Biggest defensive line questions
1. Does Jeremy Pruitt have the size he needs at nose guard?
As we mentioned in the opening slide, Kahlil McKenzie’s early departure was a huge blow for Tennessee football. With this new system, he would have been a perfect fit at nose guard. However, the Vols need serious help there, and while Shy Tuttle has proven himself, he’s only proven in a 4-3.
Other big guys like Alexis Johnson and Emmit Gooden haven’t proven anything yet for the Vols. So it’s questionable if they have the proper size for the nose tackle to get the necessary push to help Jeremy Pruitt and Kevin Sherrer with their front seven. And it also leads to our next question.
2. How often will the Vols use four down linemen?
Pruitt runs a 3-4, but he uses a multiple scheme. So he will use a 4-3 and even run the nickel package if needed. As a result, you have to wonder how often he’ll actually use four down linemen this year. That’s also the case because of all the questions facing the Vols in the middle.
As we noted, whether or not they have the size in the middle is a question. So you have to wonder if Pruitt and Sherrer will need more help up front. Doing that will obviously hinder what they want the edge rushers to do. But they have to do what they can to get enough of a push, especially given how bad they were at stopping the run down the stretch of last season.
3. Will seniors finally live up to their recruiting rankings?
Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips and Alexis Johnson all arrived on Tennessee football’s campus with a ton of hype. They were part of a two-year recruiting haul by Butch Jones that also included McKenzie, Jonathan Kongbo and Darrell Taylor. Well, McKenzie has left for the NFL, and Kongbo and Taylor have switched positions. that leaves these three guys as the linemen left to live up to their hype.
Remember, Tuttle and Phillips have shown flashes but battled injuries their first two years. Johnson had an injury and a legal issue. Simply put, all of these guys have reasons for not reaching their peak yet. But with the injuries and distractions behind them and a new coaching staff, this is their chance to thrive. And the Vols need them. So can they do it? We’ll find out.