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Which Early Enrollees Will Make An Impact At Tennessee?

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Butch Jones welcomes in 14 new players who will take part in offseason workouts and spring practices beginning March 7. Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images.
Butch Jones welcomes in 14 new players who will take part in offseason workouts and spring practices beginning March 7. Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images.

Three weeks away from national signing day, Tennessee already is benefiting from Butch Jones' first full recruiting class that will be finalized Feb 5.

Fourteen of the Vols' 33 commits have enrolled for the spring semester and will get a head start on the rest of the class by going through spring practices. Defensive end Joe Henderson is likely to enroll in May, but still needs the NCAA to declare him eligible to play.

Let's take a look at the Vols newcomers who enrolled early.

Dontavius Blair

Offensive Tackle
6-foot-8, 303 pounds
Garden City (Kan.) Community College

Blair immediately becomes a candidate to start for the Vols this year with Tennessee having to replace all five of its starting offensive lineman. He played left tackle for most of his JUCO career, and he’s expected to stay there at UT. Tennessee needs to find a replacement for Antonio Richardson, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft.

Neiko Creamer

Athlete
6-foot-3, 218 pounds
Eastern Christian Academy, Elkton, Md
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Creamer enrolled five days after the rest of the early enrollees due to waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. Creamer attended four different high schools and gathering all of the transcripts initiated the NCAA's delay. Now that the off-the-field saga is in the rear-view mirror, Creamer will concentrate on the on-the-field matters, apparently at wide receiver. He missed the final four games of his senior season with a sprained MCL in his left knee, but reportedly is close to 100 percent. Creamer is the strongest of the receivers coming in.

Daniel Helm

Tight End
6-foot-4, 225 pounds
Glenwood High School, Chatham, Ill.

The tight end position can only get better. The Vols only produced 98 receiving yards from the tight end position during the 2013 season. Helm’s brings athleticism and the ability to line up in the slot at times. Having an early start to the offseason workout program allows Helm to get bigger and he will have the time to work on his run blocking. This is crucial to become an every-down tight end.

Joe Henderson

Defensive End
6-foot-3, 228 pounds
Shaker Heights (Ohio) High School

Tennessee fans hoped Henderson would benefit from gaining the extra time at the school by getting bigger this offseason within Tennessee's workout program. It appears Henderson will have to wait until May after the NCAA clears him to play. He recorded a school-record 18.5 sacks as senior and will be competing for a chance to be starting this fall. Henderson's explosiveness allows him to be effective in the pass-rushing department.

Jalen Hurd

Running Back
6-foot-3, 230 pounds
Beech High School, Hendersonville, Tenn.

Hurd is the superstar of the Class of 2014. The five-star running back was selected to play in the Under Armour High School All-American game, but a torn labrum would not allow Hurd to play in the game or his entire senior season. There's no reason for Vols fans to worry; Hurd is expected to be cleared for contact during spring practices and will compete with senior Marlin Lane for the starting running back spot.

Jakob Johnson

Linebacker
6-foot-3, 236 pounds
Ribault High School, Jacksonville, Fla.

Johnson is a native of Stuttgart, Germany, and brings immediate depth to the linebacker position. He too will work on his size and frame this spring and fits in nicely with the Vols' 4-3 defensive scheme. Johnson can become a productive backup to A.J. Johnson, who decided to come back for his senior season.

Josh Malone

Wide Receiver
6-foot-2, 191 pounds
Station Camp High School, Gallatin, Tenn.

Malone is the other superstar of the class. He the hands and route-running skills. Malone will step in and become a down-the-field threat, something the Vols were missing in Jones' first year. Malone's presence downfield will cater to the short-yardage passing game of returning receivers Pig Howard, Marquez North, Jason Croom and Josh Smith.

Dimarya Mixon

Defensive Lineman
6-foot-3, 265 pounds
West Mesquite (Texas) High School

Mixon originally signed with Bo Pelini and Nebraska as part of the Huskers 2013 class and before committing to the Big Red, the defensive lineman switched from a verbal commitment to Missouri in December 2012. Academics prevented Mixon from enrolling at Nebraska and now after considering Boise State and Washington State last fall, Mixon is Rocky Top bound. Early playing time is likely with the Vols having to replace all four starters on the defensive line. Keep an eye on his frame. Mixon could grow into a defensive tackle before his time in Knoxville is over.

Emmanuel Moseley

Cornerback
6-foot, 160 pounds
Dudley High School, Greensboro, N.C.

He's a state champion, so Moseley knows what winning is about. He will play corner at UT, but at Dudley High School, the speedy cornerback also started at quarterback. Moseley was clocked running a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash and being a taller defensive back in the SEC will allow him to play more press and man coverage against the taller athletic receivers in the conference.

D’Andre Payne

Cornerback
5-foot-9, 175 pounds
H.D. Woodson High School, Washington D.C.

Payne gives the Vols more depth in the secondary. He earned Gatorade player of the year in Washington D.C. The difference between Payne and Moseley is weight. Payne weighs 15 pounds more than his new teammate and also brings a more physical, hard-hitting presence to the secondary. You may see Payne in more nickel schemes during his early time at Tennessee.

Von Pearson

Wide Receiver
6-foot-1, 180 pounds
Feather River College, Quincy, Calif.

It's a recurring statement, but Pearson is another player that brings needed quality depth to Tennessee's roster. Florida State and Oregon both showed interest in the JUCO receiver, but Jones and his staff won out. Pearson has the size and strong frame to go along with a 4.48 40-yard dash time and a 36-inch vertical. Pearson reeled in 93 receptions totaling 1,601 yards and 12 touchdowns last season at Feather River. Pearson put these numbers up in 10 games last fall and is the reason Tennessee fans are talking about the return of Wide Receiver U.

Ray Raulerson

Offensive Line
6-foot-4, 278 pounds
Plant High School, Tampa, Fla.

Raulerson's ability to play any position on the Vols' depleted offensive line is the reason he is a key addition. Development in spring ball will help Ray become a bigger and more physical body to play all three O-line positions in the SEC. Playing center or guard may be more ideal early on for Raulerson.

Coleman Thomas

Center
6-foot-6, 297 pounds
Fort Chiswell (Va.) High School

With Thomas enrolling early, it should be a competitive spring between him and redshirt freshmen Brett Kenderick and Austin Sanders at right tackle. Thomas is a little smaller than Kenderick and Sanders, but not by much. Athleticism is in Thomas' favor and will be a position race to keep an eye on this spring.

Owen Williams

Defensive Tackle
6-foot-1, 280 pounds
Butler Community College, El Dorado, Kan.

Williams is a nice plug-in from the JUCO ranks as the Vols prepare to quick-fix the defensive line. Four starters are gone from last year's D-line and Williams finds himself in a position to play immediately. It might be in a rotation-by-committee type scheme, but Williams will have a chance for the staff to get a feel for his place on Team 118.

Ethan Wolf

Tight End
6-foot-5, 247 pounds
Minster (Ohio) High School

Wolf already is near the size of former UT standout Jason Witten. Wolf also brings a good set of hands to the table, as the Minster High product reeled in 104 receptions, 1,447 receiving yards and 15 TDs in his three-year varsity career. Fellow SEC schools Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky offered Wolf, as well. Wolf and fellow early enrollee Daniel Helm will compete at tight end this spring with Brendan Downs, Woody Quinn and A.J. Brainsel.