"I like this class"

Shortly after locking up a 22-man signing group he termed "a very solid class," Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer conceded that Vol recruiters "fought through some ups and downs" along the way.

Addressing the media on National Signing Day, the head man said he and his staff had to recruit from "a different position" because of what he called "a sub-par season." In addition to losing 6 of 11 games during the 2005 season, the Vols lost three offensive assistants at season's end.

Although he routinely pointed to staff continuity as a positive in years past, Fulmer said the staff shakeups were not too disruptive on the recruiting trail. The problems UT encountered in recent weeks, he said, were related to "mostly the record."

Most of Fulmer's signing classes have ranked in the top 10 nationally. This one barely sneaked into the top 25. The coach conceded that he and his aides "struggled some early" but "gained good momentum" as the recruiting process continued.

"I like this class," he said, adding that he expects that several of the newcomers "can help us quickly."

Foremost among these is probably Walter Fisher, a 6-3, 265-pounder from Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College. Fisher will bid for playing time at defensive end, where the Vols must replace 2005 starters Parys Haralson and Jason Hall. Fulmer called Fisher a player who "looks like he can help us immediately. He's a youngster we expect a lot out of."

Another signee who could get on the field early is 6-3, 325-pound Chattanooga product Jacques McClendon. Fulmer said the hefty offensive lineman has "unlimited potential to be a great player. He could contribute very, very early."

The coach added that tight end signees Lee Smith (Powell, Tenn.) and Luke Stocker (Berea, Ky.) are "athletic enough to make an impact quickly."

In addition to the two tight ends, UT signed one running back (Dustin Lindsey), one quarterback (Nick Stephens), four offensive linemen and three receiver prospects. Defensive signees include one secondary player (junior college transferJustin Garrett), two defensive tackles, three defensive ends and three linebackers.

The Vols also signed two kickers, although one of them (Chad Cunningham) probably will not enroll until January of 2007.

Fulmer said the areas of greatest recruiting success were the offensive and defensive lines. The one area in which he would like to have done better was defensive back. Still, he said he expects Garrett to "step up and help immediately."

Two guys who could turn out to be better than their prep accolades suggest are receiver Brent Vinson and linebacker Dorian Davis. Fulmer noted that Vinson "is one of the most dynamic guys with the ball in his hands I've seen in a long time," and that Davis "can really run … might be the sleeper of this class."

Fulmer said five signees are honor students but that "two or three" more have some academic issues that could force them to take a junior college detour before enrolling at UT.

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