Butch Jones landed a key verbal pledge for his 2014 recruiting class on Thursday, as 247Sports broke news of in-state product Jalen Hurd committing to Tennessee. Volquest.com describes Hurd as “one of [Tennessee's] biggest commitments in years.”
The highly touted running back from Hendersonville Beech Senior is ranked No. 15 overall on the Rivals.com list of top prospects, and held offers from Ohio State, Florida, Georgia and Alabama, as detailed in All For Tennessee’s breakdown.
National Signing Day 2014 is still nearly 11 months away. The lesson after a staggering amount of de-commitments in 2013 is that a verbal pledge almost a year out is hardly binding. Still, Jones scored a major coup securing a commitment from precisely the style running back new rival Nick Saban builds his offense around.
Finesse characterized Jones-coached teams on the offensive end at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. While Kevin Sumlin’s approach at Texas A&M proved a quicker style can work in the SEC, having an old school, smash mouth running back certainly doesn’t hurt.
Integrating that style into his gameplan is one change we can expect to see as Jones acclimates to the SEC. The other is recruiting.
Jones flourished at Cincinnati coaching up unheralded recruiting classes. The dynamic is a bit different in the SEC, however.
A challenge recruiting at Tennessee as opposed to other SEC programs like Alabama, Georgia and Florida is that Knoxville is not in the epicenter of premier high school football. That makes the commitment of a Jalen Hurd that much more valuable: keep top tier, local talent that comes at a higher premium at home and build from there.
Amid its dominance of the BCS championship, the conference’s Goliaths have unsurprisingly been comprised of top 10 recruiting classes. Well, early into the process Jones has the 2014 Volunteer class ranked in Rivals.com’s top six.
Maintaining that is paramount to Tennessee emerging as a viable contender on the SEC and thus national landscape. However, it’s not quite as simple as if you sign them, wins will come.
Jones inherits a program with recruiting classes ranked No. 17 or better. In fact, the lowest rated Volunteer class is its 2013 crew, which was No. 21 after missing on a few swings for the fences like five-star safety Vonn Bell.
No. 21 is hardly a shameful ranking for Jones’ first class, but the key is getting into that top 10 while also coaching those recruits to meet their potential.
There is a key differentiation between Jones and Derek Dooley. Dooley’s recruiting wasn’t so much any issue, evident not only in his signing classes’ rankings before arriving in Knoxville, but in current NFL draft evaluations.
Wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter stood out in February’s scouting combine. Patterson was a Dooley recruit; Hunter was originally a Lane Kiffin recruit, though Dooley ultimately signed him. The same was true of quarterback Tyler Bray.
Dooley had pieces, but failed in putting them together. Jones has a proven ability to put what pieces he has available together. And if those pieces are of the highest quality, the end result can be something truly impressive.