Linebackers lost

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Given that National Signing Day resembles a giant soap opera, perhaps the 2012 edition should be dubbed "As The Recruiting World Turns."

Slick-talking coaches all across America "turned" prospects committed to other schools at the last minute. Tennessee was victimized twice in the past week, losing linebacker Dalton Santos to Texas and losing linebacker Otha Peters to Arkansas.

Santos' decision is based on simple geography. He grew up in Van, Texas, 199 miles from the University of Texas campus in Austin. Had he honored his commitment to Tennessee, his family would've faced a 710-mile trek to Knoxville to see him play.

Peters' defection is not about distance. He'll be almost as far from his Covington, La., home playing in Fayetteville, Arkansas (452 miles) as he would be playing in Knoxville (521 miles). Reportedly, Razorbacks head man Bobby Petrino turned him by convincing him the Big Orange program is unstable. That's pretty rich coming from Petrino, who left a thriving program at the University of Louisville to take over the Atlanta Falcons in January of 2007, then bolted for Arkansas 11 months later while the Falcons' season was still in progress ... informing the players of his resignation via notes left in their lockers.

Irony aside, Derek Dooley was all smiles as he noted during his Signing Day news conference that the two linebacker defections did not catch the Vol staff off guard.

"Neither of 'em surprised us," Tennessee's head man said. "Even back in September we knew those two guys ... it was going to be a tough hoe to close 'em out. They were far away and never shut it (visiting other schools) down. They were going to always listen to other schools and go on trips, and when that's happening experience tells you there's a good chance you're not going to get 'em at the end."

Even knowing Tennessee's hold on Santos and Peters was tenuous, Dooley had no fall-back plan due to the new 25-man signing limit.

"Because of that 25 rule, you couldn't stockpile more at that position, knowing you were going to lose 'em, because there was a chance you wouldn't," Dooley said. "With (the two defections) happening so late, that's what makes it challenging. Had the 25 rule not been in place, we might have been able to hedge that bet a little better."

Previously, a coach could make a borderline prospect a contingency plan by telling him: "We're still evaluating you but there's a good chance we'll offer you a scholarship if you'll wait closer to Signing Day." Many prospects were willing to be strung along in this way, hoping their patience would result in a scholarship to a higher-profile program.

Now that the 25-signee limit is in effect, however, the value of each scholarship has skyrocketed — not only for the coach giving one but for the player receiving one. Convincing today's player to wait on a provisional offer from School A when he already has confirmed offers from Schools B, C and D is a challenging task.

"It's hard," Dooley said. "You want to be honest with 'em. You don't want to misrepresent. You have to tell 'em: 'Look, I can't send you an NLI (national letter of intent) right now but, if another guy doesn't come, I'll send you one.'"

The message to the prospect is obvious: "Boy, you really want me, don't you, Coach?" Dooley quipped.

Given the choice between a provisional scholarship and an unconditional scholarship, the sensible prospect has to take the latter.

"He doesn't have to," Dooley said, "but what would you tell your son to do?"

Because of the two late defections, Tennessee has 21 players in its 2012 signing class ... leaving the Vols with four open scholarships. Acknowledging that there are "some" worthwhile prospects still unsigned, Dooley suggested that he may yet find replacements for Santos and/or Peters, noting: "There still will be some possibilities to help us on that end."

One of these is Kenneth Bynum, 6-foot-1, 221-pound linebacker from Raines High School in Jacksonville, Fla. He was a first-team Class 4A all-state selection who committed to the University of Cincinnati last month but did not sign with the Bearcats today.

Bynum, who reportedly will visit Tennessee this week, posted on his Twitter account late Tuesday night, "I had a good long talk with my boy Nathan Peterman." Peterman, another native of the Jacksonville area, is a Vol quarterback signee who already is attending classes at UT.

Stay tuned. "As The Recruiting World Turns" isn't finished just yet.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley

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