Thus, it was with pardonable pride that Tennessee head man Butch Jones extolled the virtues of Memphis native Drew Richmond during Wednesday afternoon’s National Signing Day news conference. In addition to landing a 6-foot-5, 310-pounder rated a Scout four-star recruit, Tennessee pulled away a player who had been committed to SEC rival Ole Miss for several months.
“It completed the class,” Jones said. “We get back to improving our overall athleticism in the offensive front, and Drew obviously does that. He’s a left tackle. He’s very, very athletic. When you watch film, one of the big things – along with toughness – is balance. When you watch Drew Richmond on video, he was never on the ground. He could always recover. I’m excited because he’s going to add to the offensive line and was a great way to finish the recruiting class off…. He brings everything that we’re looking for in an offensive lineman.”
Jones said Tennessee’s staff did not know for sure Richmond was going to sign with the Vols as of Tuesday night.
“We did not,” the coach said. “There were a lot of phone calls, a lot of conversations. Last night we knew we had a great opportunity but he wanted to make me work right to the 10 minutes before he signed. He called me, thanking me, and said, ‘Will you still love me if I don’t come to the University of Tennessee?’ I told him love was conditional on some things.”
Jones believes Tennessee’s latest signing class represents a significant upgrade in the trenches.
“I don’t think it was any secret that we needed to address some program issues in our offensive and defensive lines,” he said. “We were able to do that – signing five offensive linemen and six defensive linemen. That’ll add to the overall depth and competitive aspect at those positions.”
Although Tennessee’s offensive line was a disaster area last fall due to depth and injury issues, Jones seemed just as happy about the upgrade this signing class provides in the defensive line.
“The thing that we’ve been missing from our overall defense is an edge presence in terms of depth and size up front,” the coach said. “If you look at the big bodies in this recruiting class … we wanted length. Length isn’t always measured in height but in wing span, so we wanted to make sure we had that addressed.
“Kyle Phillips (Nashville) addresses that. Darrell Taylor (Waverly, Virginia) addresses that. Then you look at our size inside with Shy Tuttle (Midway, N.C.) and Kahlil McKenzie (Walnut Creek, California), those two big defensive tackles. Then you have the quickness from Quay (Picou). He’ll be a great complement to those other two individuals. And Andrew Butcher (Alpharetta, Georgia) is an individual who plays with a high motor.”
Phillips is 6-feet-4 and 250 pounds, Taylor 6-feet-4 and 228, Tuttle 6-feet-3 and 315, McKenzie 6-feet-3 and 327. Picou is a 6-foot-1, 263-pounder with exceptional mobility. Butcher is a 6-foot-2, 245-pounder whose energy level may remind Big Orange fans of ex-Vol Will Overstreet.
Jones also expressed pleasure that Tennessee signed what he called “the top three prospects in the state,” referring to Richmond, quarterback Jauan Jennings (Murfreesboro) and defensive end Kyle Phillips (Nashville). The Vols signed players from nine other states, the coach noted, adding: “We were able to put a recruiting footprint in some areas we weren’t able to get in the previous couple of years.”
The coach mentioned several times that this is Tennessee’s second top-five recruiting class in a row but urged fans to not buy into the hype too much and expect too much too soon.
“Things don’t get changed overnight,” he said. “We’re going through a process but I thought today was a great, great step in the right direction.”
Although Tennessee started a bunch of freshmen in 2014 who will be back three more seasons, Jones believes the 2015 freshmen will get plenty of opportunities to make major impact, as well.
“Across the board we’re still not where we need to be from a depth standpoint,” he said. “We want every individual in this recruiting class to have the mentality that they’re coming in and competing for jobs right away … completing for playing time. Then we’ll see how they develop.”
QUICK KICKS: Jones said freshman defensive tackle Michael Sawyers has been dismissed from the team. Freshman receivers Vic Wharton and Ryan Jenkins have been granted permission by the coach to “pursue other options.” … Freshman running back Jalen Hurd underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder but should be full-go by spring practice…. Jones said signing three quarterbacks in one class can present problems but not this time, noting that “Not one individual asked me about the other quarterbacks we were recruiting.” … Jones said the fact Tennessee has just one scholarship QB, rising junior Joshua Dobbs, was the key to getting three signed in this class…. Although the departure of Nathan Peterman helped create a QB shortage, Jones said he is “very excited” for the ex-Vol, who has announced plans to transfer to Pittsburgh…. Jones said his roster remains “a little behind” in terms of depth at linebacker and wide receiver…. Asked if his recruiting is finished or he might add some “blue shirts” in the fall, Jones said he could not comment specifically but that “We may have some additions. We’re always recruiting.”… Jones admitted that being down to three scholarship running backs (holdover Jalen Hurd, plus signees Alvin Kamara and John Kelly) is “a big concern.” The coach went on to note that defensive backs Evan Berry and Malik Foreman can play running back and that “having a quarterback who can run helps” in that regard.