The Tennessee Smokies will remain... the Tennessee Smokies.
Smokies general manager Brian Cox confirmed on Sports 180 today the team was only joking when it announced this morning the franchise's new name would become the Tennessee Browns. The team's press release this morning stated it was a move to connect the franchise with chairman Jimmy Haslam's Cleveland Browns, which he purchased in October.
"We had a lot of fun with it today," Cox said. "Hopefully we didn't upset too many fans. We are going to stay the Tennessee Smokies. We love our name."
The Smokies will begin their season on the road on Thursday against Pensacola. Tennessee's first home game will be April 10 against Chattanooga.
Russ Lande expects Tyler Bray's NFL draft stock to rise.
Lande, who serves as the Scouting Director for the National Football Post, joined Sports 180 on Thursday. How does Lande grade Bray following his performance at last week's NFL Combine in Indianapolis?
"I really think Bray is a third-round player," Lande said of the former Tennessee quarterback. "The immense upside is there but he needs to be more consistent, especially with his footwork."
Bray has time to work on that between now and March 20, when Tennessee will hold its Pro Timing Day.
Lande said he believes Bray will be "spectacular" when he works out for NFL scouts on UT's campus thanks to the opportunity to throw passes to his former Tennessee teammates.
"Accuracy, timing, that will all be taken care of," Lande said. "It's going to be a scripted session, so I'm sure nothing is going to surprise him. There are not going to be any pass rushers in his face.
"He will be tremendous. I think a coach will fall in love with him and I think in the bottom of the first or the top of the second (round), he's going to get drafted because of that."
Lande said he expects Bray's former teammate, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, to be drafted in the first round. But there are still questions about Patterson following his performance at the NFL Combine.
"There's no question physically the tools are there," Lande said. "He's a big kid, he's got rare talent running with the ball in his hands, he can make highlight reel catches. But I think when you watched him in the physical part of the workout, you saw there were times where he didn't run the sharpest routes and he had trouble getting in and out of his breaks.
"And I don't think it's due to an inability to do it. I think it's due to sometimes he loses focus and I think I see that in games, so it wasn't shocking to see it during his workout."
There were also questions about Patterson following his interviews with certain NFL teams.
"They said he really wasn't impressive and led them to think that the problems he had on the field may not correct themselves as quickly as they would hope," Lande said.
What did Lande say about former Tennessee receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers as well as other top NFL prospects?
Click here to listen to the full interview.
Kicker Andrew Gantz from Centerville (Ohio) High School is considering a preferred walk-on position at Ohio State.
Gantz, who committed to the same position at Tennessee last month, visited Ohio State on Friday. He said Monday morning via Facebook that he's undecided on which school he will attend.
"Still trying to make the best decision for me and my family," said Gantz, who's free to attend the school of his choosing because he has not signed a National Letter of Intent.
Gantz said Ohio State and Tennessee have both offered him an opportunity to compete for a starting position with a scholarship to follow if he wins a job. He said Ohio State would like him to compete for the punting job this fall with an opportunity to become the team's placekicker to follow in 2014.
Ohio State's need at the position became more glaring on Thursday when punter Johnny Townsend from Orlando, Fla., decommitted from the Buckeyes and signed with Florida.
Tennessee has signed 21 prospects in the 2013 class and could add up to six more signees. The Vols are set to have three kicking specialists on scholarship this fall: senior Michael Palardy, redshirt junior Matt Darr and redshirt freshman George Bullock.
This isn't Tennessee's first head-to-head battle with Ohio State for a prospect this year. The Buckeyes signed highly-touted safety Vonn Bell from Ridgeland High School in Rossville, Ga., on Wednesday after Bell gave serious thought to choosing Tennessee.
Ohio State also held onto linebacker Trey Johnson from Lawrenceville, Ga., after he took an official visit to Tennessee last month.
Safety Vonn Bell was the latest highly-touted prospect from the state of Tennessee to turn down the Tennessee Volunteers on Wednesday.
Despite the efforts of coach Butch Jones, Tennessee signed only three of the state's top 10 players according to Rivals and none of the top five.
