Don't Bet Against Fulmer

As time goes by and more high profile prospects go by the way concerns rise in a Big Orange Nation that is accustomed to focusing on the final pieces to the signing class puzzle falling into place by this point in the process.

Clearly the Vols staff turnover put them at a decisive disadvantage and even though it is now fully assembled with some talented recruiters it will be difficult to close ground this late in the Second Season.

The reason is simple: successful recruiting is predicated upon building strong relationships and such bonds take time to established. Prospects with premium options at their disposal are going where they're most comfortable. That usually translates to the coaching staff with which they're most familiar.

So while that's a realistic, albeit simplistic, summary of what they're up against, it's by no means the end of the story. Now that Tennessee has what appears to an vibrant offensive staff in place that can answer questions about UT's system and articulate a vision of the role they see for prospects in that offense there's a decent chance of picking up quality talent for skill positions.

However the greater need, especially now that Arian Foster has announced he is returning to the fold, is the offensive line. And since Greg Adkins is the only coach returning on offense and Phillip Fulmer is a former O-line coach and player, the Vols should hold their own in this area.

Likewise since the defensive staff returns intact the Vols have a good chance to make significant headway on several four-star line prospects as well as some exciting talent at linebacker and in the secondary.

The biggest factor in Tennessee's favor is the prowess of Coach Fulmer in the arena of the living room. He is as cunning in recruiting as Steve Spurrier is in play-calling and he's always capable of pulling a big surprise or two. With his staff depleted Fulmer has been on the front lines, a perpetual reminder of his longevity and the program's stability.

You can bet there are at least a couple of very good out-of-state prospects who know they are going to become Volunteers but haven't gone public with a commitment in order to avoid the backlash of pressure that would result from such an announcement. At this stage controlling when commitments are made can simultaneously create momentum and limit fallout.

The Volunteers are going to win some of these recruiting battles because they have more scholarships to offer. As other schools expend their rapidly diminishing allotment UT is in position to pick up good prospects without beating home-state favorites. In the process you add talent that has something to prove and extra motivation succeed.

If the Vols do rally and close with a rush it wouldn't be the first time. The most memorable was in 2003 when UT earned signing day commitments from Eric Young, Robert Meachem, Turk McBride, Brett Smith and Tony McDaniel. Going into that day the Vols weren't favored to sign any of those highly sought athletes.

Last season the Vols gained late commitments from five-star talent Ben Martin, four-star WR Ahmad Paige and No. 10 ranked running back Lennon Creer who announced for UT on Feb. 1. The acquisition of Martin surprised the most plugged in scouting analysts who felt it was a battle between Florida and Ohio State two teams that had played for the national title only days before he pledged to Tennessee.

Fulmer has received his share of criticism from fans and scribes for UT's stunning setbacks last season against Cal, Florida and Alabama, but he also proved his resiliency with a strong finish which included an SEC East Division title and an Outback Bowl victory. In light of those earlier losses this was no small achievement.

No one of rational mind has ever questioned Fulmer's credentials as a recruiter. He is energetic, driven and perhaps the most relentless competitor in the business. Any concerns about this recruiting campaign should be at least partially allayed by his sterling track record in this vital department.

You don't become dean of SEC head coaches without staying power and history has shown that Phillip Fulmer is usually in much better shape than he appears.

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