NCAA Football News
One characteristic of this year's Tennessee football team as it opened fall camp that's been glaringly absent over the past near-decade is the Vols passing the proverbial eyeball test.
Everywhere you look, UT's players are bigger, stronger, faster and better.
But that doesn't mean coach Butch Jones' team is devoid of needs entering year three of his tenure. With depth and success come attrition and early departures to the NFL. It's part of the college football game, and it's about to start affecting Tennessee if the Vols continue to improve.
That's why recruiting will continue to be vital. And as UT looks to the future, Jones and company have to continue to recruit to the elite level they have been recently, pulling the seventh- and fourth-rated class in the 247Sports ratings the past two years.
With 15 commits already in the 2016 class in a haul that may only reach around 20 due to a numbers crunch, the Vols will be recruiting to address needs the rest of the way, unless they can take a luxury prospect they just couldn't turn down.
For instance, UT told running back commitment Carlin Fils-Aime it was only recruiting one player at his position in this class, but if an opportunity arose to flip a guy like Tavien Feaster from Clemson or swoop in and steal Elijah Holyfield from the Georgia-Auburn battle, it's tough to see the Vols passing.
Pie-in-the-sky prospects aside, let's take a look at UT's biggest remaining positional necessities and some targets who could fill the role.
Without question, this position is the biggest remaining need that Jones and passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni must address between now and national signing day.
This will be the last season for senior leading receiver Pig Howard. UT also will lose seniors Johnathon Johnson and Von Pearson (if he's cleared by the university, as expected) after this season.
There's plenty left for him to prove collegiately, but there is also an outside possibility Marquez North could play himself into the draft.
Several holes must be filled in the 2016 receiving corps. Even with probably North, Jason Croom, Josh Smith, Cody Blanc, Josh Malone, Preston Williams, Jauan Jennings, Vincent Perry and others returning, the Vols need more bodies.
Though Tennessee already has commitments from 6'6" JUCO receiver Jeff George and slot receiver Corey Henderson, the Vols need a couple more. Thankfully, there are plenty of options from which to choose.
The targets are really too bountiful to mention, but here are a few names to remember with which UT is currently involved.
Elite players such as the Georgia duo of Kyle Davis and Mecole Hardman have mutual interest with the Vols, though the Bulldogs are very much in the picture, if not in the lead, for both. Same goes for Marquez Callaway, who is an athlete who can play offense or defense.
Florida receiver Binjimen Victor recently said he'd return to Knoxville for an official visit, per 247Sports' Ryan Bartow, and the Vols remain in the top two for Diondre Overton, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan.
Donnie Corley is another long-shot target Tennessee is in the picture to sign, though getting him away from the Big Ten will be difficult. Other fringe prospects like Rontavius Groves remain in the picture.
You get the idea. UT has limited spots and is in on some marquee prospects. Receiver recruiting hasn't been an issue under Jones, so you have to like the Vols' chances to snag a couple of pledges before February.
The rest of the positional needs won't have so many prospects to discuss. Sure, there are a few fallback plans for each category, but with Tennessee running out of spots, the Vols have ample time to focus on top targets.
Offensive line coach Don Mahoney is trying to sort through which prospects go where this late summer, but Kyler Kerbyson will graduate after this year, so there's a left tackle out of the mix.
Brett Kendrick, Dontavius Blair, Drew Richmond and Chance Hall all look like tackles, and Jack Jones and Venzell Boulware can play the position, too. Tennessee already has a pledge from in-state tackle Ryan Johnson for the '16 class, but it needs at least one more guy.
Two who've emerged as viable, legitimate Vols targets are E.J. Price and Landon Dickerson. Jauan Williams and Scott Lashley still mention UT from time to time, but they seem a bit more off the periphery than the other two.
Price is a former Georgia commitment who recently went to UT's Orange Carpet Day event and left blown away by UT. Though the Vols will have plenty of competition for his signature, it appears they're in the mix with Georgia, Auburn and others.
