Returning: Seniors: Dontavis Sapp; Brent Brewer; Greg King; John Propst; Raiques Crump; Channing Fugate.Juniors: A.J. Johnson; Curt Maggitt.Sophomore: Christian Harris.Redshirt Freshman: Kenny Bynum
Current 2014 commitments:
. Chris Weatherd (6-4/225/Trinity Valley C.C./4-star): Weatherd, a junior college prospect, chose the Vols over Oklahoma, Iowa State and others. He’s the top-ranked JUCO outside linebacker, according to 247Sports, and could be in position for immediate playing time in 2014.
Level of need: Very High. Like the offensive line, linebacker is another spot where recent recruiting shortfalls will really start to take a toll soon. That’s why this class is so important for reloading a group that could be down to just a few scholarship linebackers after 2013.
Six seniors are departing and junior A.J. Johnson, the SEC’s leading tackler in 2012, is an NFL early-entry candidate. Junior Curt Maggitt could emerge as an NFL prospect as well with a strong season, but, for now, should be assumed back. That likely leaves UT with just Maggitt, Harris and Bynum in 2014.
How did it get so thin? UT lost two long-time commitments – Otha Peters (Arkansas) and Dalton Santos (Texas) – in the days leading up to signing day in 2012. UT then lost four linebacker commitments after Derek Dooley was fired last fall – Dominic Zanca (Duke), De’Vondre Campbell (Minnesota), Colton Goeas (Kansas) and Zach Barnes (Texas Tech).
Corey Vereen was the only prep linebacker signed in the 2013 class, but he enrolled early and worked with the defensive line this spring and the coaching staff intends to keep him there. UT will need to add at least four linebackers and potentially as many as five or six if there’s room in 2014.
Top Uncommitted Targets:
. Dillon Bates (6-3/220/Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. /4-star): The son of former Vol and Dallas Cowboys great Bill Bates, Dillon Bates has long favored the Vols and is expected to choose UT over Alabama, Florida, Texas and South Carolina when he announces in July. Anything else would be a surprise and a huge blow to UT.
. Kevin Mouhon (6-2/225/Norcross, Ga./4-star): Mouhon is another highly-ranked linebacker who favors the Vols at this point. He holds offer from the likes of Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon and Florida State, but, as of now, is expected to choose Tennessee.
. Clifton Garrett (6-2/230/Plainfield, Ill./5-star): Tennessee is hovering near the top for one of the nation’s best linebackers. LSU is the favorite, but Rivals.com has reported that UT is currently second for the potentially dominant linebacker from Illinois.
Others to keep an eye on:
. Christian Miller (6-4/225/Columbia, S.C./4-star): The former Florida commitment is now favoring Alabama with Georgia and Tennessee right behind the Tide.
. Gavin Bryant (6-1/225/Jackson, Ala./3-star): Alabama is the heavy favorite for Bryant, who plans to visit UT this summer.
. Petera Wilson (6-3/220/Memphis, Tenn./4-star): The in-state prospect has visited UT and appears to have a fair amount of interest in the Vols. He’s yet to narrow his list.
. Rashaan Evans (6-3/215/Auburn, Ala./4-star): The Auburn native likes the hometown Tigers and will be tough to get out of state. UT is trying, though.
. Noah Furbush (6-4/220/Kenton, Ohio/3-star): He’s a defensive end/linebacker hybrid who visited Knoxville in May. Michigan is the team to beat right now.
. Greg Miclisse (6-0/230/Palm Beach, Fla./3-star): Miclisse has approximately 20 offers and appears to be high on the Vols. It’s unclear if he has a “committable” offer from UT at this point.
. Tyrell Tomlin (6-0/230/Marietta, Ga./3-star): The Atlanta-area linebacker has Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee out in front.
. KeShun Freeman (6-2/225/Hogansville, Ga./3-star): Another Georgia linebacker who is high on the Vols. Stanford and Georgia Tech are also standing out to Freeman.
. T.J. Posey (6-0/225/Gadsden, Ala./3-star): He’s not a highly-ranked prospect, but with the Vols need needing a lot of help, he could be an option. UT, Mississippi State and Louisville are among the teams high on his list.
. Ray Tillman (6-0/195/Lithonia, Ga./3-star): The undersized linebacker loves the Vols, but do they like him enough to include him in the 2014 class at this point?
*All rankings are from the 247Sports Composite.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga