Will Vols be Caught in Numbers Crunch?

With the clock ticking down to national signing day, prospects look bright for Tennessee in terms of meeting the most pressing needs while still assembling what is clearly one of the best classes in the country.

Now the drama is in the numbers and the question is whether UT has enough scholarships to accommodate the remaining all-Americans wishing to don the orange? Currently Tennessee has 16 commitments and remain high on the list of numerous blue chippers.

Among the prime-time talent the Vols have a good chance of signing are Michael Oher and Chris Scott who check in at No. 5 and No. 10, respectively, among the nation's top offensive linemen. Tennessee is also a contender for No. 4 O-lineman Dace Richardson.

In the secondary the Vols are in a good position for No. 1 rated safety Kenneth Phillips who comes into his Jan. 17 visit with Tennessee and Miami as co-favorites. UT is a serious player for No. 6 safety Adam Myers-White as well as No. 6 cornerback Bryan Evans.

Other defensive stars UT is thought to lead on are No. 15 linebacker Rico McCoy (featured in this issue) and No. 6 defensive end Raymond Henderson. The Vols may also lead on No. 14 cornerback Montario Hardesty, who is also a strong candidate to play running back, and No. 2 linebacker Eugene Hayes, who visits Knoxville on Jan. 14.

Among the offensive stars hanging in the balance are No. 5 running back Toney Baker and No. 3 wide receiver Patrick Turner. That's an additional 12 players and the Vols would have a difficult time passing on any of them. And that doesn't even take into account other top flight athletes with official visits to Knoxville set this weekend like No. 14 defensive end Kyle Newell, No. 22 tight end Brian Ellis and No. 38 defensive end Barry Turner.

UT also has visits scheduled from No. 3 defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois, a teammate of Phillips' at Coral City High School in Miami, No. 3 defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger and No. 20 wide receiver Slick Shelly. Additionally, the Vols are slated to entertain No. 44 defensive tackle Brandon Perry, who came into his senior season a top 10 prospect at his position before experiencing a disappointing campaign.

The Vols remain in the orbit of such notable prospects as No. 20 defensive tackle Kyle Moore, No. 24 defensive tackle Valdimir Richards.

If Tennessee landed half of the above standouts it would be pushing the numbers envelop for total scholarships.

By Saturday, Tennessee will know on Raymond Henderson, Rico McCoy, Adam Meyers-White and perhaps Chris Scott. If I were an oddsmaker I'd make the Vols favorites for each of those although Scott has become more problematical since his Florida visit. Oher could also declare for the Vols this week in San Antonio although he has indicated it may be next week before he announces.

UT has offered Montario Hardesty and stands a good chance to gain a commitment from him this weekend. Turner could well follow suit as will offensive lineman Dan Williams. If the Vols took all of those the total would be up to 24, before Patrick Turner, Phillips, Granger, Jean-Francois, Shelly, Hayes or Perry have even decided.

With Tennessee's decision to offer Hardesty, it's likely the coaching staff doesn't feel good about its chances with either Toney Baker or Jonathan Stewart. The question is: if Baker or Stewart should unexpectedly decide on the Vols after this weekend would there still be a scholarship available?

In the recent past UT has done very well landing its share of premier prospects who take late visits to Knoxville. If that trend holds this season, the Vols will find themselves with more prospects than scholarships.

There's always a chance that one or two of their commitments could change their minds. Richard Kemp is being pursued hard by Arkansas and rumors persist that he may be wavering. UT could also have a couple of sign-and-place candidates.

As things stand Tennessee will end up with an outstanding Class of 2005. The only thing that could make it better is more scholarships.

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