What UT Assistants Are Saying About 2014 Football Signing Class

Wednesday, February 05, 2014 - by Special to Chattanoogan.com
Here are remarks by Tennessee assistant coaches on the Vols’ 2014 recruiting class corralled on Wednesday, National Signing Day:

Associate Head Coach 

utsports.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/steve_stripling_832304.html">Steve Stripling

(On the nerves and work put in during the last 48 hours)
"It goes back to the relationship. What creates the problem is little success. We have 8 and some schools have one. That is a legitimate point they are making to our kids. You have to weather that storm but it was great to get all the faxes in today. I really appreciate the kid's loyalty. I am really looking forward to the future."

(On knowing how many defensive guys needed this time last year)
"I think as soon as I got here there were two indications. One was my first D-Line meeting there were only about 11 guys in there. Then of those 11 there were six seniors so we knew immediately there was going to be a need of a young D-Line. That was really a priority. Every day we talk about how this league is based on the success of the defensive line. To get young guys in here and get them going is really critical."

(On looking for certain characteristics for the D-Line)
"I think 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. You look at Derek Barnett, Dewayne Hendrix those are the physical young men that can hopefully get involved. We always talk about the philosophy of coaching for success meaning they are all coached the same. We are going to play four ends at one time, four tackles based on offensive personal situations. Looking for young men who could come in and contribute early and that was key."

(On the early enrollees and newcomers competing for playing time)
"Each individual is going to be different obviously I told them all of that and said the door is wide open. I know we are taking eight but there is great opportunity there. That is what I kept selling them. It is true there is great opportunity. Obviously
Dimarya Mixon and Owen Williams are here that is an advantage for them. We are excited to have them here. I want them all to come in with an attitude that I am ready to play."

(On meeting any resistance when stock piling the defensive line)
"I will be honest any young men can see the D-Line men adding up, but they need to see the whole picture which was our message to them that in my defensive room right now there are only about ten guys versus some other schools in the SEC that have 17 or 18 linemen in that room. Even though we are taking a higher number our overall is low, so you just had to present the case to them."

(On the competition of the D-Line position)
"I think it would be great competition. 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."

(On sweating over Dewayne Hendrix going to another school)
"I was totally sweating on really all of them. I get in because the message was that Tennessee was going to take all these lineman, but once they understood what the picture was. Nobody has a better opportunity then we do. When you talk about the six young men who did the majority of the playing graduated so there is great opportunity here. There are two ways to look at it and obviously they were looking at a different way but understood our way."

(On having the opportunity to set the standards here for the offseason)
"I think it was critical. I think it was critical when you come off a season like that we were right back with the guys. I sense a real excitement. We had a chance to work with our guys on Monday then one-on-one conference with yesterday. There is a real air, electricity that is out there. It was critical at that time to be with the new guys but really all of them."

Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian

(On how he feels about the running backs in this class)
"Great. Outstanding. As Coach Jones mentioned, one of our goals was to add depth, competition, size and speed, and we were able to do that, obviously. 
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 South Carolina and very skilled. We're really happy with the depth and the skill we've added at the running back position."

(On the potential for Jalen Hurd to play early)
"With the state of our running back position, obviously graduating 
Rajion Neal, and the numbers that we have in the program, we could say that we want him to come in and play early, but the reality is that we need all of those guys to come in and play early and we're excited about their ability to do that."

(On what Tennessee has to offer recruits)
"Well I'll be honest, I haven't looked much at the other top schools and what they've sold. I just know that for us it's about relationships and it's about people. Obviously, we have a lot going for us here at the University of Tennessee with the strong tradition, and the facilities, and all of those things combined with the opportunity to come in and play early, but the reality is that with a lot of these guys we've spent a bunch of time with over the course of the last year or more, maybe two years for some of these guys so we've been able to develop strong relationships and develop the trust factor that Coach Jones talked about and it has paid off. I know these guys that come in have bought into the vision that we're selling and they're ready to get to work."

(On what the top need was on the offensive side of the ball)
"We needed it all. I think if you look at the number, it will indicated that. They're evenly spread out amongst offensive linemen, tight ends, running backs, and wide receivers, so we've been able to add depth and competition at all of those positions. I can't say that there is one in particular that we targeted. Obviously, any time that you can come in a stable of wide receivers like we've done to play fast and come in and compete that's great. The running backs with 
Rajion Neal graduating, obviously the offensive line with the production we've lost there to graduation and Tiny [Richardson] leaving early, so there were needs across the board and I think we addressed them all."

(On if he feels like he helped his quarterbacks with the wide receivers and tight ends he's brought in with this class)
"It's very helpful. I joked with the quarterbacks as we would get commitment after commitment from the different skill positions, I said you may not have improved at all, but you just became a better quarterback, and that's true. When you have guys like Josh [Malone], like Neiko [Creamer], like Von Pearson], like Vic [Wharton], who you can throw the ball in their general vicinity and feel pretty confident that they're going to make a play, that gives you more confidence as a quarterback. Obviously, what some of the other skill positions can do with the tight end and the running back positions, that can help alleviate some of the pressure off the quarterback."

