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Tennessee Football: Vols Have Best Defensive Line Recruiting Class for 2015

Published by Bleacher Report on Wed, 07 Jan 2015

When Kyle Phillips slipped a flat-billed Tennessee cap on his head during the first half of Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, his commitment solidified the best defensive line recruiting class in the program's history.It's certainly the nation's best D-line class on paper for 2015. No other team can combine the number, rankings and variety of skill sets the Vols boast this cycle.Veteran defensive line coach Steve Stripling proved his worth with on-field results this season, leading UT to the most sacks since 2001 with zero returning starters from last season.Now, he has secured a sturdy foundation for the future of the defense with this class, and he had a hand in recruiting most all of them.Phillips' pledge gives Tennessee seven defensive line commitments.The class centerpiece is 5-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, who is the nation's 10th-ranked player, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.After that, UT has four 4-star prospects, including Shy Tuttle (who is a 5-star on 247Sports) and Phillips. Following his performance in San Antonio, Phillips will be "at least in consideration for a fifth star," 247Sports' director of scouting Barton Simmons told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required).Two 3-star players round out the class, but after Marques Ford's performance at the Under Armour All-America Game, he could get a ratings bump, too.Phillips was the door-slammer on an unbelievable class. His commitment provided a bit of a surprise as Ole Miss and LSU had been trending late in his recruitment.But in the end, head coach Butch Jones was able to do what he's done so many times in his three years at UT: pull an in-state kid the Vols coveted.The charismatic McKenzie jokingly tweeted that he had something to do with Phillips' pledge after recruiting him all week at the all-star game.Throw the seven newcomers into a group that already includes star rising senior Curt Maggitt and freshman All-American Derek Barnett, and you've got the trappings of a franchise unit.Moments after Phillips made it official, 247Sports' Ryan Bartow praised UT's defensive front class, saying it was loaded and telling the GoVols247 subscribers, "that's the No. 1 position you need to be good at to vault the program back into national contention."It wasn't long ago that the Vols couldn't pull any defensive lineman of any consequence, and it has to be considered a major factor in the program's downfall.A study of composite rankings from 2009 to 2013 showed that, of the 26 linemen who committed to UT, 10 didn't finish their careers in Knoxville.During that span, UT signed 12 defensive ends, and their average recruiting rating was 30th at their respective positions. Of the 14 players who wound up defensive tackles, UT's average positional rating was 31st.In other words, sometimes Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley signed players just to be warm bodies, and they predictably never panned out.Whether or not this year's class lives up to the massive hype surrounding the prospects in it won't be known for another couple of years, but it is certainly lauded by experts.Added Simmons in the article linked above:I think with Tennessee, they did such a good job recruiting skill (positions) last cycle. And for them to now put together that groupthree players that are among the best in the country at their positionI mean, thats how you build a foundation for a program. I really believe this is sort of the piece of the puzzle they needed in this cycle, and I think that they couldnt have asked for a much better result.With Tuttle and especially McKenzie, the Vols have a pair of space-eating defensive force fields who are probably plug-and-play guys in a defensive tackle unit that is slim. UT returns just Danny O'Brien, Owen Williams, Trevarris Saulsberry, Dimarya Mixon and Kendal Vickers on the interior.Andrew Butcher is a powerful, prototypical strong-side defensive end in the mold of former Vol Will Overstreet. Taylor and Ford are speed-rushing defensive ends who get off the edge in a hurry.Phillips is the best of both worlds. He is one of the most well-rounded defensive ends in the country, as he displayed in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, where he had a team-high five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.Throw in Picou, who is a prospect with the flexibility to move inside to tackle or stay outside depending on where coaches need him, and the Vols are set along the defensive front for the future.The linemen committed are a huge reason the Vols currently have the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class. Following a season where they restocked the skill-position shelf, beefing up the defensive front is exactly what the Vols needed.They did that, and then some.After the year the Vols posted, where they improved in virtually every defensive category and went to the trail to snag a class such as this, it's hard to believe they aren't on the way back. With the talent they'll have staring down the opposing quarterback, how could they not be'SEC powerhouses are forged in the trenches, and with the size and versatility of this class, UT should be able to make it difficult on offenses for years to come.All recruiting information from 247Sports composite rankings, unless otherwise noted. Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter@Brad_Shepard.
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