Cainer’s Corner: Mass Exodus

By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer

Anytime you make a head coaching change, the fear is always roster management. What about the recruiting class? What about the players on the roster? And now in 2021, it’s never been easier to make a move.

Tennessee certainly didn’t help itself with the timing of this mess – the mess being firing Jeremy Pruitt for cause on Monday. Some of it couldn’t have been avoided, as there was (and still is) an ongoing investigation into the program.  

But the program has been in a state of limbo dating all the way back to when reports first surfaced of alleged recruiting violations and more into the program. That first came about right before kickoff against Texas A&M on December 19.

Prior to this week, we’ve seen 13 players who began the 2020 season as Vols enter the transfer portal. There’s been constant rumors and credible reports of more to come, but up until 48 hours following the firing of Pruitt – no Vol had darted away.

Then came 5:58 pm (ET) Wednesday evening. The dominos began to fall.

Senior offensive lineman Jahmir Johnson was the first announced. Three minutes later, star linebacker Henry To’o To’o followed. At 6:20, linebacker Quavaris Crouch was in before finally running back Eric Gray finished off the devastating period by entering three minutes later.

25 minutes is all it took, and a 3-7 roster got a whole lot worse.

Nothing is official. All of these guys could very well come back. But Vol fans should prepare as if they are all gone and how the roster could look like come fall.

Henry To’o To’o / Credit: Sam Forman

Henry To’o To’o – LB

Henry T. was a guy Tennessee fans fell in love with as a true freshman in 2019. He came in and played right away as an 18-year-old and finished the campaign as a Freshman All-American by several publications. In 2020, he was set to be the guy and he was the heart and soul of the defense, but I never saw him improve. Of course, COVID could have played a role in that but I think it was the lack of development from coaches more than anything.

Henry is a stud and would be a WELCOMING addition to any program at the Power 5 level.

Replacements: Jeremy Banks, Aaron Beasley, Solon Page, Bryson Eason, Martavius French, Aaron Willis

 

Eric Gray – RB

Gray came on strong during the 2019 regular-season finale against Vanderbilt as a freshman, notching 366 total yards with four touchdowns. He then took home MVP honors from the Gator Bowl in January and was poised to be the guy as a sophomore. Gray was in fact RB1, finishing 2020 with a team-leading 772 rushing yards with four touchdowns and was also second on the squad with 30 receptions.

Replacements: Jabari Small, Tiyon Evans, Cody Brown, Dee Beckwith, Len’Neth Whitehead, Tee Hodge

 

Quavaris Crouch – LB

Q was a highly-rated prospect, ranked No. 1 in the country at one point, who shocked the recruiting world when he signed with the Vols in the 2019 class. Tennessee spent the bulk of his freshman season trying to find a spot for him. He played in all 13 games in 2019, making one start, while showing up on the edge, inside linebacker and at running back in short-yardage situations.

In 2020, Crouch started every game at inside linebacker, splitting time with Jeremy Banks aside from Henry T. I think he improved the more he played, but he was far from SEC-ready. Crouch was a work in progress and I was intrigued to eventually see how much he could improve.

I’m still a little iffy on where he should play moving forward, but he is a versatile guy who can fit in many schemes.

Replacements: Jeremy Banks, Aaron Beasley, Solon Page, Bryson Eason, Martavius French, Aaron Willis

 

Jahmir Johnson – OL

Johnson was brought in on Jeremy Pruitt’s initial class (patchwork class of 2018) as a JUCO transfer. The plan for Johnson was to plug and play him immediately as the offensive line was a disaster at the time. Johnson did just that, appearing 24 games with 17 starts in three seasons and will be a veteran, versatile presence for whoever signs him.

Replacements: Cade Mays, K’Rojhn Calbert, Ollie Lane, William Griffin-Parker, J’Marion Gooch, Amari McNeill

 

Takeaways: It’s not pretty and some fans are having to say goodbye to their favorite players. The inside linebacker room is depleted, the offensive tackle situation is not great now with the loss of two starters and the Vols’ lost their best two players overall in To’o To’o and Gray.

At the end of the day, Tennessee was still 3-7 and its coach was fired. Not surprised some of these key (still young) players are wanting to leave. As long as the program has a head coaching vacancy, the worry is more could join in exodus.

Listen: Cainer joined Josh Ward on the ‘Locked on Vols Podcast’ to talk Vols in the transfer portal.

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