re going to have great days, but we just got to keep grinding. I want to say thank you for coming out.

    “We’re going to need you next week. I promise you we’re going to get it right. We had a tremendous amount of recruits out here today – why wouldn’t you want to come to the University of Tennessee after that? We’ll be back. I promise you we’re going to be a good football team. We’re going to be a good football program. Just keep staying the course.”

    Jones has asked for patience. He deserves it with what he’s done with the program so far. We’ll see how long he gets it as the Vols will be tested with games against Ole Miss and Alabama on the horizon after next week’s contest against UTC.

     Recruiting

    While Saturday didn’t go the Vols’ way on the field, it turned out to be a near-perfect weekend off the field.

    Butch Jones and the entire football staff played host to over 200 visiting recruits this weekend and the early returns are showing that the atmosphere had a very nice impact on those in attendance. Vol Nation was in rare form for Saturday’s game and recruits took notice; be it Lil Jon on the Jumbotron, the Checker Neyland movement that turned out perfectly, 102,455 in attendance, the craziness of Third Down For What or the, um…’intensity’ of the student section, there was something for everone in this game.

    A lot of credit has to go to the currently committed players that made their way into town this weekend to play host and help the staff recruit. One of the big concerns during a weekend like this, when there are so many visitors expected, is making sure that the visiting recruits are all having a good time and feel pursued over the course of their 48 hours on campus. By having so many committed players visiting at the same time – and especially players who are local or have been committed for an extended period of time – the Vols can essentially double their recruiting staff for a weekend like this. We have mentioned before that Jones and this staff are very big on peer-recruiting and using the opinions of committed players to make decisions on who else to recruit (or not recruit, in some cases), and when you can bring in a list like this it makes things much easier for the coaches.

    Here’s the list of committed players that made it in this weekend:

    2015 class:

    – Andrew Butcher – DE

    – Joc Bruce – ATH

    – Quinten Dormady – QB

    – Stephen Griffin – DB

    – Chance Hall – OL

    – Dylan Jackson – DE

    – Jauan Jennings – QB/ATH

    – Jack Jones – OL

    – Kahlil McKenzie – DT

    – Quay Picou – DT

    – Rocky Reid – RB

    – Austin Smith – LB

    – Zach Stewart – OL

    – Darrell Taylor – DE

    – Shy Tuttle – DT

    – Preston Williams – WR

    2016 class:

    – Dorian Banks – ATH

    – Ryan Johnson – OL

    – Austin Kendall – QB

    – Marquill Osborne – DB

    That’s essentially like adding 20 extra coaches to the staff for what may turn out to be the biggest recruiting weekend of the year. It should be even more clear now why this coaching staff loves to get a bunch of players committed earlier in the year than many other schools across the country, and certainly much earlier than previous coaching staffs in recent years.

    As for who the Vols made the strongest impressions on this weekend, here are a few names to keep in mind:

    – Micah Abernathy – DB: The talented cornerback from Norcross, Georgia is thought to be a Tennessee lean and has been rumored to be on the verge of committing for quite some time. Butch Jones coached Micah’s older brother at Cincinnati, and all accounts are that Micah is close to joining this class. Don’t be surprised if this weekend may have been the deciding factor for him when all is said and done.

    – Ricky DeBerry – LB/DE: DeBerry is one of the most talented players in the country. The Richmond, Virginia native is being recruited to play a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role that would probably be classified as somewhere between what we’ve seen out of Curt Maggitt and Chris Weatherd so far this season. DeBerry was extremely complimentary of his visit on twitter and the performance of the defense during the game apparently caught his eye from what we’ve heard. DeBerry has offers from top programs across the country, but getting him to campus for an official visit in such an electric atmosphere will leave the Vols in this race for a long time to come.

    – D’Andre Walker – DE: This was Walker’s fifth visit to Tennessee since the spring and he appears to be a player that is very interested in Tennessee. The coaching staff is obviously hunting for pass-rushing defensive ends in this class to compliment the sheer size of Picou, McKenzie and Tuttle, and Walker certainly fits that description. With the recent addition of Darrell Taylor to the 2015 class, it isn’t known how hard Tennessee is currently pursuing Walker, but he is definitely a name to keep an eye on.

    – Bryce Mathews – OL: Mathews is in the 2016 class and is the teammate of current 2016 commit Ryan Johnson. Tennessee would love to have both of these players committed to start piecing together another strong in-state haul for 2016 and this weekend may be the catalyst for that happening. Mathews was with Johnson all weekend and you can rest assured that Ryan was in his teammate’s ear all weekend long about joining him.

    For a more complete list of who all visited this weekend, click here.

    We will be sure to have more recruiting updates in the coming days as we catch up with recruits to hear more about this weekend’s visit.

     Basketball

    This weekend was a big one for the Vols. They hosted several of the nation’s top recruits and officially started practice yesterday. They’ll return to the court today for a practice which will be open to the media. We’ll be there to get a look at the Vols and will bring you full coverage.

    On the recruiting front, the Vols hosted 3 of their top targets. Five-star 2016 forward Braxton Blackwell was in town. He’s the top target on Tennessee’s 2016 board. Five-star 2015 power forward Skal Labissiere was also in town as was 4-star shooting guard Chris Clarke – a top-100 player nationally. The Vols have some serious momentum with Clarke, who plans to announce his college plans soon, and he’d be a massive get for the program. Virginia Tech, UCONN and Maryland are also serious players for Clarke.

    When meeting with the media last week, Tyndall revealed 6-10 Memphis transfer Dominic Woodson has been cleared to play this year. He also urged caution noting that Woodson wouldn’t play if the season started today. They want him to get down for 281 to around 270 by the time the season starts next month. He’s running every day and all signs are he’s on his way to reaching that goal. Tyndall also said they have 6 players they’re comfortable with right now, but need to get that number up to 9 by the time the season starts. We’ll have more on the basketball program this evening after practice.