Sawyers brings 'big advantage' to Vols

InsideTennessee provides subscribers with the most complete Tennessee Vols coverage. Scroll down to read why coaches think signee Michael Sawyers will have an immediate impact.

Steve Stripling remembers scanning the room during his first position meeting at Tennessee.

Something seemed odd.

"It just felt empty," the Vols' defensive line coach recalls.

That's because it was.

It didn't take much digging for Stripling and the rest of Tennessee's staff to identify defensive line as a position of need as they worked to assemble their first full recruiting class.

With National Signing Day over, the mission to mend a depleted front four was largely accomplished. The Vols inked eight defensive linemen in the 2014 class, including three four-stars.

But perhaps the biggest and most anticipated signature of the day came from homegrown three-star Michael Sawyers.

Sawyers, a one-time Vanderbilt commit until the departure of James Franklin to Penn State, tripped to Knoxville for a late official visit and signed with the Vols over finalist Ole Miss in what was really the only drama during an unusually mellow signing day.

"When I got that call at midnight, I didn't go back to sleep since then," Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said of the moment he learned Sawyers decided to be a Vol. "But that was a great pickup for our defensive line. We needed it."

Indeed, the Vols "needed" lots defensive line help. But the staff didn't just pass out scholarship offers like fliers on a busy street corner.

There was a strict list of criteria.

As Stripling put it, the Vols can't afford to "miss" on a defensive line prospect. "We didn't want guys who had to develop and be more of a project," Stripling told InsideTennessee. "We didn't want a guy who you had to bring along for two years."

That's what has both Stripling and Jones so giddy about Sawyers.

He can play immediately.

Jones said Monday that Sawyers would compete for playing time at the one-technique position, which is the gap between the guard and center. And Stripling believes Sawyers has a legitimate shot at cracking the two-deep.

"He has great hands, great feet," Stripling told IT. "He has a defensive mindset which we talk about so to be able to add an individual of his stature, of his caliber."

But even if he falls short of his early playing time expectations, Stripling said Sawyers still brings an immediate value to his meeting room.

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That room Stripling remembers scanning during his first day at Tennessee featured 11 players, six of which were seniors.

Stripling obviously saw the lack of depth, but he also detected that there would be a lack of competition – something perhaps even worse.

"Last year, there was a little separation, you know," Stripling said. "There were the six seniors that were going to get the majority of the playing time and everybody else. Every one new the starters from Day 1."

With the addition of Sawyers and others in the 2014 class, Stripling is more than excited to witness an increased competition level at defensive line and hopes it results in progress during summer camp.

"I think we'll have a very good blend," Stripling said. "Everything is up for grabs."

Stripling believes Sawyers had a promising chance to catch some of that free-falling playing time because of what he tabbed an "added bonus."

Sawyers is a product of Ensworth (Tenn.) High School, arguably the state's top program. There, Sawyers won state titles all four years.

Stripling said Sawyers' high school success would serve as a "big advantage" once he arrives on campus in the summer.

"When you go in that school you just feel it, honestly. I think that's great to bring into a (meeting) room," Stripling told IT. "He's a young man that expects to win and knows how to work to win. We look for that, too. We look for a good program where young men know how to work right when they come in and he does. That will translate into big things here at Tennessee, I'm sure of it."

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