Bell, who attends Ridgeland High School in Rossville, Ga., but lives in Chattannoga, signed with Ohio State after considering offers from Tennessee and Alabama. Frustrations grew for Tennessee fans when they learned of comments from Bell's father.
Vonn Bells dad told me "this is bc of Dooley. If UT had recruited Vonn from day 1 he'd be going there. Coach Jones had 2 much ground 2 covr"— Stephen Hargis (@StephenHargis) February 6, 2013
Then came comments on Sports 180 from Jonathan Hutton from The Zone in Nashville on Thursday. Hutton, who was set to attend Tennessee's recruiting celebration in Nashville, discussed Derek Dooley's lack of recruiting efforts in the mid-state area.
"It is amazing the amount of high school coaches in this area that said they never met Derek Dooley but have already met Butch Jones."
One of those coaches is Kevin Dyson, the former NFL wide receiver who served as the head coach at Independence High School in Nashville until December. Independence has two SEC-level football players: athlete Vic Wharton, who committed to Tennessee in December, and safety Rashaan Gaulden, who has an offer from the Vols.
"Kevin Dyson never met Derek Dooley," Hutton said. "... And Dyson had more than just Vic Wharton on his team that's now going onto Division I football and Dyson never met Derek Dooley. That speaks volumes to me."
It also speaks volumes to the situation Jones inherited when he became Tennessee's coach on Dec. 7. There were feelings throughout Tennessee that Dooley didn't make enough effort to build relationships with coaches and players inside the state.
This isn't to pile on to Dooley or further highlight the struggles of Tennessee's program in recent years. Instead, it shows the challenges the Vols have had to overcome in recruiting and the importance of Jones and his staff to rebuild some of those relationships in the future.
The 2014 class is filled with talent inside the state of Tennessee. Increased attention in those areas from Tennessee's new staff could help the Vols avoid more disappointments like the one they experienced on Wednesday.
Tennessee’s 2013 class received a much needed boost Wednesday night when Marquez North announced his commitment to Tennessee.
North is one of the nation’s top-rated wide receivers from Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, N.C. He also plays a position of great need at Tennessee because of the departures of Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Zach Rogers.
North’s commitment to Tennessee gave the Vols a quick boost in the national rankings.
Tennessee improved from below No. 40 to the 32nd-ranked class in the nation (as of Thursday afternoon), per Rivals.com. Below is Tennessee’s current standing in both the nation and the SEC according to the nation’s top four recruiting services.
ESPN – 29/11
Rivals – 32/11
Scout – 43/11
247Sports – 25/10
As you can see, Tennessee, which has 17 commitments and can sign up to 27 prospects in the 2013 class, still has its work cut out to keep up with the rest of the SEC. The good news for the Vols is they remain in the running for several highly-touted prospects.
Here’s a look at some of the top players remaining on Tennessee’s board with less than a week to go until signing day.
DB Vonn Bell – Ridgeland High School in Rossville, Ga.
Bell looked like an Alabama lean for several weeks, but the Vols might have taken the lead following his official visit to Tennessee last weekend. The Chattanooga native has grown up a fan of the Vols, and Tennessee coach Butch Jones and his staff have worked tirelessly to convince Bell he’s badly needed in Knoxville. Ohio State has also made a strong push for Bell, who will announce his decision on signing day.
DE Carl Lawson – Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga.
It looks like a three-team race between Tennessee, Auburn and Clemson. Lawson, who’s committed to Auburn, is expected to visit The Plains this weekend. Does that give the Tigers the edge? Ask several different analysts and you’ll hear several different opinions. The truth is Lawson might not know yet where he will sign.
DE Davin Bellamy – Chamblee (Ga.) High School
Bellamy decommitted from Florida State earlier this week and named Georgia his leader, which should make the Bulldogs the team to beat. But Tennessee has impressed Bellamy, who has shown a strong interest in the Vols since attending UT’s spring game last April.
DE Jaylen Miller – Gaffney (S.C.) High School
Miller represents Tennessee’s best chance to add another defensive lineman to the 2013 class. He said this week he doesn’t plan to announce his choice until Wednesday, but this looks like a poorly kept secret. Perhaps Georgia Tech, Maryland or Wake Forest could pull a stunner, but the fact Miller has visited Knoxville the last two weekends should make his plan a dead giveaway.
