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 Hampton, Georgia product Jerrod Means.
The Tennessee offense has struggled at times over the past two seasons, and while lack of SEC caliber talent has been blamed for many of those struggles, there is one position group at Tennessee that any SEC head coach would be thrilled to have: The Wide Receivers. Tennessee is historically known as Wide Receiver U, and though Clemson has made a strong push in recent years to claim that title, the Vols won’t be giving it up without a fight, particularly with the players they have on the roster this season. The Vols boast two of the biggest, strongest, and most physically gifted pass catchers in the conference in Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway. The pair of big, rising seniors have different skill sets, but they are each a nightmare to cover one-on-one, have incredible leaping ability, and have ball skills that allow them to routinely make spectacular, high point grabs over defensive backs. When the Tennessee offense was performing the at its best last season, it was when Jennings and Callaway were being steadily fed the ball on the perimeter. Fellow rising senior Brandon Johnson also put up solid numbers, while rising junior Josh Palmer had a bit of a breakout season, flashing ability to become a consistent deep threat in the passing game. The receivers were a bit limited, as was the offense as a whole, due to poor offensive line play in 2018. The lack of protection meant that even on short routes, Vol quarterbacks were being hit quickly, leading to more check down throws, screens, and swing passes. Deep routes to attack downfield were at a premium, usually requiring max protection packages to be called, and even then, the passes had to come out so fast, the receivers were left to make a great play on a contested ball. Time and again, when the were afforded the opportunity, Tennessee receivers made those plays on the ball. In 2019, the Vols should have a better, if much younger, offensive line. They also have a quarterback with another year of experience and one of the most widely respected offensive coordinators in the country. Jim Chaney returns to Tennessee with his talent for calling plays to get the most out of his receivers. If the offensive line can hold up better with these young players, there should be plenty of opportunities for the wide receiving corps. This talented, deep group means that there likely won’t be many snaps for newcomers, but the group is senior laden. The Vols will need players that can step in and play immediately next season, which means that they had the luxury of taking some athletic specimens at wideout that require some polish. One such player is the gifted, three-star, Lovejoy High product, Jerrod Means.
Means was one of the lesser known members of Tennessee’s 2019 class. He had flown a bit under the radar and wound up being offered by the Vols later in the recruiting cycle. Means shares many similarities with 2018 signee Cedric Tillman. Tillman, a fellow wide receiver, was a late add for Pruitt and the Vols in the 2018 class, but the staff loved his size and athleticism. They felt that Tillman was a player they could afford to redshirt and develop, a diamond in the rough that they had the time to spend polishing thanks to the wealth of talent at receiver ahead of him. Means is likely to follow Tillman on that exact path, learning under Tee Martin while watching and practicing with Jennings and Callaway this season. Means is far from a finished product, but he has an excellent opportunity to develop his talents this season and prime himself for a run at significant playing time in 2020. That the focus for Means to see significant playing time should be 2020 is by no means an insult to the young man, he is a talented but raw prospect coming into Tennessee’s best position group. He is unlikely to see significant snaps this season barring injury to the starters. That said, there is plenty that the Volunteer coaches see in Means.
Means adds another big body to Tennessee’s receiver room. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 215 pounds, Means is tall with a well-muscled frame. Means brings not only height out on the edges, but strength and a physical presence as well. He has the strength to be an asset blocking on the edge in the running game, in fighting through press coverage, and in fighting through tackles to create opportunities for big plays. A staple in Jim Chaney’s offenses over the years has been a quick swing or screen pass to a physically gifted wide receiver, giving them a chance to make a play, make one man miss, and create a big play. Cordarrelle Patterson was a beneficiary of such a play call many times while playing for Chaney at Tennessee. He used his exceptional change of direction and strength for his size to break a first tackle and rack up yards on an easy play. Means arrives at Tennessee with a size and build similar to Patterson, and watching his high school film, more similarities with the former Vol become apparent.
While Means doesn’t have the ankle breaking change of direction that Patterson did, he is quick with the ball in his hands. He shows a skill for using his quickness to ensure he doesn’t take a flush hit, then, he uses his strength to drive through an attempted tackle and get into the open field. Again, like Patterson, Means is a natural and smooth athlete. Watching him run, especially in the open field, it is hard to get an appreciation for just how fast Means is. This is a big receiver that is deceptively fast thanks to the fluidity and ease of his stride while he runs. Means is SEC fast, and he pairs that speed with a frame that should slow him up more than it does. Means has very smooth cuts when running his routes and when carrying the ball, again, he moves so effortlessly on film that it can be hard to realize how fast he is until you compare him to the players he is blowing past.
Still, there are reasons that Means flew under the radar and is viewed as a bit of a project. At Lovejoy, Means was able to get open and make plays often on the strength of his athleticism alone. He needs to spend time and dedicate himself to becoming a better route runner, as well as focusing on his technique in beating press coverage and high pointing a jump ball. Most importantly, Means needs to focus on consistency with his hands. Means has good hands, but time focusing on making routine catches second nature as he grows his technique will aide him in getting on the field for the Vols. These are things that many new receivers are asked to do when they ascend to the college ranks, and Means will be studying under one of the best receiver coaches in America in Tee Martin. Means is a hard worker and has all the tools to be successful at Tennessee. He is raw, very much a diamond in the rough, but the Vols feel confident in their investment in Means as they have two coaches that are excellent at polishing such rough stones into gems with Martin and David Johnson. Means likely won’t be an immediate impact player for Tennessee in 2019, though after a probable redshirt season, 2020 should afford him an opportunity to put his skills on display and be a meaningful contributor to the offense. Means will be one of the more interesting players to watch over the next few seasons, as a gifted athlete being molded and developed by one of the best coaches of his position in the country.