The Tennessee Vols’ 2018 signing class, the first for Jeremy Pruitt as UT’s head coach, was highlighted by the signing of four-star linebacker JJ Peterson.

When Peterson chose to sign with the Vols over Alabama, it was considered Pruitt’s first big “win” as Tennessee’s head coach.

Unfortunately for the Vols, Peterson, due to some academic issues, wasn’t able to join Tennessee last season until August 31. As a result, the Georgia native wasn’t able to go through fall camp. He saw action in four games as a true freshman in 2018, mostly on special teams.

Heading into 2019, Peterson was expected to see a bigger role on defense — especially with Tennessee’s lack of depth at the linebacker position.

But so far this season, Peterson has been an afterthought. He’s played in every game this season, but he’s only totaled one tackle.

There’s no such thing as patience for player development these days, so it’s not surprising that some folks have already labeled Peterson as a bust.

But I think that’s completely unfair. And I think there’s a good chance we see Peterson develop into a key contributor for the Vols at some point in the near future.

Setbacks hinder development

Peterson suffered a torn labrum in spring practice, which kept him out until the fall. That meant that Peterson missed most of spring practice and all of the team’s 7 on 7 work during the summer months.

This fall was the first time Peterson has been able to practice in full with the team. It’s almost like starting from scratch for him. Expecting him to be a key part of the Vols’ linebacker rotation, after everything he’s had to deal with over the last year, would be unfair. Not every player is able to come in a contribute immediately as a newcomer. For every Henry To’o To’o, there are 10-15 players who need a couple of years before they’re ready to become starters or key backups.

Peterson, even with his obvious talents, is one of those guys who needs some time.

Pruitt mentioned earlier this year that he’s seen plenty of players who never see the field until their senior year and end up becoming solid, dependable SEC players. Peterson could end up being one of those guys.

For what it’s worth, inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer told the Knoxville QB club on Monday that Peterson has “done really well”, while adding “the last couple weeks he’s become a lot more comfortable with what’s going on in the defense … he’s coming along”.

I understand that highly rated players are expected to contribute early. But that’s not always how it works. And if those players don’t contribute early, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bust. Sometimes they just need time (especially when injuries and missed practice time because of academics is an issue).

Pruitt and his staff pursued Peterson because they believed in his talent. And it sounds like they still believe in his talent.

Fans and media members have been quick to forget about JJ Peterson, but he’s a kid that will still have three years of eligibility remaining after this season. We’re nowhere close to closing the book on his collegiate career.

It’s still very much a possibility that Peterson becomes an extremely important part of Tennessee’s linebacker rotation.

Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports/247Sports

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