Ships Come In As Players Go Out

Word that Andre Taylor and Shannon Benton were transferring from Tennessee to other schools didn¹t come as a bolt from the blue, neither was the news considered bad.

That's not to suggest any Vol fan is saying good riddance, as neither player did anything to embarrass the program or the school. But they both were buried down the depth chart and their prospects for playing time appeared limited.

Benton reportedly plans to transfer to South Florida and he might just have success there. He played well in two spring games at UT, scoring the only touchdown in the 2002 Orange and White exhibition. Benton didn't appear to possess the coverage skills to be a corner in Tennessee's press scheme, plus he got caught up in the same numbers game at safety that has relegated Mark Jones and O.J. Owens to reserve status since 2000.

Taylor, who came in with the Class of 2000, played his high school ball at Central Tech in Toronto, Ontario, and was discovered by Tennessee when his highlight tape arrived two weeks before national signing day that year. The Vol staff liked what they saw on tape and were the first to call Taylor and get him down for a visit.

Although Taylor had good speed for a DT, he wasn't playing against the best competition in Canada and he didn't turn out to be as good as he looked on tape. Taylor seemed to lack both the size and intensity needed to succeed in the SEC, the latter a trait common to Canadian gridiron imports. Additionally, in Canada Taylor played defensive tackle a yard off the ball as opposed to heads up with his face mask pressed against the neutral zone.

Overall it should be a win-win situation for players and program. The players get to pursue better opportunities to play and UT frees up a pair of scholarships.

The interesting thing about Taylor and Benton leaving on the same day is that they each arrived as the last member of their respective classes. Benton waited until signing day to get his offer which only came after Mississippi linebacker prospect Derrick Ducksworth defected to Southern Miss earlier that day. Taylor was signed during a lean year for defensive tackles. In fact, that was the same year that Memphis Trezvant's Albert Means was rated the nation¹s top defensive lineman by at least one respected recruiting service. When you look at it that way, Taylor probably wasn't that much of a reach.

However it's interesting to note that Central Tech head coach Chuck Wakefield was prophetic when he said the following about Taylor's prospects for success at UT.

"The big thing is going to be his adjustment to that level of competition. It's a different game. There's so many things these kids have to go through, especially in Canada, where hockey is the big sport. Although football is getting bigger and bigger and they're getting a lot more attention, but they're going to an atmosphere where it's difficult for them."

The knock on Benton was lack of quickness and coverage skills and those turned out to be the things that really held him back. So, in a very tangible way, it shows coaches are often excellent talent evaluators. They took a chance with their last scholarships during consecutive seasons on two kids who contributed five years collectively and actually last longer than some of their more celebrated classmates.

Class of 2001 receivers Michael Collins and Montrell Jones have both left Tennessee as did running back Keldrick Williams, while Jon Poe came back after two years of junior college and Cory Anderson returned as a walk-on. Robert Boulware, Jomo Fagan, C.J. Fayton, Richie Gandy, Chris Heath, Justin Reed, William Revill and Ovince Saint Preux have failed to make a significant impact on the Hill to this point, although Fayton scored the winning touchdown against Mississippi State last year and was a lone bright spot in the Peach Bowl.

Running backs Jabari Davis and Derrick Tinsley have been productive from that class while linebackers Jason Mitchell and Kevin Simon could be on the precipice of breakout seasons. Cedric Houston has made the biggest difference among the freshmen in the Class of 2001, but the stars turned out to be a trio of junior college players Julian Battle, Aubrayo Franklin and Demetrin Veal, all of whom were drafted by the NFL after two solid seasons.

An interesting aside about Taylor is that while he was the last prospect offered in the Class of 2000, he wasn't the last to sign. That distinction went to fellow Canadian Guillaume Dumont, an offensive lineman from St. Hubert, Quebec. Dumont was signed in the summer of 2000 after a scholarship opened up and he was looking for a place to play. He has yet to play, but he does practice.

If there's a moral to this story maybe it's to shop junior colleges, as long as they're not in Canada.

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