KNOXVILLE — Tennessee has provided plenty of material for rumor mongers over the last 12 months as it tried to assemble its 2012 football signing class.
UT head coach Derek Dooley said on Wednesday afternoon that he and his coaching staff have been fighting a barrage of rumors that have been perpetuated by social media — what he dubbed as “the national barbershop.”
“It was probably as tough a recruiting climate over the last 12 months as I've been through,” Dooley said. “Starting with the spring, all the things that were going on departmentally and with the NCAA, I think we hit July with one commitment which is not what we want, but is what we had.”
Though some of the NCAA problems that lingered over Tennessee were a direct result of former coach Lane Kiffin’s actions, Dooley acknowledged that they brought some of the drama upon themselves.
A 5-7 season that culminated with a 10-7 loss at Kentucky, six coaching changes in the offseason and reports of bad team chemistry were among the items the Vols had to combat on the recruiting trail.
“We gave a lot of ammunition to our competitors and in this league, it is hard enough when you don't give them ammunition,” Dooley said.
Despite the challenges that Dooley and his staff encountered, the Vols still signed a class of 21 recruits that addressed several key needs. A class that was nationally ranked as high as No. 17 (Rivals.com) and as low as No. 24 (Scout.com) was strong on offensive skill players and defensive linemen.
The Vols started the day by landing one of those skill players when they got a signature from 6-foot-3, 205-pound wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson out of Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College. Patterson, a high school teammate of Vols freshman quarterback Justin Worley, is ranked as the No. 1 junior college prospect in the nation by 247Sports.com.
“You watch the film and whether you need him or not you are a fool not to recruit him because he has tremendous playmaking ability, size, speed and also brings return ability on kickoffs,” Dooley said.
Patterson joins prep wide receiver signees Drae Bowles (Jackson, Tenn.), Jason Croom (Norcross, Ga.) and Alton ‘Pig’ Howard (Orlando, Fla.) to make up the four new playmakers quarterback Tyler Bray will have to throw to in 2012.
Defensively, much of the focus went to upgrading the defensive front and secondary. Dooley made special reference to 6-foot-7, 380-pound defensive tackle Daniel McCullers out of Georgia Military College.
“McCullers brings something that most people don't have, which is gargantuan size,” Dooley said. “He is really big. When you see him, he looks like two people. It's like a circus act. What's going on here? He is a big guy and those guys are hard to block.”
Though most of the talk Wednesday was about the players the Vols did sign, Dooley was asked about the ones that got away as well. The linebacker position took a hit in the week leading up to signing day as highly rated prospects Dalton Santos (Van, Texas) and Otha Peters (Covington, La.) both rescinded their Tennessee commitments to sign with Texas and Arkansas, respectively.
“Neither of them surprised us,” Dooley said of the departed linebackers. “From the very beginning, even back in September, we knew those two guys, it was going to be tough to close them out because they were far away and never shut it down. They were always going to listen to other schools and go on trips.”
With the majority of the work done for the 2012 class, Dooley said he had a chance to reflect on where Tennessee is as a program and where it will go from here.
“I made the comment to our coaching staff that this is the best that I have felt, as far as the future of our program and where we are headed in the 24 months that I have been on the job,” Dooley said. “It is a good day, men. It is a happy day and I'm looking forward to celebrating it tonight with our staff."
Bynum planning to visit
With four scholarships still open in the 2012 class, the Vols may be looking to add another signature or two.
One option that has emerged is 6-foot-1, 215-pound linebacker Kenneth Bynum out of Jacksonville, Fla. Bynum is currently committed to Cincinnati, but his father, Darrell Pullins, confirmed to Nooga.com on Wednesday that he will visit Knoxville this coming weekend and will consider signing with the Vols.
“He’s still committed to Cincinnati, but it’s the SEC, so we want to check it out and talk it over,” Pullins said.
Dooley also did not rule out the possibility of adding another member to the 2012 class.
"There will be some,” Dooley said when asked if the Vols would keep evaluating players for the 2012 class. “Time will tell. You know what? I wasn't going to take a marginal player to fill out everything because I'm not sure we can get to 25 next year.”