Knoxville, Tennessee is one of the top 5 most visited recruiting sites for blue chippers. Fulmer and company can wine and dine them like nobody's business. The 2001 Volunteers were a great squad and most of the top shelf talent returns.
The departure of SEC rushing leader Travis Stephens should have been taken care of last year with the signing of Jabari Davis, Cedric Houston, and Derrick Tinsley. Any school in the country would be happy to have any of these kids, but big Phil's got all three. The demand for a RB wasn't great, but the one that UT did sign will be a star. Gerald Riggs Jr., the son of former Atlanta Falcons star Gerald Riggs will fit the Knoxville mold nicely. They like their backs physical and Riggs has the size to do that. Fulmer has the luxury of redshirting Riggs if he desires.
Dontae Stallworth lost his appeal to the NCAA and will not be allowed to return to the team. This loss is made a little more palatable with the return of Kelley Washington. The best chance any incoming WR has is Chris Hannon. Hannon at 6-4 and 180 left his home state of Florida to attend classes at Rocky Top. This to me is a sign of things to come in Gainesville. When one of the top prospects in the state leaves for your arch-rival it makes you wonder about the high school coaches and kids faith in your ability as a collegiate coach.
The pieces are in place for the most part on offense, but the Vols will need to fill some needs on defense. With big John Henderson down a lot this year, the 2nd teamers got some much-needed experience. Fulmer nabbed 8 defensive linemen in this year's class. This will help down the road, but may be a year late in doing so. It is difficult for anyone to adjust to life in the trenches on either side of the ball their 1st year. The nation's best front 7 a year ago has some glaring holes and high school kids won't fill those gaps, but you can rest assured that Fulmer has somebody ready and that the recruits who don't redshirt will provide relief for the starters as this young talent develops.
Overall, the Volunteers did really well. They stole some of the best players in the country out of Florida, North Carolina, and California. This is a nationwide program and their recruiting class shows it. If the running game and D-line develop this could be a strong team over the next 2 seasons.
LSU made an improbable run to the top last season. I know they were picked to win the West, but after the Ole Miss loss - their 3rd conference loss - who gave them a chance to win the West much less the SECCG and the Sugar Bowl? Nobody did, especially me. It was a remarkable run and the LSU folks will cherish it. They need to, because this team lost nearly all of it's stars on both sides of the ball. Gone are Rohan Davey, Josh Reed, Trev Faulk and Ryan Clark. Only Bradie James and LaBrandon Toefield return as key contributors. It will be interesting to see how this squad responds. They were a senior laden team on a 4-year run and it paid off, but now Saban must pick up the pieces and head forward.
LSU returns Michael Clayton who emerged as a budding star as a true freshman. Without Josh Reed to draw double teams, Clayton will need a strong compliment in the slot as well as the other bookend. The Tigers have some other young talent, but it is relatively unproven. You can assume that LaBrandon Toefield will carry the mail for most of the season next year. LSU should be more of a running team while the play of a new QB develops. LSU lost their best WR, QB, top 2 OL from a weak OL and top 2 TEs. On defense, the DL loses all but one starter, #7 Trev Faulk is gone, and both safeties and the most experienced corner are all gone. The Tigers were able to play a lot of their star studded class of 2001 last season. Look for more of that from the 2002 class.
LSU gobbled up nearly all of the best talent in the state outside of Shreveport. The Tigers never, and I mean never, get anyone from Shreveport. The last 2 kids from Shreveport you may remember, Josh and Abram Booty. They left campus in a huff and you can believe they didn't share any good tidings with their fellow alumni of Shreveport's Evangel High.
The best player in the state in my opinion is Justin Vincent from Lake Charles, LA. Vincent could see time as a frosh and with Toefield's propensity for injury you can be sure he'll be needed. He is the future of LSU's running game. Due to transfers and attrition, the RB spot is not as deep as one would hope. LSU would have liked to have done a little better during recruiting, but they had several needs.
Jeff Cook a DB from Josh Reed's hometown of Rayne, LA. should have a chance to play some before season's end. LSU was very weak in the secondary and all quality depth is gone. Erin Damond and Demetrius Hookfin return, but their play was spotty at best.
Saban did make an attempt to address the continuing saga of a poor offensive line by signing two of the south's best in Brian Johnson, Pensacola, FL. and Garret Wibel from Metarie, LA. These two will fit in with the youth movement from last year with big Curtis Wilkerson.
The thing about the Tigers is that they signed the best available. It's just that this year's best wasn't as good as last year's best. If your going to get the Tigers' you need to do it this year, because as this young talent matures LSU will have the makings of a fine squad. They did the best they could recruiting this year, but the talent wasn't there. They also didn't do near as well out of state as the year before. I like the future of this program as long as Saban stays, but it may be a bit painful watching the young Tigers cut their teeth.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.