Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt never stops recruiting. He looks for every opportunity he can to sell the UT program and try and bring in more highly-ranked prospects to Tennessee’s roster. That was never more apparent than on Tuesday.
Pruitt spoke to the media on the main stage at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama on Tuesday, and part of his 22-minute opening statement was spent making not-so-subtle pitches to recruits. Last year, Pruitt called out specific cities of some of Tennessee’s top targets in the 2019 recruiting class when asked about recruiting. This year, he addressed holes on UT’s roster in an appeal to some of the Vols’ top targets.
Unprompted, Pruitt went through a position-by-position look at his 2019 roster at Tennessee during his opening statement. When he got to the wide receiver group, he didn’t pass up a chance to make an appeal to some of Tennessee’s recruiting targets in the 2020 class.
“Wide receiver you would think would be a strength on our team,” Pruitt stated. “We only have 12 seniors (on the team), but four of them are wide receivers. I’m gonna say that again: Four (seniors) are wide receivers. So if I was a wide receiver in high school, Tennessee would be a great landing spot in the near future.”
After the 2019 season ends, Tennessee will be losing Tyler Byrd, Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings, and Brandon Johnson to graduation. There’s also the chance that junior Josh Palmer could forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft if he has a strong year as well.
If that happens, the Vols will have just five scholarship wide receivers returning in 2020 off the 2019 roster. And that’s assuming that no other receiver elects to transfer.
That opportunity for immediate playing time, along with the addition of Tee Martin as wide receivers coach, has been a big selling point to wide receiver targets for the Vols in the 2020 class. It’s also why Tennessee is likely to take four, maybe even five, receivers in their 2020 class.
Tennessee already has a commitment from three-star athlete Jimmy Calloway, who projects as a wide receiver in college. They’re targeting several more, and those prospects are who Pruitt’s comments were aimed towards. Wide receivers like five-star LSU commit Rakim Jarrett, four-star Alabama commit Thaiu Jones-Bell, four-star EJ Williams, four-star Arian Smith, and three-star Jalin Hyatt were all Pruitt’s intended audience with those comments.
But Pruitt didn’t stop there.
A few minutes later near the tail end of his opening statement, Pruitt addressed Tennessee’s outside linebacker position. Right now, the Vols don’t have much in the way of depth at outside linebacker, and that, along with a lack of pure talent at the position, is why UT has been targeting several elite outside linebackers and pass rushing prospects in the 2020 cycle.
“One thing about our position at outside linebacker, we only have five guys on the team at that position on scholarship. Everywhere else I’ve ever been, we’ve carried eight or nine what we call DPR — designated pass rushers. We only have five,” Pruitt continued. “We need to stay healthy at that position. We have guys like Darrell Taylor, Deandre Johnson, and Kivon Bennett that have played and have experience, but it’s a dangerously low number.
“That’s another big selling point for us in recruiting. If you want to be able to rush the quarterback, there’s an opportunity at Tennessee just by sheer numbers. After this year, we’ll only have four guys back.”
Darrell Taylor is the leading returning sack leader in the SEC, and he’ll be the main pass rusher for the Vols in 2019. Outside of him, though, Tennessee doesn’t boast much in the way of experienced quarterback harassment. And that won’t change much in 2020, either.
Aside from the three players Pruitt mentioned, Tennessee also has Jordan Allen returning from last year at the outside linebacker position. Incoming freshman Roman Harrison also figures to see time rushing the passer, and freshman Henry To’oto’o could get some time there as well as playing at inside linebacker.
But the Vols’ need for pass rushers is why they’ve made big targets out of prospects like five-star outside linebacker Sav’ell Smalls, four-star outside linebacker Phillip Webb, four-star linebacker/defensive end BJ Ojulari, four-star outside linebacker Kourt Williams, four-star outside linebacker Brandon Williams, four-star outside linebacker Jaheim Thomas, four-star weak-side defensive end Greg Hudgins, and three-star weak-side defensive end Morven Joseph.
If there’s one thing Jeremy Pruitt knows how to do, it’s recruit. And it’s clear he passes up no opportunity to do so.