published Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Big Orange Caravan: Soon-to-arrive Tennessee Vols have 14 to pave way

University of Tennessee NCAA college football coach Butch Jones, center, poses with his signing class' midterm enrollees in Knoxville. The players are, from left to right: Daniel Helm, Neiko Creamer, Josh Malone, Von Pearson, Emmanuel Moseley, Dontavius Blair, Owen Williams, Ethan Wolf, D'Andre Payne, Coleman Thomas, Dimarya Mixon, Jalen Hurd, Jakob Johnson, and Ray Raulerson.
University of Tennessee NCAA college football coach Butch Jones, center, poses with his signing class' midterm enrollees in Knoxville. The players are, from left to right: Daniel Helm, Neiko Creamer, Josh Malone, Von Pearson, Emmanuel Moseley, Dontavius Blair, Owen Williams, Ethan Wolf, D'Andre Payne, Coleman Thomas, Dimarya Mixon, Jalen Hurd, Jakob Johnson, and Ray Raulerson.
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    Dozens wait for an autograph from Tennessee football coach Butch Jones at the Big Orange Caravan dinner Monday at The Chattanoogan.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — The cavalry is almost here.

Nearly all of the rest of Tennessee's touted and ballyhooed 2014 football signing class is about a week away from moving to campus and starting summer classes, and the Volunteers certainly need the talent and depth the new players will be able to provide this season.

And while second-year coach Butch Jones and his staff have been in contact with those players about workout programs and how they'll be needed to contribute immediately, those new players likely have gotten a truer lay of the land from the 14 classmates who arrived before them.

"The great thing about this incoming class is we had 14 newcomers that enrolled at midyear," Jones said Tuesday night before the final stop on the annual Big Orange Caravan.

"Let me tell you something: They have communicated well with the 18 individuals that will be joining us here in about a week about the standards, the expectations, building up your work capacity and just the overall mindset.

"They're well aware of what lies in store for them, so those 14 individuals will be great resources for the 18 individuals joining us, along with our veteran and older players."

All but four of those incoming players will help Tennessee upgrade a defense that needs help in the areas of speed and depth, particularly up front and in the secondary. Most, if not all of them, will need to hit the ground running when they arrive to be ready for the season.

"You try to communicate with them all their needs that they will have, and we have strong relationships with them as we do with all of our players, but really, the communicative end of it," Jones said.

"The greatest asset or resource that we've had," he added, "are our 14 midyear enrollees speaking with the other 18 individuals of really what to expect in coming to campus."

Tyndall on point

When Tennessee point guard Darius Thompson was granted his release, it left the basketball Vols with a void at the position for Donnie Tyndall's first team, and the new coach was unable to find a viable natural point guard so late in the process.

"I wasn't going to take a guy just to take a guy at that position," Tyndall said. "We could've had a couple of guys that were high school prospects, and I didn't want to take a guy that would maybe hurt us getting the next really good point guard. We went with a fifth-year guy in Ian [Chiles], and I think he's more than capable."

Though Thompson's return is unlikely, Tennessee does have some options at that spot led by IUPUI transfer Chiles. Rising senior walk-on Brandon Lopez is a possibility, and Tyndall said 2-guards Kevin Punter and Devon Baulkman also can slide over and run the point.

Chiles, though, figures to be the point guard plug-in.

"He's played some point in junior college and at IUPUI," Tyndall said. "I wouldn't say that it's his natural position. He's kind of got that scorer's mentality, but we've talked in depth about his role on this team, and that he's going to have to be the quarterback and sacrifice some in regards to his scoring to make his teammates better.

"I think he's strong enough and tough enough to take care of the ball. Will he kind of get that natural point guard leadership or role into his play right away? It'll probably be a transition for him, but I think he'll be fine in time."

More roster flux?

Tyndall said Monday night at the Caravan stop in Chattanooga that he is hoping to get an answer from Thompson regarding a possible return later this week, and now center Rawane "Pops" Ndiaye's future with Tennessee is up in the air,

Tyndall is hoping for a resolution on the 6-foot-10 junior college transfer, signed by former coach Cuonzo Martin last year, some time in the next week. Ndiaye is scheduled to be in Knoxville for the first session of summer school.

He played 72 minutes in 22 games this season and averaged 0.9 point and 0.9 rebound.

If he does leave, Tennessee would have just four players -- guards Josh Richardson and Robert Hubbs III and forwards Armani Moore and Derek Reese -- back from this season's Sweet 16 team.

Schedule almost set

With the SEC setting the rotating cross-divisional football opponents for the next 12 years Monday, Tennessee's 2015 schedule is all but official.

The Vols will host Arkansas for the first time since 2007, and in SEC play they will go to Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri and host the Razorbacks, Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Out of conference, Tennessee will host Oklahoma in September and North Texas in November in addition to an FCS opponent and will play Alabama-Birmingham in the season opener in Nashville.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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