Feb. 5, 2014
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- National Signing Day at the University of Tennessee had a bit of a NFL Draft Day feel as Butch Jones met the media for his press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
The feel wasn't just due to the quality of student-athlete that made a formal pledge to attend Tennessee on Wednesday. It was also the way Jones talked about the class meeting needs. And for the 14 Volunteers that began classes in January, their first introduction to the media involved an NFL Draft staple: The custom jersey presentation.
Another NFL concept, the emphasis on size and speed, was a focus of the Vols' recruiting effort for the signing class of 2014.
"Make no mistake about it, a few months ago I sat up here and told you in order for us to move this program forward, we needed to create depth, we needed to create competition and we needed to improve our overall team speed, our size, our quickness, our explosiveness," Jones said. "I believe we were able to do that."
Two of the areas that needed the most attention in size and speed, not to mention sheer numbers, were defensive line and running back.
"I realized it right off the get go," Jones said of recruiting defensive linemen. "The one thing we needed to improve was size and big bodies, and we also like individuals who are multifaceted, which means they can either play offensive line or defensive line. We know that there is a shortage of big bodies in our football program right now. That was a point of emphasis. To be able to attract the type of individuals that we were able to, it is very pleasing, but now it is up to us to develop them."
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling is looking forward to that challenge of developing this class of Volunteers, but said he was excited about the opportunity his young players would have to make and impact right away.
"We really looked for mature, young men that could come in and contribute a little bit earlier rather than developmental, young men that you say that you spend two years bringing him along," Stripling said. "You look at Derek Barnett, Dewayne Hendrix those are the physical young men that can hopefully get involved."
Tennessee brought in eight newcomers that are expected to begin their careers on the defensive line. Stripling said the large need was both a help and a hindrance on the recruiting trail. He had plenty of playing time to sell, but occasionally had to deal with the questions of a potentially crowded freshman class. In the end, the players that will be a part of Team 118 and beyond wanted to be a part of the competition.
"I think it would be great competition," he said of the selling point for his new linemen. "Last year there was a little of separation, you had the six seniors that were doing the majority of the playing then everybody else. Now I think it is a good blend in the room some older more mature guys and fresh young guys. So it is going to be good competition."
At running back, Jones introduced Jalen Hurd as one of the 14 mid-term enrolees and added that the competition would be further boosted by the two backs that became Vols on Wednesday.
"That was an area of need," Jones said about the Tennessee backfield. "It is good to bring in three individuals like Jalen, Treyvon Paulk, and Derrell Scott. This is a physical league, and you need to play a number of running backs. To be able to bring those three individuals, it brings competition and depth amongst that group, which was obviously critical."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, like Jones, is excited about the size and speed added at running back.
"One of our goals was to add depth, competition, size and speed, and we were able to do that, obviously, Bajakian said. "Jalen Hurd comes in at 6'3, 220-plus pounds. He's a big back who has the agility and skill of a smaller back. Treyvon Paulk is 5'8, 195 pounds. He may be a little bit on the shorter side but he plays like a bigger back. He's strong, well built, plays with leverage, can break tackles and can make you miss. Then Darrell Scott is a good compliment to both of those guys, somewhere in between at a 180 pound running back and an all-state performer in the state of North Carolina and very skilled."
Adding the talent was also a credit to the Tennessee fans that packed Neyland Stadium throughout the 2013, which gave this group a look into the power and passion of Vol Nation.
"Our fans are the best in the country and they do such a great job of creating a lot of positive energy and a lot of pride that just reinforces the importance and magnitude of Tennessee football," Jones said. "It is not just in the great state of Tennessee, but nationwide. Every single individual in our signing class was present for game day atmosphere, they were able to take in and feel that positive energy by our fans and our fan base."