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Vols must land more top recruits or risk falling behind in SEC race

Vols must land more top recruits or risk falling behind in SEC race
Vols must land more top recruits or risk falling behind in SEC race | Tennessee football, national signing day, Phil Fulmer, Vols, UT, Big Orange Report
Around the far turn
Tennessee football fans, national signing day is only a couple of weeks away. If Phil Fulmer ever had a “closing kick” held in reserve for the closing days of a talent round-up, then he desperately needs to hit the ground running over the next 10 days. Two highly-regarded national recruiting services have Tennessee ranked in the mid-40s nationally and near the bottom of the SEC when comparing verbal commitments of other schools. If the new crop of Volunteers in any way resembles the group signed in February of 2006, then there will be big trouble brewing for this football program in 2009 and beyond.
Some will argue that the coaching turnover has adversely affected recruiting. Not so fast, this year’s efforts have lagged behind many of the top schools in the country from the very outset. Fulmer secured very few early commits in the last summer and early fall. Then the team suffered humiliating beat downs on national television at the hands of California, Florida and Alabama. These performances are simply not the kind of showcases that attract the top talent in America.
After that, the Vols were not even on the tube nationally much more, a bad sign indeed when future collegiate players are tuning in to watch the schools they are most interested in attending. Four or five pay-per-views doesn’t exactly bolster the football program’s image and visibility.
At least two of the new offensive coaches enjoy reputations as being top-flight recruiters. The hope now must be that these recruiters, along with Fulmer and new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, can convince a few kids to either pick UT on signing day or renege on a verbal commitment to another school and ink scholarships with the Big Orange. It’s not over till the fat lady sings, but right now she is tuning her pipes backstage in preparation for the big show on signing day.
What UT needs
Can you say defensive linemen, because Tennessee must add defensive tackles and ends this year? The Vols already have verbals from at least two offensive linemen, and with everybody back next season off a very good blocking front from this year, that side of the ball is not a high priority.
Austin Johnson, an outstanding middle linebacker prospect, is already enrolled in school. Still, the squad could certainly use at least two more big-time prospects at linebacker. Offensively, a couple of quality running backs would be terrific and UT is still recruiting at least two or three quarterbacks in hopes of getting at least one big-time prospect at that position.
One thing is for sure, the next two weeks will have a significant impact on this football program at the beginning of the next decade. It’s time to fish or cut bait, shape up or ship out.
Pearl vision
Bruce Pearl’s high-flying Volunteer basketball team should be nesting in the nation’s top five as you read this piece. Tennessee turned back a determined upset bid by Ohio State on Saturday, avoiding the disaster that befell both North Carolina and UCLA on their respective home floors. The Vols were out of sync, but still managed to defeat the Buckeyes for the very first time in school history. Ohio State came into the contest enjoying a perfect 4-0 record against the guys in orange and white.
Returning to the floor soon will be rugged low post player Duke Crews. The sophomore has been sidelined for over a month with a heart condition, but was cleared to return to practice last week by the UT medical staff. Crews should bolster the inside presence, an area where the Vols have been manhandled at times, specifically in the Ole Miss and Ohio State encounters.
Potential problems
Tennessee, as a team, is struggling at the foul line. The Volunteers could have won going away against Ohio State, but sank only 8-of-17 shots at the charity stripe.
It does not take a math major to determine that is less than 50 percent. On the year, the Big Orange has netted 271-of-415 freebies. That figures to just over 65 percent. UT opponents are clicking on 70 percent of their free tosses and in a close game; this could be a huge factor.
The second issue that must be addressed is the play in the low post. Wayne Chism had a simply marvelous game against Vanderbilt, but was very ordinary in the two contests sandwiched around the victory over the Commodores. Big, physical post players are giving Tennessee problems and certainly that is something that Pearl wants to address immediately.
Big bodied freshman Brian Williams continues to develop and he helped hold off the Buckeyes last Saturday. Obviously the round ball staff hopes that Williams will continue to improve and be a force in the middle by tournament time.