Fit Happens: LB to UT

UT Recruiting

In gaining a pre-visit commitment from linebacker Robert Nelson, of Stone Mountain, (Ga.) High School, the Vols picked up a perfect fit during a recruiting campaign in which "fit" has become a four-letter word as the tag line for severing ties with an unknown number of prospects that were either committed to or interested in UT.

It's what five-star quarterback Tajh Boyd heard from Lane Kiffin himself, albeit over the phone. It's was the word that was sent through a soon-to-be fired assistant, Jason Michael, to Bryce Petty that marked the end of the Texas QB's association with UT. Fit, or rather unfit, summarily sounded the death knell to UT's courtship with Compton (Calif.) Junior College D-lineman Branden Warner days before he was scheduled to visit.

And finally the "fit" word terminated a relationship the Vols had with Damien Thigpen for the last year. He committed in April, he remained steadfast through the coaching change, and was told he didn't fit at the end of January during an official visit to UT, raising questions as to why it took so long to decide Thigpen didn't fit? But the larger question is why wouldn't a 4.34 forty time fit into a pro style offense?

Obviously, a variety of information and considerations enter the evaluation process, and no one knows better what Lane Kiffin is looking for than Lane Kiffin himself. Besides he has access to a cadre of intelligence from which to draw opinion. He's also the one who is accountable for the bottom line in what is very much a bottom-line business. Although it's not business as usual for Tennessee, all will be forgiven if Kiffin inks a top 10 class.

Let's face it, when your career record is 10 games below .500 and you're replacing a coach whose career record is 100 games above .500, you know you're not being paid to cut bait. And time isn't a luxury he has been afforded. Most of the mercenary manner is directly attributable to a major transformation taking place at a tradition-rich football program in the middle of a typically intense recruiting campaign. It is clearly in the best interest of prospects to know they aren't suited for the system. Presumably there will be no further offers to unfit prospects.

It's only from this prism that Robert Nelson's pre-visit pledge to Volunteer can be fully appreciated as the 6-0, 209-pound, defender is an example of perfect fit. An undersized linebacker, he compensates with an explosive first step, a high RPM engine, keen instincts and arresting quickness. Put it all together and you get a coiled striker and tackling machine who is custom made for a heavy pressure system like employed by Monte Kiffin.

As a junior Nelson compiled 176 stops and followed that with 151 tackles as a senior. He also played on the offensive line during those season making his totals all the more impressive. As a four-year starter, Lord Nelson amassed 383 stops and 24 sacks for the Pirates. He was twice named to the Atlanta Journal Constitution All-State team and had offers from approximately 40 schools, including: South Carolina, Auburn, Alabama, Purdue, West Virginia, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Illinois and Mississippi State.

Tennessee was recruiting Nelson before the coaching change, but it was only after Lance Thompson joined Kiffin's staff from Alabama that conditions were set to earn Nelson's commitment in advance of his visit.

Nelson runs a 4.59 and is a rapid closer who does overrun some plays in his eagerness to make the tackle. He's most effective operating between the tackles but does have good chase speed as well as lateral mobility. He needs to polish his coverage skills and read his keys better, but his upside is outstanding. He would be ideal to assume a hybrid role as bandit or rover type defender, who is easy to hide and lethal to launch.

When Scout.com's Steve Robertson asked him to describe his strengths, Nelson said: "One of my biggest strengths is that I have the strength to get off of blocks. My coach has really worked with me a lot on hitting the crease hard. Once I get in the crease, I don't waste a lot of motion getting to the tackle. I just go get it."

That's pretty much the way he handled Tennessee's offer which all goes to show, fit can and does happen.

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