RB Johnathan Ford – New Hope (Ala.) High School
He plays a serious position of need for Tennessee, which has already seen 2012 running back signees Davante Bourque and Quenshaun Watson leave campus. Ford, who decommitted from Vanderbilt this week, has shown strong interest in Auburn. Georgia and Florida State tried to enter the picture with scholarship offers last weekend.
LB E.J. Levenberry – C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Va.
Levenberry has been committed to Florida State since April but has always shown an interest in Tennessee. He’s scheduled to visit Knoxville this weekend, which indicates his interest remains genuine. The Vols will surely make a push for Levenberry to switch his commitment during his trip.
QB Josh Dobbs – Alpharetta (Ga.) High School
Tennessee’s coaching staff would like to add another quarterback to this class to go along with Riley Ferguson from Matthews, N.C. Dobbs, who’s committed to Arizona State, seems like a good fit. But he knows there’s playing time available at Arizona State, while Tennessee appears to have a full depth chart with Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman already on campus.
Chongo Kondolo - Fresno (Calif.) Community College
Kondolo isn't necessarily highly-touted (unless we're putting together an all-name team), but he is very much needed in this class. Tennessee has three offensive linemen committed, which really isn't enough considering the Vols didn't sign a single offensive lineman last year. Kondolo, who's also considering Nebraska, could be a starter in 2014 if he chooses to sign with Tennessee.
Want to hear more recruiting talk on the radio? Check out Football Futures - presented by Tropical Smoothie Cafe - on Saturday morning from 10-11 eastern time. As always, don't hesitate to send me a question or comment on twitter: @Josh_Ward.
Former University of Tennessee safety Deon Grant doesn't know if he will play football again.
Grant, who last played for the 2011 New York Giants Super Bowl team, sat out the 2012 season. He told WNML Radio on Monday that he turned down opportunities to play this past season.
Grant said he plans to make a decision on his future before the start of next season.
"I’m going to decide I guess this offseason if I’m going to go ahead and throw the towel in," he said. "There’s only a few teams I really would play for at this particular point in my career.”
Grant left open the possibility of returning to the NFL but said it would have to be the right team.
"If the talk is good and it’s a great situation for me, anything could happen," said Grant, who also played for Carolina, Jacksonville and Seattle during his 12 seasons in the NFL.
Grant's time away from football has been spent working with the Grant D. Knowledge Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit founded by Grant.
"It's an opportunity to give kids a better shot of their goals and if they don't know their goals, give them a little education and a little bit more oomph - that's what I like to call it - a little more oomph to get to where they're trying to go in life," Grant said.
Click here to listen to the entire interview with Deon Grant.
Other highlights from the interview:
● Grant said he'd like to see former Vols playing in the NFL come closer together.
“We should be a lot closer. From the guys that we do have in the leage and the type of attitudes and mentalities that we have, Tennessee just doesn’t breed arrogant guys, Peyton (Manning) and all those other guys. We should be a lot closer and I think that’s something we’re going to have to start doing as far as trying to put on an event that we come back to TN or get together in a particular city.”
● Grant said he believes Tennessee has dealt with bad luck since it decided to fire coach Phillip Fulmer in 2008. Grant believes Tennessee needs people who understand what made the program successful in the past.
"I think the key thing is, you’ve got to get some people that know the history of that school. They know the history of the SEC. They know the history of Tennessee, Knoxville, that whole tradition. You have to get somebody like that in that coaching staff, even if it’s not the head coach. You need to have somebody involved in that coaching staff that has some of that background and has knowledge to what’s going on and the key reason to get guys to come to Tennessee. And I think they’ll be back on the path that they should be on.”
● I asked Grant what he thought of Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs's recent claim that the New England Patriots are "arrogant pricks."
"They won more championship games in the 2000s than any other team so if they walk around with their head up or like their boo boo don’t stink, they’ve got every right because they’ve earn that. I know Tom Brady personally and I know that’s not his attitude. Class A guy, work hard, make sure you’re alright. I got hurt playing him a few years back and he made sure he came and checked on me while I was still on the field."
To hear the entire interview with Grant, click here.