KNOXVILLE – There was one all-too-familiar sight for Tennessee last season.
Opposing skill players ran through, around and past a struggling Tennessee defense in 2012. And once they broke into the secondary, far too often the last line of the defense either took a poor angle or simply couldn’t catch them.
New coach Butch Jones only has approximately two months to assemble his first recruiting class in Knoxville, but upgrading the speed on defense, particularly in the secondary, quickly became a priority for him.
Three of Jones’ first four commitments have come from defensive backs noted for their speed – Lemond Johnson of Cooper City, Fla., Riyahd Jones of Garden City (Kan.) Community College and, most recently, Malik Foreman of Kingsport, Tenn., who flipped his commitment from Vanderbilt to Tennessee last weekend.
“Me and my mom talked about it and I prayed about it and I’ve liked UT ever since growing up and it was just a dream come true,” Foreman said of his decision to switch from the ‘Dores to the Vols. “Then they offered my friend so that was another plus – that’s what led me to make the decision to switch.”
The friend Foreman referenced is fellow Dobyns-Bennett High School standout Devaun Swafford. Swafford, a 5-11, 180-pound athlete/defensive back is going to join the Vols on full scholarship in January of 2014 unless a scholarship opens up before that point.
“He’s a great player,” Foreman said of Swafford. “I think he should be on full [scholarship], but that’s just my opinion – I’m a little biased. But, it could work out where he comes in with my class, but if he doesn’t, he’s still got a full offer for the 2014 year, which is still good. I can’t wait to play with him.”
As for Foreman, he spurned Vanderbilt for the opportunity to be part of coach Butch Jones’ first class with the Vols. The 5-10, 170-pound athlete played cornerback, wide receiver, quarterback and returned kicks in high school.
Foreman recalled a game against Tennessee High School this season where he subbed in for the injured quarterback and ran for 270 yards, five touchdowns, threw two more touchdowns and had an interception on defense.
Not a bad day.
He’s expecting to play cornerback at Tennessee, though the coaching staff has said that wide receiver and returning kicks could be possibilities for him as well. With cornerbacks Prentiss Waggner and Marsalis Teague departing, there could be immediate playing time available.
“They said I can come in and if I can get all the concepts down that I can really make an impact my freshman year,” Foreman said.
And if he does get on the field, he will give Tennessee a player with more speed than what the Vols saw last season. Foreman said he consistently clocked in at 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash when he attended camps over the past summer.
“My strength is my speed and making big plays in the open field,” he said. “My weakness is probably my size, but I can overcome that.”
Foreman, who chose the Vols over offers from Vanderbilt, Kentucky and others, isn’t concerned about Tennessee’s two-year leave of absence from the postseason. He likes what he’s seen from Jones thus far, calling him ‘fiery' and ‘energetic’, and thinks he and his staff can get Tennessee back to its former winning ways before too long.
“Tennessee is always going to be Tennessee – they’re always going to have good talent,” Foreman said. “I could tell Coach Jones doesn’t accept anything but wins and I’m sure he’ll preach that and turn the program around.”
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS