Football vs. UTEP

Tennessee Head Football coach Jeremy Pruitt at the Vol Walk prior to game against UTEP on Sept. 15, 2018.

Wednesday opened up a three-day period in which football recruits can sign with the schools of their choice, in the hope of most likely enrolling early and participating in spring practice. Early Signing Day is a fairly new addition to the football recruiting scene, with the first one held just last year.

With 17 signatures collected thus far, the Tennessee football team has a good majority of its 2019 recruiting class already wrapped up, with a couple more targets expected to sign in the next few days. The Vols added some players on Wednesday that should make an immediate impact when they arrive on campus, and perhaps even start in their first season at Tennessee.

Wanya Morris, No. 3 Offensive Tackle

The offensive and defensive lines were an obvious point of emphasis in this year’s recruiting class- eight of the 17 signees playing mostly in the trenches. Perhaps the highlight of Tennessee’s class is one of these, in offensive tackle Wanya Morris.

Morris ranks as the third best offensive tackle in the 247Sports Composite ranking system, grading out as a five-star. He is also the 13th ranked player in the nation, and second from the state of Georgia.

The 6-feet 6-inches, 312-pound lineman from Loganville, Georgia should be an immediate starter on the Vols’ offensive line, one of the weakest points of the team last season. Tennessee ranked 112th nationally in yards per carry, and quarterback Jarrett Gurantano was hit multiple times per game, leading to injuries to the head and lower leg areas.

Morris will enroll early, with the ability to participate in Spring practice. With his size and talent, it’s very likely he will be a day one starter.

“He’s a very talented guy, smart guy,” head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “He could really play any position, but he’ll probably start off at offensive tackle. He has a very high football IQ, and really loves the game.”

Jackson Lowe, No. 12 Tight End

Four-star tight end Jackson Lowe is one of two tight ends that Tennessee signed on Wednesday, with fellow Georgia native Sean Brown. The second signee of the day, he should bolster a position that underperformed last season for the Vols.

Tight ends were responsible for only 225 receiving yards and three touchdowns last season, led by Dominick Wood-Anderson’s 140-yard season. Pruitt wants big-bodied tight ends as well, and Wood-Anderson is the only one on the roster that fits that bill.

Lowe brings size and pass-catching ability to the table. Though he only weighs around 240 pounds, his 6-feet 5-inches frame will allow for more weight to be put on in the spring. As a senior at Cartersville High School in Georgia, he caught 34 passes for 469 yards and six touchdowns.

Though he may not start, Lowe has the potential to be an early difference maker at a position of need for Tennessee.

Darel Middleton, No. 5 JUCO Defensive Tackle

All three of Tennessee’s starting defensive linemen last season were seniors, meaning they have now graduated from the program, making defensive line perhaps the top priority for the 2019 recruiting class.

Darel Middleton is one of two junior college defensive tackles that the Vols signed, reflecting the need for immediate playmakers on the defensive line. Though he rates out as a defensive tackle, Middleton has the ability to play defensive end or tackle in Tennessee’s 3-4 scheme.

He was committed to Tennessee over five years ago while at Powell High School, but was forced to take the junior college route, and enrolled in East Mississippi Community College in 2016. In 10 games this past season, he registered 29 tackles and one sack.

Standing at 6-feet 7-inches, 290-pounds, EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens lauds Middleton’s athleticism, claiming that he runs with the linebackers in practice. Pruitt reflected these views.

“He’s got three years left to play,” Pruitt said. “A guy that was a tight end in high school, defensive end, has now grown into a defensive tackle, defensive end type body. He has a tremendous amount of upside.”

Savion Williams, No. 1 JUCO Defensive Tackle

In the same vein as Middleton, Savion Williams was recruited from the junior college ranks in the hope of making an immediate impact along Tennessee’s defensive line- and, like Middleton, he projects as either a defensive end or tackle.

The Lackawanna Community College product does not lack in size either, weighing over 300 pounds, and has good athleticism for his size. Last year with Lackawanna, he registered 33 total tackles, including 10 for a loss and one sack.

The top-ranked tackle in the junior college ranks should make a big splash when he arrives on campus and could be an immediate starter on the line.

Roman Harrison, No. 31 Defensive End

Roman Harrison may be the hidden gem of Tennessee’s Early Signing Day haul. With just three offers from Power Five schools, he flew under the radar for most of the recruiting process before committing to Tennessee in July.

While the offers may not reflect it, Harrison is a top-tier athlete, and projects as an outside linebacker in the Vols’ defensive scheme. He earned an offer over the summer after impressing Tennessee’s coaching staff at a camp, and his stock has risen ever since.

In his senior season at Bainbridge High School in Georgia, Harrison had 89 tackles, including 31 for a loss and 8.5 sacks. In addition, he had 17 quarterback hurries. The Vols struggled to get to the quarterback at times last year, and Harrison may provide a spark in that area.

Though he may not start immediately, he could be a cornerstone pass rusher for Tennessee in the future.

“Roman’s a young man that we found in the spring,” Pruitt said. “He comes to our camp this summer, has a 38-inch vertical and runs a 4.6-forty at 240 pounds. He’s a guy that has a great motor.”

Asst. Sports Editor

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