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    (Photo via Kenneth Cummings/The Jackson Sun)

    Every time Tennessee gets a commitment in either football or men’s basketball, we will write up an impact report looking at what that recruit does well, what he needs to improve in his game, and what his projected impact with the Vols could be over the next few years.

    Latest Commit: Darion Williamson, ATH
    Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 190 pounds
    School: Haywood (Tennessee)
    Home Town: Brownsville, TN

    Rankings
    247Sports Composite: 
    No. 872 overall, No. 68 ATH
    247Sports: No. 533 overall, No. 43 ATH
    Rivals: 5.5 rating

    Notable Offers: Memphis, Arkansas State

    What we like:

    Williamson has so much raw athleticism and potential that it’s a wonder he hasn’t already picked up more interest on the recruiting trail. Tennessee fell in love with his potential and skill set when they watched him at a practice at his high school, and their feelings were confirmed when he came and camped on UT’s campus. He has elite speed, and with his size and instincts, that’s a dangerous combo. He also can leap pretty well, and he’s very versatile. He played mostly on defense as a junior, but he showed promise as a wideout and was very impressive as one when he camped at Tennessee. He can play safety or wide receiver, and there’s even a thought he could put on more weight and keep that explosiveness and play a hybrid outside linebacker role. The options appear limitless for Williamson, and he has a very high ceiling.

    Places to improve:

    The biggest question facing Williamson right now is where he’s going to fit in to the roster. He’s simply too good of an athlete to pass up, and he has so many raw skills on both sides of the ball that he was definitely a take for UT’s coaches. But finding where he fits best may not be an easy task. Tennessee needs help at receiver moving forward, but they likely only have room to take four in their 2020 class. If they miss out on one or two of their other targets at that position, Williamson will probably play there. But he’s a good defender based on his film, so he may just end up at defensive back regardless.

    Either way, Williamson will need to learn techniques and hone his ability at either position. He has very good instincts and awareness, but he needs to learn the finer details to really tap into his potential and realize his ceiling. UT’s staff is the right staff to do that, at least.

    Analysis:

    It’s hard to see Williamson getting a ton of playing time as a true freshman at Tennessee, but once he learns whatever position he ends up at and puts on some good weight, he should definitely challenge for a role. Whether that’s on offense or defense remains to be seen, but I believe he’ll end up seeing the field fairly early in his career once he gets some development.

      (Photo via @d_dub4_ on Twitter)

      Tennessee’s streak of landing in-state targets in the 2020 recruiting class continued on Wednesday evening.

      Darion Williamson, a three-star athlete who plays for Haywood High School in Brownsville, TN, announced his commitment to the Vols via Twitter on Wednesday.

      According to the 247Sports rankings, Williamson is the No. 533 overall player, No. 43 athlete, and No. 19 player in the state of Tennessee. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound two-way athlete only has three offers as of now — the others being from Memphis and Arkansas State — but UT’s coaching staff became enamored with him after seeing him in person.

      Tennessee running backs coach David Johnson traveled over to Brownsville in west Tennessee to watch a practice at Haywood back on May 23rd, and he extended an offer to Williamson while there. Williamson attended a camp on UT’s campus on June 8th, and his performance there confirmed what Johnson saw in person in late May.

      Williamson was timed running the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds while on campus, and he caught every ball that was thrown his way.

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      Just because he camped as a receiver doesn’t mean that’s the position he’ll end up playing at Tennessee, though. Williamson is a raw, athletic prospect who could play at receiver, safety, or even outside linebacker in the future. He’s listed as a preseason All-State selection in 4A at running back for Haywood, in fact.

      Williamson has a lot of potential packed into his 6-foot-3 frame. He’s a sure tackler on defense and uses his blazing speed on both sides of the ball. He has solid instincts and knows how to read both offenses and defenses. Though still pretty raw, he has immense potential and athleticism, and finding the right fit for him at the next level will be key.

      As a junior for Haywood, Williamson totaled 70 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four interceptions, and two fumble recoveries on defense. On offense, he caught 10 passes for 150 yards.

      With Williamson’s commitment, the Vols now hold commits from 12 prospects in the 2020 class, and five of those recruits are within their own state borders. Williamson joins four-star safety Keshawn Lawrence, four-star offensive lineman Cooper Mays, three-star running back Tee Hodge, and long snapper Will Albright as the Vols’ in-state commits.



        Photo by Nathanael Rutherford/RTI

        According to a report from Blake Toppmeyer of the Knoxville News Sentinel, Tennessee tight ends coach Brian Niedermeyer has earned a contract raise and an extension.