Dickerson is a Virginia Tech legacy who at one time had Tennessee up at the top with the Hokies. Since he's reset his recruitment, however, Auburn and Florida State are a couple of teams that have been mentioned with him a lot lately.
There's a long way to go in his recruitment, and UT is fighting just to stay in the conversation.
Tennessee has enjoyed the recent emergence of two young, really good safeties in Todd Kelly Jr. and Evan Berry, a pair of rising sophomores. The Vols are also high on the potential of Stephen Griffin, and versatile sophomore Rashaan Gaulden is getting some work at the position this fall along with nickelback.
But the reason why this position remains such a massive need is because of the gigantic, can't-miss prospect who resides there in this class for the Vols.
UT legacy and safety prospect Nigel Warrior is an absolute must-get for Jones.
Warrior's father is Vols great Dale Carter, and he's coveted by the nation's top programs. He's a hard-hitting, fast, lockdown-coverage athlete who has the ability to step right in and be a difference-maker.
The Vols are in good shape to land Warrior, and he'd be the jewel of another strong class. He's that good.
With the Vols losing Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil after this season, they need to add a safety. Other prospects such as Donte Vaughn could fill that spot, but Warrior is the top target at the position and most likely the top remaining target on the board.
Not only would he keep Jones' spotless track record with legacies he really covets, he also would give UT an inside track on another elite prospect—his cousin and 2017 standout defensive back Deangelo Gibbs.
A place where the Vols surprisingly don't have a ton of depth is at cornerback, which makes it a bit puzzling why it isn't a higher priority for the staff in this cycle.
Currently, the Vols have commitments from Marquill Osborne and athlete TaDarryl Marshall, who projects to be a cornerback on the next level. But they're trying with several more elite players.
Though Knott and Ladler are long shots, Williams is an in-state star who holds UT in high regard. The Vols are going to have to fight to earn his signature away from teams such as LSU and Auburn, but Jones really wants him to play his college days in his home state.
One of the best things about Williams is his versatility. He fits the big, rangy cornerback mold that defensive backs coach Willie Martinez loves, but he also could bulk up a little and play safety.
Knott is one of the top cornerbacks who is coveted by everybody in the nation. UT is trying really hard to get him in orange, but the Ole Miss legacy likes the Rebels, Florida State and Alabama a lot, too, along with several other schools.
The only real possibility for the Vols to have to replace this year is star junior Cameron Sutton, who could head to the NFL with a big third season. Considering UT only goes about six deep at the position, it wouldn't hurt to add another player.
Finally, Tennessee may be trying to lure a pass-rushing specialist to close out the class, but what the Vols really could use is another star defensive tackle.
They aren't in on as many studs as they were in the last cycle when they hit on elite tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, but Jones is swinging for the fences with two of the nation's best.
Though he'll be an extremely tough pull away from the home state Bulldogs, Lanier High School tackle Derrick Brown has UT firmly in his top four, and the Vols may be a sleeper to win his signature. The Vols also will get one of the 5-star's official visits, wrote Callahan.
Rashan Gary, the nation's top-ranked player, would be a prospect who'd get everybody talking about Tennessee's class. There's only one problem: He hasn't visited Knoxville yet and doesn't have one scheduled.
However, every time somebody asks Gary about UT, he gushes. Friend, fellow New Jersey native and Vols quarterback commitment Jarrett Guarantano is in Gary's ear "every day," he recently told Scout.com's Danny Parker. In that same article, he refers to McKenzie as being a bit of a friend and mentor to him.
Gary already has taken an SEC tour that didn't include Knoxville, so it's hard to take UT seriously in this race. If he ever makes it to Rocky Top, the Vols will have a chance.
UT must replace Trevarris Saulsberry and Owen Williams on next year's team, so getting another tackle to go along with JUCO stud commit Alexis Johnson would be big. Getting one of those two targets mentioned above would make this class special yet again.
All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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