Ideally, he addresses a need in the process. Otherwise, it's easy to end up with a load of athletes that possess no acuity or instincts for football. Tennessee usually has a sizable group of such "athletes." However that's less due to poor evaluation than minimum qualification. Speed is a prerequisite to compete in the SEC, and it's better to fail on the side of fast.
The importance of meeting needs is obvious and often emphasized by head coaches when appraising a signing class, but adding prospects for positions of need is not the same as meeting a need. In order to do that you have to add a player who can equal or exceed the production of the individual he will one day replace. The immediate replacement should already be on the team with quality game experience.
When a head coach meets that objective he will sign classes that reach an established standard. In turn that will be reflected by maintaining a high level of performance on the field. Casualties from academics, attrition and injuries will cause some fluctuation, but generally speaking if you recruit well and coach well the results will manifest in the record.
The key is consistency, or more precisely continuity. You've got established starters, quality reserves and incoming freshmen with the potential to become both. That's why the impact of one substandard class at any position can create problems.
It's no secret Tennessee signed a problematical class in 2006 which followed the losing season of 2005. The class was ranked No. 25 nationally by Scout.com and came between the No. 1 Class of 2005 and the No. 4 Class of 2006. You can't sign a top 25 class without netting some serious talent but the overall lack of depth is being felt this year. And another substandard signing Class of 2008 would hit particularly hard come the fall of 2009 when the sophomore and senior classes will need to make substantial contributions in the absence of the mostly departed Class of 2005.
Let's take a little closer look at the 2005 class, appraise its progress and project its potential.
• Jacques McClendon, of Chattanooga, lived up to his All- American billing by earning a couple of starts as a true freshman before stepping in for an injured Eric Young to keep the Vols O-line viable this fall. He was UT's highest rated prospect in the Class of 2006. Recovered a fumble near the end of regulation play for a first down in Tennessee's tying drive against South Carolina. Should contend for All-SEC honors as a junior. A blue collar throwback blocker with a nasty disposition and the ability to dominate.
• Quintin Hancock is probably the biggest surprise from the ‘06 class. Ranked No. 69 among the nation's wide receivers that year and rated three stars, he lettered as a true freshman and cracked the wide receiver rotation this year. Was a key to UT's critical victory over Kentucky, catching two passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns. Will be hard pressed to become a regular with UT returning all its starters but should remain a solid contributor.
• Daniel Lincoln stepped into the starting role as a redshirt freshman and hit 21 of 28 field goals for Tennessee. With three more seasons ahead of him, Lincoln will figure prominently in the Vols kicking game and the school record book. Maybe the SEC's top place kicker, he displayed poise under pressure and excellent range. Lincoln has sound technique and a compact stroke that is easy to repeat and correct. Although kickers can easily regress, he projects as an potential All-American.
ON THE RISE:
• Ramone Johnson will push for significant playing time next fall in the offensive line. Has good raw talent but needed better technique out of high school.
• Chad Cunningham, is a scholarship kicker/punter who got a chance to kickoff some this season and showed a very strong leg. Projects as Britton Colquitt's replacement. A quarterback in high school he poses a threat in punt formation.
• Walter Fisher came in as a JC defensive end with three seasons to play. Injuries slowed his progress last year and he was shifted to defensive tackle. He broke into the tackle rotation this year, but doesn't appear to be the difference maker many imagined when he signed with UT.
• LaMarcus Thompson, is another reserve linebacker that saw duty on special teams.
• Luke Stocker pull down some reps this year after injuries hit the tight end corps. He has size and can run. His long range outlook is still hazy.
• We'll spare you the gruesome details but signees Justin Garrett, Stephaun Raines and Dustin Lindsey never made qualified for UT. Brent Vinson did, but not before spending a year in prep school and singing with the Vols again in 2007. Lee Smith and Blake Garretson were dismissed from the team before ever playing a down.
THE SUSPECTS: The Vols took a hit on both sides of the line in this class. However, in fairness, it's more difficult to impact the either the D-line or O-Line as a freshman or sophomore. With that qualifier out of the way, Tennessee's suspects include: Darrius Myers, Cody Pope, Jarred Shaw, Chase Nelson and Victor Thomas, who have yet to make a splash in the trenches. The only other suspect from ‘06 is quarterback Nick Stephens who has a strong arm and was the No. 3 signal caller in 2007. With Jonathan Crompton and B. J. Coleman on hand he may not improve his standing next fall.