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New Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt speaks at his introduction ceremony in Knoxville, Tenn., Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Caitie McMekin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

KNOXVILLE — With college football's Feb. 7 signing date looming, Tennessee is trying to replenish its depleted defensive backfield depth by making a push for some of the nation's top unsigned cornerbacks.

New coach Jeremy Pruitt is going to head-to-head with his former employer and alma mater for at least two of them.

Pruitt and assistants Terry Fair and Brian Niedermeyer visited five-star cornerback prospect Olaijah Griffin in California this past Monday, a day before Alabama co-defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi visited Griffin, who is considered the nation's third best cornerback in the 2018 class by 247Sports.

Pruitt also made an in-home visit to Louisiana cornerback Eddie Smith this past week before Smith visited Alabama this weekend.

Tennessee did not land a cornerback in its crop of 14 December signees, and it is a position of need for the Volunteers. Their primary cornerbacks in the 2017 season — Emmanuel Moseley, Shaq Wiggins and Justin Martin — are out of eligibility, and nickel back Rashaan Gaulden has declared for the NFL draft.

Two highly regarded cornerbacks visited Tennessee this weekend. Five-star prospect Tyson Campbell of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and four-star prospect Taiyon Palmer from Lawrenceville, Ga., were among a group of official visitors on campus.

The Vols could add 10 to 12 players on signing day to the 14 who signed in December. Schools are allowed to sign up to 25 new scholarship players per year, but the maximum number of players Tennessee can take in the 2018 class could fluctuate slightly, based on several factors.

Pruitt is known as a skilled recruiter and defensive mastermind. The former defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama is tasked with turning around a Tennessee program that lost eight games in a season for the first time.

His early work on the recruiting trail has lifted the ranking of Tennessee's 2018 recruiting class to 17th nationally, according to 247Sports.

In addition to visiting Griffin and Smith and receiving visits from Campbell and Palmer this past week, the Vols are targeting other touted cornerbacks. The 247Sports site reported that Isaac Taylor-Stuart, ranked as the fourth-best cornerback in the 2018 class, will visit Tennessee next weekend.

Another of the Vols' new cornerbacks could come from within their existing roster. Tyler Byrd now describes himself on his Twitter profile as a defensive back.

Byrd played wide receiver the last two seasons under then-coach Butch Jones, but 247Sports had rated him the 10th-best cornerback prospect in the 2016 signing class. He showed promise at receiver as a freshman in 2016 with 15 receptions for 209 yards but struggled to find playing time in 2017 as he made it clear he was interested in playing defensive back.

Tennessee's official roster still lists Byrd as a wide receiver. But with one receiver already signed in the 2018 recruiting class, another committed and the apparent likelihood that controversial Jauan Jennings will return to the team, the new coaching staff probably could let Byrd play defensive back when spring practice begins in late March.

Shawn Shamburger is the Vols' only returning cornerback with starting experience. He started one game as a freshman in 2017. That came against Pruitt's Alabama team. Shamburger led Tennessee with 12 tackles that day.

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.

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