(On if they've had a signing day in the past where there wasn't much drama)
"It's hard for me to remember the past. I focus on the future, I really do. There's always last minute adjustments to commitments and signees but overall, like I said earlier, it's the relationships that we've been able to build with these guys -I know Coach Jones touched on it- that has created a stability for the newcomers that has bound them together."

(On how important the quarterback position)
"It's very important. Again, with the depth we have on the team right now, we would like to have added a quarterback but again, there were needs at every position and we just felt coming in from a number standpoint, we could help the team out better by signing some other guys. Obviously, you need to have depth at the quarterback position and competition at the quarterback position. It will always be a focus for us especially moving forward."

(On how much not signing a QB in this class will help sign a quarterback in next year's class)
"I don't pay too close of attention, but I think for some of the guys they see it as a better opportunity and less competition, which is true, but when you're dealing with the quarterback position, and any position, you want guys that are ready to come in and compete, guys that really don't care whether you're bringing in multiple quarterbacks in the same year or you have a bunch of guys on your roster that were highly touted. Sure there's a little bit of a gap there, and a little bit of a hole, but for the profile we're looking for with competitive guys that want to come in and work hard and earn the job, I don't think it's a big factor."

Defensive Coordinator John Jancek

(On what they look for in linebackers )
"Well the first thing, we want them to be tough and then also smart. Those guys have so much on their plate on every single snap that they got to be able to think on their feet, they got to be able to react, they have to have great knowledge of the system and of offensive football. Those are the things that first and foremost have to be in place then obviously you look at the measurables, the size, the speed, the change in direction. All those things come into play but if there are two things I'd really emphasize at the linebacker position it's being tough and being smart."

(On what jumped out about Jakob Johnson)
"When we first watched him it looked like he had really good instincts. The thing that we questioned was that he was playing football in Germany and so we were like `oh we don't know what kind of football it is over there, the level of competition'. There were a lot of unknowns. Once he moved to the United States and we were able to recruit him we followed up with phone calls and got to know him and boy he's very impressive over the phone. He took the ACT and had a 23 on the ACT as a German student. Again, that was very impressive about him and then we got updated film from his senior year that showed he can play. He was at [Jean] Ribault High School in Jacksonville and played obviously better competition than he did over in Germany and we just continued to do our homework and it worked out really well for us and also Jakob."

(On keeping the Chris Weatherd's commitment)
"Well that was huge. Chris is a tall, rangy athlete. He provides us with a lot of versatility. He can do some things on third down in terms of rushing the passer. He's a very versatile linebacker. Special teams, he'll have an immediate impact with his ability to run and change direction so he was critical to this recruiting class."

(On offering scholarships early in the recruiting process)
"Certainly that's a big part of it. I think you can make a good first impression with a young man. Usually they remember their first offer and that can be powerful but over the course of time those things do wear off and it really comes down the relationships you have to build from that first initial offer to signing day and I think that's where I think we were able to establish ourselves with Chris [Weatherd] and maintain a great relationship. We talked each and every single week and we recruited him very hard."

(On the size of the cornerback signees)
"I was hoping they would put on some weight. I've been really impressed in what they've been able to do in a really short amount of time. Emmanuel [Moseley] came to our camp. We knew about him, we really liked him and here again is a young man who comes in, he has a high GPA, he has 22 credit hours towards college coming out of high school. Just a high character, very competitive young man and I'm proud of him and what he's been able to accomplish in a short amount of time.

"[Size] is certainly a factor but when you look at Emmanuel [Moseley] he has over a 30 inch wingspan. He's a 5-11 corner but when he holds his arms out - we measured him - he's got some long arms. He's going to be able to play the ball in the air. He's got great ball skills when he was at camp and so we're comfortable with his size right now and what he was able to show us. D'Andre [Payne] is shorter but man is he quick. He's a guy that can get up and press some of those taller receivers at the line of scrimmage and make it difficult for them at the beginning of the route so I'm excited about both of those young men and I know that we're going to rely on them heavily even in the first year."

(On what were some of the selling points to recruits about Tennessee)
"We're selling the commitment that this university has made to our student-athletes especially in the sport of football. When you come in and look at our facilities, it's geared to their personal development each and every single day. Also in the academic arena, when you go over to the Thornton Center and you see that Joe Scogin is over there and he has a tremendous staff at his disposal, young men obviously recognize that and that's very attractive to them. I think it's the overall development of the player that really attracts them to Tennessee."

(On if some signees will compete for early playing time)
"Yea, no question. I told them all to come in ready to compete and ready to play. The thing that it'll do is it'll create some lumps for us early, we know that, we understand that but we're building for the future here. This is a long term process, there is no quick fix. You look at our recruiting class, we didn't go out and get a lot of junior college players. We got a couple where we needed to but by in large we filled this class with freshmen and they're going to be thrown into the fray early but that's just part of the process we're developing our team for the future and I think that's what's the most important."