        Niedermeyer’s contract amendment was obtained by the News Sentinel following a public records request. The 30-year-old’s contract will now run through Jan. 31, 2021. He will earn $355,000 annually, which is a $150,000 raise from his previous salary.

        Before the raise and extension, Niedermeyer was making $205,000 annually and his contract ran through 2020.

        Niedermeyer’s contract extension is well-deserved, as he was named the 2019 247Sports National Recruiter of the Year. This previous recruiting cycle, he played a pivotal role in the Vols landing five-star offensive tackle Darnell Wright, four-star athlete Quavaris Crouch, and four-star outside linebacker Henry To’oto’o. Niedermeyer served as the primary recruiter for each recruit.

        Niedermeyer also served as the primary recruiter for four-star corner Tyus Fields, four-star tight end Jackson Lowe, and he was the secondary recruiter for Savion Williams, who was the No. 1 JUCO defensive tackle in the country.

        Tennessee was able to finish with the 12th-best recruiting class in the country according to 247Sports thanks to his efforts.

        In the 2018 recruiting cycle, Niedermeyer served as the primary recruiter for Tennessee starting tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson, who was the No. 2 JUCO tight end in the country.

        So far in the 2020 class, Niedermeyer has been placed on several of the Vols’ top targets in the class. Prospects like five-star linebacker Sav’ell Smalls are main targets for the Vols’ tight ends coach in this cycle.

        Before joining Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee, Niedermeyer had never held an on-field coaching position at an FBS school. He the assistant director of recruiting operations at Alabama in 2017 and followed Pruitt to Tennessee. He served as a graduate assistant at Alabama in 2016 and was a grad assistant at Georgia in 2015. He’s now entering his fifth-straight year working under Pruitt.



          Photo by Edwin Keeble/RTI

          RTI contributor Adam McCracken contributed to this article 

          After a 22-minute opening statement that was followed by questions from the media, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt seemed much more comfortable in almost every facet when speaking at the 2019 SEC Media Days. The second-year head coach not only looked more comfortable with the media, but he seems more comfortable with his team, too.

          Obviously, a 5-7 season wasn’t something Pruitt was pleased with, but he made it known the football program has taken many strides in his short time at Tennessee.

          Pruitt mentioned how establishing routines and continuity have played a major role in that growth.

          “After being there for a year, we know the players that we have. We know what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and I think that’s been extremely important in the development of our football team,” Pruitt said on the main stage at SEC Media Days. “Obviously, the longer you do something, the better you get at it. So, guys are playing the same position they played last fall throughout the spring.”

          With many players switching positions in his first year as head coach at Tennessee, it’s been a welcome sight to see players given time to truly develop at one position. Spring practices this year weren’t nearly as hectic as in 2018.

          That familiarity with the roster carried over to the recruiting trail as well. Pruitt and his staff knew better what holes the roster had, and they recruited to fix those areas.

          “We knew how we wanted to plug (recruits) in. So we recruited to the team that we had,” Pruitt added. “We’ve made lots of strides.”

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          Pruitt is known around the recruiting world for the relationships he has built, and it definitely makes helps when a recruit knows exactly where they will fit in the program.

          It has been a process for Pruitt to really insert his direction into Tennessee’s program. After two recruiting cycles, Pruitt is finally getting the chance to mix in his own players. His familiarity and comfort with his players is manifesting in how the players are reacting this offseason.

          One of the big signs of players buying in to Pruitt was the difference in players committing themselves to the weight room and offseason bonding compared to last year.

          “We had 60 guys that attended May mini-mester. Lots of times every time I coached, most everybody goes home in May,” Pruitt stated. “We had 60 guys that did not. They chose to be at the University of Tennessee to continue to work in the weight room, to take another class. I think that says a lot about the directions of our program.

          “If I look back from the year before, we had like 20. So we’ve tripled that in a year’s time. So I think we’ll see a little dividends this fall by the extra work that these guys have put in.”

          Year two under Pruitt will be a huge gauge for the direction of this program. From the new coaches, to recruiting, and player development, Pruitt has done everything he can so far to make that leap.

          The only real question that remains is whether the changes and the continuity will end with results. For Pruitt, mediocrity is not in the books any longer.



            Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

            Two of Tennessee’s players have already been named to preseason award watch lists this offseason. Now, a third Vol is being looked at for a potential award this season.

            Junior running back Ty Chandler has been named to the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award. The Doak Walker Award is given annually to the top college running back in the country.

            As a sophomore last season, Chandler led the Vols in rushing despite being out-touched by fellow sophomore Tim Jordan. Chandler accumulated 630 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 115 carries, giving him a 5.5 yard per carry average. The Nashville native also caught 19 passes for 183 yards and three scores. His seven total touchdowns led the Vols last season.

