Posted: 10:54 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2013
By Brad Shepard
Former University of Tennessee head football coach Phillip Fulmer's best teams were built around big, rugged offensive linemen from the Volunteer State. Even in lean years when Tennessee didn't produce the best high school talent, it seemed it always was a fertile enough ground to yield some linemen weened on mama's cookin'.
It's a tradition that remains alive and well. And Butch Jones isn't going to make a habit of letting them slip away to other rival programs, either.
The Vols received a commitment from in-state offensive tackle Jack Jones of Murfreesboro Oakland High School on Thursday night, less than 48 hours after lead recruiter Willie Martinez and offensive line coach Don Mahoney extended the offer. Jones -- a rising junior who is the third early commitment in the 2015 class -- is fresh off a standout effort in the IFM/Playmakers Academy Tennessee Exposure camp that earned him offensive MVP honors.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound lineman went against some of the state's best talent and more than held his own, earning an offer from Tennessee and Georgia Tech to go along with his initial offer from Middle Tennessee State. The lifelong Vols fan didn't take long to realize he wanted to fulfill his dream of playing for UT. He's known for his athleticism and aggressiveness and has the tall, lean frame to pack on another 20-30 pounds and be a force with his pass-blocking skills in the SEC. Jones' father played at Tennessee Tech.
After his eye-opening performance at the camp this past weekend, 247 analyst Barton Simmons said he believes Jones could sneak his way into the top 247 players in the nation in his class. He joins fellow offensive tackle Zach Stewart of Coalfield and athlete Jaylond Woods of Lenoir City as UT pledges for the '15 class.
With just one definite SEC-caliber offensive lineman in the state this year -- Montgomery Bell Academy's Alex Bars, who has brothers at Penn State and Michigan and whose father played for Notre Dame -- the Vols will have difficulty filling the major need of getting line help instate this year. Bars has given UT an extended look, but he appears destined to follow one of his siblings or in his father's footsteps as a legacy. But that doesn't mean the Vols haven't done extremely well recently instate when it comes to the hoggies.
Antonio "Tiny" Richardson and James Stone are a couple of major prospects who came from Tennessee in recent history. Last year, the Vols received commitments from Austin Sanders [Bradley Central] and Brett Kendrick [CAK] along the offensive front. The '15 class is loaded, too.
Having a pair of linemen such as Stewart and Jones is an extremely nice luxury for the Vols, who also will actively recruit elite '15 lineman Drew Richmond on Memphis University School -- who will be one of the state's two biggest jewels in next year's class to go along with Nashville DB Rico McGraw. With the Vols expected to take a nice-sized offensive line class this year [interior lineman Coleman Thomas and tackle Orlando Brown Jr. already are on the commitment list] and with two already in the fold for a year down the road, it will allow UT to put a full-court press on Richmond.
But Jones is a major story in his own rights. He will receive plenty more offers and attention throughout the next two years, but getting a player who is a lifelong UT fan away from the Vols would be extremely difficult. In his interviews, he noted to reporters that he already was actively recruiting his Raiders teammatesS/OLB Emmanuel Smith [a 2014 Vanderbilt commit] and his brother LB Josh Smith [a 2015 recruit] to Knoxville.
Don't let the baby face above fool you; Jones is a fierce competitor, hard worker and has a nice little mean streak that you like to see in your offensive linemen. From a bit of film study, it appears Jones is very nimble on his feet and looks almost lean, like he needs to add a good bit of weight and power. Though he is well on his way to being a great SEC-level pass blocker with good footwork and lateral quickness, he needs to work on his push on run-blocking. That will come as he adds strength over the next two seasons of high school and then gets into a college weight program. Remember, we're talking about a high school sophomore here.
The Vols got a really good one here who is only going to get better as his high school career progresses. Butch Jones continues to roll, identifying players early in the process, selling the program and getting them to commit to Tennessee. There wasn't much selling with Jones, though. The offer was pretty much enough to get him to pull the trigger. Always great to get Tennessee boys who grew up bleeding orange who are good enough to get offers and who jump at the opportunity to play for the Big Orange.
Hopefully, the days of letting a lifelong UT fan like Andrew Jelks slip through the cracks to Vanderbilt went the way of Derek Dooley. Welcome home, Mr. Jones! Cannot wait to see you paving the way for Jalen Hurd and crew in Neyland Stadium.