Brenton Cox (Photo by Chad Simmons)

8 for '18: Vols defensive targets

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Recruiting never stops.

If you're able to read this, you already know that constant fact.

The ink is barely dry on the National Letters of Intent with the 2017 class but Tennessee coaches don't take many days off. Neither will we.

With that in mind, here's a detailed look at the defensive version of "8 for '18" with an analysis of talented players that Tennessee has a solid chance to land.

Brenton Cox

Though Tennessee met some needs in its most recent signing class, it needs to add even more upside coming off the edge of its defensive line. Cox could be that guy. At 6-feet-4, 230 pounds, Cox has almost the exact same dimensions as Vols midyear enrollee Deandre Johnson. Cox told Scout less than a month ago that Tennessee is a school sticking out to him alongside Auburn, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

Cox’s Stonebridge High School is 11 miles east of Jonesboro High School, which produced former Tennessee cornerback Cameron Sutton. Don’t be surprised if Butch Jones puts first-year Vols defensive backs coach Charlton Warren in on the recruitment of Cox as Warren hails from Forest Park, Georgia, which is 21 minutes from Stockbridge.

Justice Dingle

Dingle projects to either be a 4-3 defensive end or a hole-filling middle linebacker. His size (6-feet-2, 230 pounds) is similar to that of Vols signee Will Ignont. Dingle played a pivotal role in helping the Bowling Green (Ky.) High School Purples defeat Pulaski County 70-22 in the KHSAA Class 5A state championship. Coach Kevin Wallace was quite pleased to see Dingle transfer in from Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which churned out Tennessee offensive lineman Jack Jones.

When Tennessee was down a full-time assistant coach in January, offensive quality control coach Walt Wells stepped up and hit the road. Wells, who has family in the Bowling Green area, made it a point to check in on Dingle.

Greg Emerson

Emerson ranks by Scout as the No. 1 junior defender in the Volunteer State. At 6-feet-4, 275 pounds and still learning to use a turn signal, the four-star prospect figures to grow into a defensive tackle not long after he is able to vote.

Tennessee midyear enrollee Trey Smith hails from the same Jackson area as Emerson and the two know one another. The satellite camp the Vols held at University School of Jackson last June included both young talents and gave Emerson an opportunity to be around Smith, Tennessee coaches and former Volunteers such as Ja’Wuan James, Trey Teague and Al Wilson. Emerson also made the 310-mile trip over to Rocky Top last summer in order to learn some of the finer points of defensive line play from VFL and guru Chuck Smith.

Tennessee will have its work cut out for itself if it wants to sign Emerson, who owns offers from programs such as Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and USC.

K.J. Henry

Size- and length-wise, Henry looks quite similar to Tennessee defensive end signee Ryan Thaxton as both are in the 6-foot-5, 230-pound range. Hit play on Henry’s film and it’s apparent that he’s more advanced as a pass rusher, even though he’s a class behind Thaxton. Henry went up against some of the premier offensive tackles in his class at the Under Armour Future 50 event and dominated some blockers to the degree that he was barely touched.

Tennessee has enjoyed success in the Tar Heel State, plucking special talents such as Matthew Butler and Shy Tuttle to build up its defensive front. The staff must get the Scout 100 talent to campus as he’s already tripped to Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Pittsburgh, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Jaycee Horn

It’s hard to find a cornerback that’s willing to read, react and punish a ball carrier. Horn is up to the task. He’s also shown the ability to trust his instincts, break on balls and turn picks into house calls. Butch Jones’ staff finds defensive backs with that skill set quite attractive because if they lack the full toolbox to maintain on the island at cornerback, they can slide inside to nickelback or back to safety where the speed plays.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder hails from the same Alpharetta (Ga.) High School that produced former Volunteers Andrew Butcher and Joshua Dobbs. He tallied 25 pass breakups and seven interceptions as a junior. Offers are still rolling in for Horn as evaluating defensive backs on film is quite difficult and most share similar height/weight — unlike DI linemen prospects who stick out like a sore thumb.

D’Andre Litaker

Litaker suffered a year of absolute tragedy in 2016. Following a transfer from Oakland High to Riverdale High in Murfreesboro, Litaker both torn a knee ligament, costing him his junior season of football, but he also lost his mother Stephanie A. Coleman, 42, in a car crash in mid-November. Litaker is due some good news. If the 6-foot-3, 284-pound defensive tackle is able to rehab that knee and enjoy a full season on the gridiron, he will be one of the talents that recruiting nerds ask about daily as National Signing Day nears. Beyond Rutger Reitmaier in the last cycle, the staff hasn’t shown much interest in the Volunteer State’s No. 1-ranked defensive tackle since signing former four-star prospect Charles Mosley in 2014.

Not many players in the 2018 class have been recruited as hard by Tennessee as Litaker, who’s made the three-hour drive over to Rocky Top countless times since staff members first caught sight of his immense size years ago. The Vols will be hard to beat out even though Litaker has gone from naming Tennessee his leader to taking a more open-minded approach during the cycle.

Bryson Richardson

Richardson is the consummate center fielder that you want as both a ball hawk and the last line of defense. He diagnoses plays and the route of ball at a rapid pace, has the athleticism to make plays upon arrival at the ball carrier and refuses to give up when opponents are on the cusp of creating “splash” plays. As a sign of his ball skills, he doubles as a wide receiver. Defensive backs who have experience as pass catchers tend to have a slight advantage in knowing how an offense may want to attack the secondary.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder is a one-time verbal commitment to the Volunteers. The timing of his decommitment caused some to believe that Warren had the scholarship offer pulled. That’s far from the truth as Richardson decided he wanted to see what all was out there and go through the recruiting process more before coming to a final conclusion. He’s doing exactly that as he’s fresh off a trip with teammates to Lexington to check out Kentucky football. The ship has not sailed on Tennessee landing the safety, who hails from the same Buford (Ga.) High School program that produced Vols defenders Quay Picou and Austin Smith. In 2016, the Wolves finished runner-up to Rome in the GHSA Class AAAAA state championship. They also were Class AAAA runner-up in 2015 and beat St. Pius for the AAAA title in 2014.

Trevor Trout

Trout has the exact combination college coaching staffs covet out of a prep defensive tackle. He’s got enough size to compete early into a college career, he collapses pockets, he commands double teams, he isn’t afraid of physicality, and he moves well for a big man. Once he picks up more tools with which to defeat blockers, Trout could be an all-conference player. In just nine games as a junior at Chaminade (Mo.) High School, Trout registered 60 tackles (38 solo) and four sacks.

Among the toughest pulls for Tennessee in the 2018 cycle, Trout is worth the extra effort. It won’t be simple to reach into the backyard of the Missouri Tigers to get a St. Louis baller, especially on the defensive line, but if the Vols staff can get him to Knoxville and show how football is a different world in the South, they have a chance.

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