- Advertisement -

Tennessee Football needs more elite OL to compete with the best of the SEC in recruiting

The knock on Josh Heupel when he was hired as Tennessee Football head coach was that he couldn’t recruit with the big boys of the SEC. So far, he’s proving otherwise. However, it’s some other big boys that are proving to be a challenge.

Let’s set aside one glaring omission from the Vols’ current class that we’ll get to later, and it’s easy to see that Heupel has, indeed, kept up with the best recruiting programs in the SEC. Tennessee isn’t besting the competition – nor lapping the field – as the Vols had to in a bygone era led by former UT coach Phillip Fulmer. However, the Vols’ 2024 class ranks 10th in the nation and fourth in the SEC, behind Georgia (No. 1 overall), Florida (No. 3 in the country) and Alabama, which is fifth best in the nation. That’s more than respectable.

Former Tennessee Football coaches from a more recent era would have fans believe that a top 20 class at this point in the recruiting cycle is – and was – something to be excited about. It was not. Being that low on the talent totem pole usually meant the Vols couldn’t match up with big, athletic linemen and/or depth against the nation’s elite, which has been led recently by Alabama and Georgia. There’s reason to believe, with one exception, that the Vols can stand toe-to-toe with Bama and the Bulldogs in the coming years when it comes to talent procured from the high school ranks.

Before we get to that one glaring exception that could quickly disappear or be a burr in the Vols’ side, let’s take into account two factors when evaluating how important high school football recruiting is for Tennessee. Why? Because it’s not as important as it once was. The Vols can fill in holes via the transfer portal, which they’ve done particularly well, and overcome talent deficiencies with a better offensive scheme than most coaches could ever dream of coming up with. Still, the Vols aren’t going to compete for championships if they don’t land a large number of top-tier high school prospects – and one position is lagging behind.

There’s one kind of prospect that the Vols still desperately need to land despite the well-deserved kudos that Tennessee’s coaches have received recently. The Vols need more big, athletic offensive line prospects that have previously considered more successful schools, most notably Alabama and Georgia. Since the Bulldogs are currently atop the heap, let’s compare where Tennessee and Georgia stand when recruiting high school offensive linemen.

Tennessee has two offensive linemen committed to the 2024 class that are 300 or more pounds and have four stars next to their name: Max Anderson of Reedy High School in Frisco, Texas and William Satterwhite of Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron, Ohio. By comparison, Georgia has four offensive linemen committed with four stars and two more that are considered high three-star commitments. Only one is listed at less than 320 pounds. Perhaps that was just an anomaly. Well, not really.

- Advertisement -

Tennessee signed only one four-star offensive lineman in the 2023 class: Shamurad Umarov from Denmark High School in Alpharetta. Georgia signed three offensive linemen that ranked as four-star prospects in February. That’s a vast difference in offensive line talent.

The Vols could use some of that type of upper-echelon talent soon. Tennessee Football may have to replace center Cooper Mays, guard Javontez Spraggins, who are both seniors, and possibly tackle Gerald Mincey, who will be in his fourth season at UT this fall. It’s worth nothing that Mays and Spraggins were both recruited by Heupel’s predecessor, former UT coach Jeremy Pruitt.

To use the all-encompassing star system, Heupel is a solid four-star recruiter. However, he won’t be a five-star recruiter until he can win more battles for elite offensive linemen. If that happens, finding a knock on Heupel will be harder than finding a hole in his prolific offense.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *