Stone's a steal but ...

Signing an elite in-state prospect is a plus. Signing an elite in-state prospect who plays a position of dire need is a bigger plus. Signing an elite in-state prospect who plays a position of dire need AND originally committed to a major rival ... well, that's cause for celebration.

That's why Tennessee's ability to wrest Nashville offensive lineman James Stone from Alabama at the 11th hour was one of the real keys to the Vols' surprising National Signing Day success story.

Too many of the state's elite prospects have been slipping away in recent years - Lewisburg's Dont'a Hightower and Memphis' Barrett Jones to Alabama, Memphis' Austin Long and Marlon Brown to Georgia, Hendersonville's Golden Tate and Franklin's Alex Bullard to Notre Dame, Memphis' Michael Oher to Ole Miss and Nashville's Patrick Turner to Southern Cal, for instance.

By signing the state's top two prospects - Stone and Ooltewah defensive end Jacques Smith - Tennessee has stemmed the exodus of in-state talent ... at least temporarily.

"Everything starts with your state," Dooley said. "You build it from inside-out, and I think that's the key to recruiting."

The fact Stone plays in the offensive line, where Tennessee must replace four of five 2009 starters, is big. Making it even bigger is the fact the Vols failed to bring in as many offensive and defensive linemen as they would have liked.

"Yeah, we did," Dooley conceded. "When you have two weeks (between his hiring and National Signing Day) it's really hard to say, 'What do we need?' It's more important I think to say, 'What are the best players out there that we can get?'"

Tennessee fought the good fight for some of the country's top line prospects but wound up signing just three defensive linemen and four offensive linemen.

The three defensive linemen are the afore-mentioned Smith (6-3, 235), tackle John Brown (6-2, 285, Northeast Mississippi Community College) and end Corey Miller (6-4, 230, Wellford, S.C.).

The four O-linemen are Stone (6-4, 295, Nashville), Ja'Wuan James (6-6, 290, Suwanee, Ga.), Zach Fulton (6-5, 315, Homewood, Ill.) and Marques Pair (6-6, 275, Sumpter, S.C.).

Being seriously depleted in both lines, the Vols had hoped to sign at least a couple more linemen for each side of the ball. The failure to do so means linemen will continue to be recruiting priority No. 1.

"Certainly," Dooley said, "there's no question that next year's class had better be heavy with some linemen."

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