            Chandler set a school record last season by becoming the first Vol running back ever to catch a touchdown pass in three-straight games. He also became the first UT running back since 2006 to record two runs of 75 yards or more in the same season. Chandler ran for a 75-yard score against Vanderbilt in the Vols’ season finale and also ripped off an 81-yard scoring run against UTEP. In that same game against UTEP, Chandler ran for a career-high 158 yards.

            In his 23 career games with the Vols, Chandler has amassed 1,226 total yards of offense and nine touchdowns on just 215 career touches, giving him a 5.7 yard per touch average.

            Chandler needs just 65 rushing yards in 2019 to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in his UT career. He enters his junior season with 935 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 186 carries. He’s also hauled in 29 receptions for 291 yards and three scores. Chandler has also proven to be an effective kick returner, taking a kick-off back for a score as a true freshman in 2017. He’s averaging 22.0 yards per return on 24 career kick-off returns at Tennessee.

            Tennessee begins their 2019 football season on August 31st when they host Georgia State in Neyland Stadium. Kick-off is set for 3:30 PM Eastern.



              Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

              Tennessee hasn’t earned a berth in a bowl game the last two seasons. In fact, the Vols have missed out on making it to postseason play in five of the last eight seasons and six of the last 11 years. But that’s not stopping one of UT’s players from feeling confident about the Vols making it back to a bowl game this upcoming season.

              Redshirt senior outside linebacker Darrell Taylor isn’t shy about sharing his opinions. His colorful pre-game comments before the Battle at Bristol went viral back in 2016, launching the popularity of the phrase “WGWTFA.”

              Though not nearly as brazen, Taylor’s comments at SEC Media Days this year again show his confidence not only in himself, but in his team.

              Taylor was asked about the Vols’ ability to get to a bowl game in 2019 while in Hoover, Alabama for SEC Media Days. He didn’t hesitate in his response.

              “We’ll definitely get to a bowl game,” Taylor said via quotes gathered by Saturday Down South. “That’s not a thing.”

              While far from Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory, Taylor’s comments are still fairly bold considering the recent history of Tennessee football.

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              Two years ago, Tennessee slogged through the worst season in program history. The Vols lost eight games in a season for the first time ever, and they suffered the first winless SEC season in school history, too. Last year wasn’t too much better, as the Vols went 5-7 overall and 2-6 in SEC play in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year as head coach.

              But Taylor has seen a lot of improvement from his teammates this offseason, and that gives him plenty of reason to believe.

              “We’re in so much better condition than we were last year. Our strength level is going up through the roof,” Taylor stated. “A lot of guys are lifting heavy weights in our weight room, and I think a lot of guys are moving a lot faster on the field.”

              Last season, Taylor was the Vols’ best pass rusher, though he was far from the most consistent. The Hopewell, Virginia native totaled eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 12 games last season, but almost all his production came in just three games. Taylor tied a school record for most sacks in a game when he amassed four against Kentucky, and he totaled three and two forced fumbles against Georgia. Taylor also had a sack and made three tackles for loss against Vanderbilt.

              All eight of Taylor’s sacks came in those three games, and nine of his 11 tackles for loss came in those three contests.

              Consistency will be key for Taylor in 2019, and his head coach said as much on the main stage at SEC Media Days.

              “I think last year he had nine sacks in three games,” Pruitt said on Tuesday. “That sounds really great. And of the things that I’m sure that he will tell you the reason that he came back, is where did those other nine games go? He’s a guy that’s worked extremely hard this offseason and provided great leadership.”

              Taylor is confident enough to make public guarantees about Tennessee’s success for the upcoming season, but are his teammates?

              “No, that’s not for me,” quarterback Jarrett Guarantano said when asked if he wanted to make a prediction about the Vols’ postseason hopes. “D.T. is a little crazy. I definitely love the confidence though. I appreciate my teammate for that.”

              Confidence has never been an issue for Taylor, and it’s clear that remains true heading into his final season as a Vol. He not only has a lot of faith in himself and his teammates, but he’s placing a lot in his head coach, too.

              “I think we’re as close as we’ve ever been to competing at the highest level because we have Jeremy Pruitt and our coaching staff behind us,” Taylor added, “and we have a lot of new players that are ready to work and put in a lot of work to make it to where we want to go.”

              Last year marked the first time in Jeremy Pruitt’s collegiate coaching career that he wasn’t preparing for a bowl appearance in December. For Taylor, it was the second time in his four years at Tennessee that he missed out on a bowl game. The redshirt senior is determined not to let that happen for a third-straight year, and he has no doubt the Vols will end that drought.