There is no secret how important the 2019 recruiting class is to Jeremy Pruitt and the Tennessee Volunteers. In multiple interviews this season, Pruitt referenced needing to get his own guys into the program before they could compete at the level they wanted. While Pruitt and Company recruited far better than anticipated during their brief time with the Vols in the 2018 cycle, the combination of a 4-8 season and the handicaps resulting from an odyssey of a coaching search clearly hampered them. The 2019 class represents Jeremy Pruitt’s first class at Tennessee in which he and his staff have had a full year to assemble the players they want. Due to the talent of these players and the emphasis Pruitt has placed on wanting to get his own players into the program, expect to see the young men from this class on the field early and often. Here's an idea of what to expect on the field through Spring Ball and into the fall. We continue our Player Profile series by looking at Loganville, Georgia product DeAngelo Gibbs.
When Jeremy Pruitt arrived at Tennessee, everyone around the program knew that the roster was going to take some significant work before it was up to the first-time head coach’s standards. Still, even factoring in the dramatic changes in scheme that Pruitt wanted to institute, the laundry list of injuries that plagued the Vols under Butch Jones and the players he brought in even after his departure, and a brutal schedule, it was surprising to see just how much work the roster still needed. Throughout the 2018 campaign, Pruitt made several references to the importance of recruiting and bringing in his guys. In the 2019 class, Pruitt has signed a bevy of players that were physical, versatile, able to help the Vols in multiple spots, and that came from winning programs. While not the case for every prospect in the class, these were certainly themes for the class as a whole, as Pruitt is trying to make Tennessee bigger and more physical all over the field. Pruitt has signed a few players that could help Tennessee on either side of the ball, players like Jeremy Banks in the 2018 class and Quavaris Crouch in the 2019 class. Both of these young men have gotten work at running back and linebacker, and for the moment, Banks looks to stay on offense, while Crouch looks to begin his Tennessee career as a linebacker. Another example comes in former Grayson High four-star athlete DeAngelo Gibbs, a transfer from Georgia, that has gotten work both as a receiver and defensive back since arriving in Knoxville.
Gibbs is an intriguing prospect for Tennessee because of what he brings to the table. There are many facets to his game, and he is a player that has an enormous amount to offer, but make no mistake, the number one asset the Gibbs has at his disposal is his speed. DeAngelo Gibbs has the kind of speed that opposing coaches stay up trying to figure out how to contain. If Gibbs is playing receiver, there are precious few balls that he is unable to run down. When he is working in the secondary, any pass that hangs, or even slightly flutters, risks allowing Gibbs the brief moments he needs to close and make a play. While the Vols may not have a multitude of players that possess elite speed, they do have a few, players like Ty Chandler, Bryce Thompson, Alontae Taylor, and Jordan Palmer all have serious wheels, with Chandler still holding multiple Tennessee High School Track records. Chandler showed flashes last season of what he was capable of when he got a little space, flashing speed that left opposing defenses, even in the SEC, grasping at air. DeAngelo Gibbs arrives on campus and immediately gets into the discussion as the fastest man on the team. Gibbs is a blistering athlete, and that speed is what the rest of his game is built around, as well as what is most likely to get him on the field for the Vols.
There is more to football than running fast, though, and while it is clear what Gibbs’ greatest strength is, it is also clear what the biggest question surrounding him is: What is he in college? Under Kirby Smart at Georgia, the answer to that question was a defensive back. Coming out of Grayson, Gibbs was listed as an athlete, though many schools saw him as a safety or corner. At 6 feet 1 inch tall and 210 pounds, Gibbs has a very interesting body type for his talents. Gibbs had the speed of an elite corner, though with a frame and the tackling ability more in line with a coverage free safety. The Bulldogs moved Gibbs into different slots in the secondary, finally seeming to settle on using him at safety, letting him use his phenomenal range to play center field in coverage. Still, Gibbs never seemed to find his stride in Athens, never seemed to find a comfortable role to settle into and thrive in. Gibbs was an athlete coming out of Grayson, and a bit of a tweener during his time with Georgia. His athletic ability was never in question, just where on the field he was best suited to utilize it. Along with a crowded secondary full of blue-chip talent, this factored into Gibbs choosing to transfer out of Athens after his sophomore season and head north to Knoxville.
Upon arriving on Rocky Top, Jeremy Pruitt decided that there might have been another answer to the question of, “What is DeAngelo Gibbs?” For Pruitt, a coach respected nationally for his eye for talent, the answer was to move Gibbs to the offensive side of the ball as a wide receiver. Gibbs did work with the defense some during spring ball, but he spent most of his time with the offense. It appears that Gibbs will at least start his career at Tennessee playing receiver, the position that, after watching more of his high school film, it is hard to believe he hasn’t been playing all along. That same 6 feet 1 inch frame means that Gibbs, while not as big as current Vol receivers Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, is still a sizeable target on the outside for his quarterback. While Gibbs may not be as big as Jennings or Callaway, neither of them can match Gibbs in a foot race. Gibbs gives Tennessee something new in their receiving corps, lethal speed that demands safety help for even the best corners. One misstep in man coverage is all that Gibbs needs to get past and pull away from nearly every defensive back in America. A receiver that can turn a single defensive mistake into a touchdown is a new dynamic to add into what is likely the best position group on the Volunteer roster. Like the two headliners in that group, Gibbs is an outstanding leaper with excellent ball skills. His high school highlights are littered with spectacular catches, some on the sidelines, leaping grabs, one-handed snags, and snatches away from defenders awaiting a certain interception. Gibbs opened eyes with his new coaches and teammates with a pair of incredible grabs this spring. Still, Gibbs is a bit raw a receiver, and he can rely a little too heavily on his incredible athleticism at times. He has a knack for the spectacular catches, but he needs to focus on making routine grabs automatic. He needs to spend some time developing his routes, which aren’t bad, but need polishing at the SEC level. This is a young man that has been playing defense the last two seasons, so that he needs to work on the finer points of being a receiver is far from a surprise. There is more good news on that front for Gibbs as the Vols now have two coaches that are considered excellent developers of wideouts in David Johnson and new wide receiver coach Tee Martin.
Martin definitely has himself a special, if raw, talent to work with in Gibbs. If Gibbs can find his home at receiver for the Vols, and it looks that he could, he will have an opportunity to receive the coaching he needs to develop his game and become an elite, offensive weapon for the Vols. Exactly when that weapon will be available for the Big Orange is the current question, though. Gibbs has applied for a waiver with the NCAA to play immediately, and though the coaches have said they feel the odds of Gibbs being granted a waiver are good, it is still up in the air. If Gibbs were to be denied by the NCAA, he still has a redshirt year available, and would then have a further two years of eligibility to pursue with Tennessee. Gibbs may find the path to the field a bit crowded this fall even if he is cleared to play, but next season, with the Vols graduating multiple receivers, he should figure into the discussion as a starter at receiver whether he is listed as a Junior or Senior. Either way, the Vols have secured a special talent in Gibbs, one that provides the offense with a potent weapon and that should be fun to see developed.