(On the need for defensive lineman)
"That's really big to shore up the line of scrimmage especially in this conference. Now I understand that these guys aren't going to come in and have an immediate impact in the Southeastern Conference. An 18-year-old freshmen in college is competing against a fourth or fifth year senior who's 23, 22-years-old, they're going to have some work to do but again, everything is about longevity, everything is about building for the future and I think this class gives us the opportunity to develop our defensive line with some bigger bodied kids. I think they'll be more active than they have in the past and I think that even though we're going to take some lumps early we're building for the future."

(On this defensive class compare to other SEC classes he's been a part of)
"We went out and got some guys that have great size but they also have the ability to move and I think that's the thing that you have to analyze in this conference. The biggest difference between the Southeastern Conference and many of the other conferences across the country is the line of scrimmage. Those guys are so big but they're also athletic. I think that's what we really targeted this year in our defensive line."

(On if the 19 defensive players was the he has signed)
"I can't remember how many we've signed from year to year I'm just thankful that we got a great class. We got kids that wanted to be here, they're high character, they're competitive, they're willing to put the time in and work so that part of it is what I'm excited about."

(On how different spring practice will be with then new signees)
"Those guys are going to provide some competition. I think we're seeing evidence of that already based on the things we're hearing coming out of the weight room. Even before we went on the road we had an opportunity to work with these guys in some of our skill development things and you saw that the competition is already starting to create a much more - much better habits for everybody on both offense and defense so that part of it is going to be huge."

(On getting work with the early enrollees)
"The thing that we were able to do this year because the way the calendar was structured is that we were actually able to work with our guys. Obviously you can't us a football and things like that but certainly we got a chance to see them move around and do some things in a competitive nature so that was big. "I think it set the tone with our younger players but it also set the tone with the guys that were already currently on our roster saying these guys brought some guys in here that can play. I think it was a boost for our entire football team."

(On recruits relationships with fellow recruits)
"Certainly [it helped] a lot more than last year. Last year we had a very short amount of time to try and develop relationships and put together a recruiting class. This year it was a lot easier in terms of developing those relationships and with the relationships that we were able to build with the players that committed to us, they reached out and were able to help us add to the class and really did a great job."

Wide Receivers Coach Zach Azzanni

(On car troubles while recruiting)
"It's a town of about 3,000 to 4,000 people in the Serra Nevada Mountains. Their football field is right next to a rodeo. You fly to Reno and then drive 90 miles. A big chunk of ice came off and hit my car like a rock. It tore the undercarriage off, and it was about seven hours before they could get a tow truck to me. I didn't really have a coat so I just my pullover and sneakers, then started walking up the road to a little log cabin gas station. I bought some soup I probably haven't had since I was fifteen and some bungee cords to tie up into engine and kept rolling. I was intent on getting to Von (Pearson)."

(On if efforts was worth it)
"It better be."

(On difficulty of grading prospects)
"It's extremely hard. Just like Coach (Jones) said, you have to see them in every facet. You have to go to (football) practice, basketball practice, talk to people and teammates at the school, are they a captain... your captains tend to be a pretty competitive guy. The more you build a relationship with a kids like 
Josh Malone for example, he will not stop pestering me about playing cornhole. He can beat me sideways and silly. He's competitive as all get out. Yesterday our receiver meeting almost broke out into a fight over spikeball or some game the guys were playing. That competitiveness is what I want, like who's faster on reaching the bench yesterday. We've got the right guys. If you get guys that are not competitive, they go to the back pretty quick. Luckily I feel like we've got a good group of guys so far."

(On offseason competition)
"They're competing their butt of in the weight room. I can hear them talking about how one benches more than the other, who runs the 20 yard faster than the other, and let's go out right now. We didn't have that a lot last year; we had a little but not much. Great teams have that a lot because they're so competitive, you can't shut them up. We got to one-on-ones last year and it was quiet, I get this feeling it's going to be a little bit louder this year."

(On seeing these guys on the field)
"I can't wait. There are eight individuals from our spring roster last year not in our room this year, which is crazy. We have overhauled that whole room. We've got competitive guys, guys we want to fit in that room based on skill sets, and they have opened their arms to Josh (Malone) and Vic (Wharton). I think Marquez (North) and 
Josh Malone are inseparable, they do everything together. It's neat to see that bond forming already. I really excited to get out there with those guys to continue the development of Marquez, Josh Malone, Jason Croom, and Josh Smith. There's a lot of talent in that room that needs to be developed, and I've never been more excited to get out and work with the guys."

(On incoming receivers)
"Josh brings a very high ceiling. There may be receivers we recruited that are ranked higher or whatever, but when you go out to watch him you think I don't know how much better he can get because he's a good player now. Where I think Josh is a very good player but his ceiling is very high, now I just have to go coach him. With Von (Pearson), he is very productive and caught more balls than anybody in junior college. He brings an experience standpoint to us right now. I've watched him do some things, and he's just raw as it gets only needing some polish." 

(E-mail Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com)



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