Do Vols Have Hole Cards?

‘Twas the night before national signing day and all around Vol Nation, there's an air of apprehension mixed with anticipation, waiting for Coach Lane Kiffin to bring in the class of 2009, will it be substandard or will it be sublime?

In a a climate of change Tennessee finds itself in a most unusual position with fewer commitments now than they had when Lane Kiffin took the job two months ago. Of course there has been some addition by subtraction for prospects and commitments otherwise declared unfit for his system, while others changed their minds about coming to UT in light of the coaching change.

Such fallout after a transformative change is not unusual, but it doesn't alter the fact the Vols need a significant infusion of talent at wide receiver, running back, tight end and along the offensive line.

Adding a couple of rangy pass catchers with speed is the most pressing need and All-American Marlon Brown heads the list of most wanted prospects. Others meeting those credentials the Vols are still believed to be in play for include: Kendall Kelly and Ashlon Jeffrey, while they have commitments from Zach Rogers and James Green. Addditionally,UT is believed to still be in contention for No. 6 wide receiver Nu'Kess Richardson, 5-9, 155, who visited Knoxville last week, but has been committed to Florida since last May. He could be having legitimate second thoughts or he could be creating drama for his announcement on Wednesday.

An ongoing obstacle in attracting premiere receivers is the shaky state of UT's quarterback stable following a season during which they all struggled in an offense they were running for the first time. KIffin came onboard a little late to get into the hunt for an elite high school signal caller, and any promise to do so next year isn't appealing to topflight prospects with pro ambitions. It is a unique challenge for sure. Ironically the same misfortune that afflicted the Vols last season and opened the door for Kiffin to come to Knoxville is now laid at his door on the recruiting trail.

The problem became more complex when No. 9 running back prospect David Oku, who committed to Tennessee in October, has now virtually eliminated the Vols, ranking both Syracuse and Auburn ahead of UT. Stan Drayton is recruiting Oku for Syracuse, Trooper Taylor is recruiting him for Auburn.

The Vols lost the commitment of No. 21 running back Jarvis Giles to South Carolina after the coaching change. The Vols don't appear to be in contention for any RB prospect approximating replacement value. Eddie Lacy who visited UT last weekend, is ranked No. 24 but needs to make substantial academic progress to qualify. Neither the Vols nor the Tide are believed to have extended an offer to Lacy, but the loss of Oku could prompt UT to take a chance. They're still technically alive with No. 1 running back Bryce Brown and No. 2 Trent Richardson, but those appear to be little more than pipe dreams.

One intriguing running back prospect the Vols are still contending for is Kendrick Hardy of Monticello, Miss., who committed to Southern Miss two weeks ago but is now having second thoughts. Hardy, 6-1, 215, is a power back with good acceleration. As a senior he carried the ball 177 times for 1,762 yards and 19 touchdowns. His best season came in 2007 when he had 175 carries for 2,103 yards and 29 touchdowns. The U.S. Army All-American is ranked No. 46 at his position by His brother Wayne Hardy is a starting linebacker for Southern Miss.

It may be weeks before No. 3 tight end Orson Charles makes a selection, but the Vols are a contender along with Georgia, Florida State, Florida and USC, where he visits this weekend.

On the O-line front, Tennessee is in dire danger of losing Aubrey Phillips of Olive Branch, MIss., to Auburn, and Marcus Hall committed to Ohio State as he was de-boarding the plane from his official visit to Tennessee. However the Vols are still viable competitors for Peter White, Morgan Moses and they're fringe contenders for Brandon Moore, who will likely choose either Alabama or Florida.

On the other side of the football, the Vols already have a solid class are they're believed players for No. 8 safety, Darren Myles, No. 7 defensive end Sam Montgomery, No. 23 tackle Terrence Coleman, No. 13 linebacker Will Ferrell, No. 30 strong-side linebacker Greg King of Memphis Melrose, and No. 31 weak-side linebacker Johnny Evans.

Finally rumors continue to swirl indicating the Vols will land No. 18 corner Marsalis Teague, of Henry County HIgh School in Paris. The all-purpose threat is one of the top three prospects in Tennessee and a Florida commitment. His future could be on offense.

With so many unanswered questions going into national signing day, Vol fans may have to count sheep in order to fall asleep.

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