KNOXVILLE – Approximately half of the work for Tennesee’s 2014 signing class is officially done.
Tennessee announced the arrival of 14 midterm enrollees on Wednesday afternoon – the first day of the spring semester at UT. Ten are high school seniors who graduated a semester early to enroll at Tennessee, one is a 2013 high school graduate who didn’t play last year and three are junior college signees who officially inked with the Vols in December.
All will begin taking classes this semester and can begin working out with the team. All who are physically able will participate in spring practice beginning in March.
It’s no doubt an impressive haul for coach Butch Jones. Two new arrivals – WR Josh Malone and RB Jalen Hurd – were ranked as five-star prospects by at least one major recruiting service. Seven others attained four-star status.
Tennessee is expected to sign approximately 30 total players in the 2014 class, leaving the Vols around 16 openings for additions on signing day (Feb. 5).
Here’s a closer look at the 14 new additions announced by UT on Wednesday:
Position, name (height/weight/class/hometown/247Sports composite ranking)
OL Dontavius Blair (6-8/300/JR/Anniston, Ala./4-star)
Outlook: Blair might have the best shot at starting immediately of all the newcomers. Tennessee is painfully thin on the offensive line after losing all five starters from last year and the Vols especially need help at tackle. The massive JUCO transfer is an odds-on favorite to occupy one of those starting tackle positions.
DT Owen Williams (6-2/285/R-JR/Macon, Ga./3-star)
Outlook: Williams is a bowling ball that can plug into the middle of UT’s defensive line. Defensive line coach Steve Stripling likes a stout, athletic player to play in the one-technique spot that lines up in the gap beside the center and Williams might fit that role. He needs a little more weight and some work on his technique, but he easily could find himself in the rotation at D-tackle next season with the departure of Daniel McCullers, Daniel Hood and Maurice Couch.
WR Von Pearson (6-3/185/R-JR/Newport News, Va./4-star)
Outlook: Pearson is an impressive athlete with fantastic film. He might not be quite to the level of former UT JUCO signee Cordarrelle Patterson, now of the Minnesota Vikings, but he makes plays on film that are reminiscent of him. He has excellent hands, good instincts, good size, is a great leaper and has enough speed to hurt opposing defenses. It’s not a huge stretch to say that he could be an instant starter for UT, if not at least an important part of the rotation.
TE Daniel Helm (6-4/225/FR/Chatham, Ill./3-star)
Outlook: Tennessee needs help at tight end and Helm, rated by several recruiting services as a four-star prospect, could make a quick impact. He was used as somewhat of a hybrid TE/WR in high school, meaning he has great hands and good route-running skills. He’ll need to add a little bit of weight and work on his in-line blocking before becoming a complete TE in the SEC.
DE Joe Henderson (6-3/222/FR/Shaker Heights, Ohio/4-star)
Outlook: The door is wide open at defensive end. Corey Miller, Jacques Smith and Marlon Walls are all moving on and there’s plenty of playing time available. There are some talented returning ends on the roster such as Corey Vereen and Jordan Williams, but look for newcomers such as Henderson to have a great opportunity to play early.
RB Jalen Hurd (6-3/227/FR/Hendersonville, Tenn./5-star)
Outlook: Arguably the crown jewel of the class, Hurd, a massive running back from the greater Nashville area, committed to the Vols in the spring and never looked back. It’s too early to say if he’ll be a Day 1 starter, but expect him to have an important role in the offense in 2014. One of the few concerns on Hurd is his shoulder, which he had operated on earlier in the fall.
LB Jakob Johnson (6-4/240/FR/Jacksonville, Fla./ 4-star)
Outlook: Johnson is one of the more intriguing prospects of this bunch. Originally from Germany, he only has a couple years of football experience, but his size and instincts are impressive. He recorded over 100 tackles and six sacks in his first year of playing in high school. Recruiting services differ on his upside – with some labeling him a four-star and others as low as a two-star. He might take a little more time to develop, but he certainly has potential.
WR Josh Malone (6-3/195/FR/Station Camp, Tenn./4-star)
Outlook: If Hurd isn’t the most impressive newcomer, it has to be Malone – a physically gifted receiver who picked the Vols over a huge offer list on national television in December. Malone is special. He’s got size, instincts and athleticism reminiscent of some of the great SEC receivers of recent years. Like Pearson, there’s little doubt that Malone will see the field immediately at receiver.
DE Dimarya Mixon (6-3/263/FR/West Mesquite, Tex./3-star)
Outlook: Originally a Nebraska signee last year, Mixon didn’t qualify academically and didn’t play football in 2013. He got his grades up and will join UT as a true freshman in 2014. He’s listed as a DE, but at 260 pounds already, he could grow into a DT. He’ll give UT some more depth and flexibility along the defensive front.
CB Emmanuel Moseley (5-11/165/FR/Greensboro, N.C./3-star)
Outlook: Undersized at just 165 pounds, Moseley really needs this extra semester to get in the weight room and pack on a few pounds. If he can do that, he has the chance to help out in the secondary and on special teams. He’s a gifted athlete who played quarterback for his high school team and led it to a state title in North Carolina. The Vols need more speed and athleticism all over the field and he might help provide just that.
CB D’Andre Payne (5-9/175/FR/Washington D.C./4-star)
Outlook: Payne is another athletic DB who can help upgrade UT’s speed on defense. He could project as a nickelback or an outside CB and he should get a chance to push returning veterans such as Justin Coleman, Jaron Toney and Devaun Swafford for playing time.
OL Ray Raulerson (6-5/275/Tampa, Fla./3-star)
Outlook: A versatile lineman who could play guard or center, Raulerson gives UT some much needed depth on the offensive line. He could be a candidate for a redshirt in 2014 because OL generally need a little more time in the weight room than other positions, but don’t count him out of the playing time conversation.
OL Coleman Thomas (6-6/300/FR/Max Meadows, Va./ 3-star)
Outlook: He played center in high school, but at 6-foot-6, he could project at a variety of spots on the O-line in college. A two-way football player and a basketball participant in high school, Thomas has good athleticism for his size and will have the look of an SEC lineman as soon as he steps on campus.
TE Ethan Wolf (6-5/243/FR/Minster, Ohio/3-star)
Outlook: Likely the better blocker between the two new tight ends, Wolf could carve out an immediate role in short-yardage situations. Brendan Downs didn’t have a great junior campaign and rising sophomore A.J. Branisel is coming off a torn ACL, so Wolf and Helm could have opportunities to play early.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga