Greeson: Butch Jones making recruiting noise at UT

Greeson: Butch Jones making recruiting noise at UT

December 6th, 2013 by Jay Greeson in Sportscolumns

Tennessee coach Butch Jones congratulates the offense as they come off the field after scoring a touchdown.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

The University of Tennessee Vols landed another major commitment Wednesday when five-star wide receiver Josh Malone picked UT over a host of power programs.

Malone is the second five-star in UT's swollen class of 33 -- more on that in a moment -- and he's also the second in-state five-star, joining running back Jalen Hurd.

In truth, recruiting has far and away been the high point of Butch Jones' first year, and that's a good thing. He made that pledge when he was hired, and he has delivered on it by amassing a collection of pledges from high school standouts that some experts in matters of recruiting believe Jones' bevy of ball-players is the nation's second-best group.

Here is where we make the obligatory "these pledges are non-binding until scholarship papers are signed" caveat, but the way Jones has recruited the only players that have decommitted so far seem to be players the Vols have upgraded. Plus with the number crunch that is on the horizon for this UT recruiting class, a few decommitments may not be a bad thing.

So whether you believe Jones is Lombardi or a lamb chop as a coach on Saturday, or whether you think Tennessee is where it should be or on the track to return, it's tough to find fault with the class Jones has assembled.

The Vols were under-manned in almost every SEC game this year, and the underachievement of an offensive line billed to be a collection of future NFL players, made every offensive possession a fight. Coupled with what we will generously call "less-than-good" quarterback play -- hey, it's the Christmas season, we can all be a little nicer, right? -- Tennessee's most effective offensive player for most of the season was kicker/punter Michael Palardy. And that's not sarcasm.

So if you are not happy with your roster, what do you do?

In the NFL, you either hope for a draft miracle or you go free agency and hope to find a diamond in the bushes. In college, you recruit. Hard.

Jones and the Vols have done just that and have made the most of a special opportunity that was present in this recruiting class. Considering the Vols overwhelming needs and their recent struggles -- three straight 5-7 seasons is less than mediocre and can quickly get lost in the shiny, dazzly and snazzy world that is the SEC -- landing a major crop of talent was going to be tough.

But, there were a slew of highly regarded legacies in this class, guys like Todd Kelly, Dillon Bates and the Berry twins. (And, like they say in the movie "Animal House," "legacies are generally asked to pledge, unless the legacy in question is a complete basket case... Like Fred.")

Add to that fact that the state of Tennessee also has more talent this year -- including two five-star kids for the first time in memory -- than we normally see. The Vols have pledges from six of the state's top eight, and in a lot of years that would scream desperation, but in this cycle it denotes the hard work of Jones and his staff, especially considering the fences that had to be mended in state after Derek Dooley's indifferent appraoch to recruiting Tennessee high schools.

So the Vols are trying to rework the roster. They currently have room to take 30 signees in this class, according to most reports; they have 33 commits already and are expecting one more today when offensive lineman Charles Mosley announces his decision. Plus, the Vols are in the mix for a slew of other supremely high-profile guys.

Expect some grayshirts -- maybe those new uniforms were a little foreshadowing -- and expect some transfers and roster causalities come this spring.

It's a numbers game, and we all saw this season the Vols need better numbers.