Despite misusing talent at this position, Tennessee football still had a record-setter here in Derek Barnett. But he was just a football player that nobody could hold back. Without him, the Vols ran through too many guys due to injuries and poor coaching.
However, like many of the other positions on this roster, UT does have talent here. All of the starters we named were four-stars or better in their recruiting classes. Even with the conversion of Jonathan Kongbo and Darrell Taylor to outside linebacker, there’s plenty of talent to work with.
The big thing for Jeremy Pruitt and Kevin Sherrer, schematically, is that they might have to tweak exactly how they want to run their system. They probably won’t be able to use the standard 3-4 with edge rushers pinning their ears back as much as they want.
A more multiple defense might be in the works this year until a true nose tackle can emerge. However, the Vols can still win that way, so there’s no reason to write them off. Tracy Rocker still has some tough guys in the trenches to work with, and nobody should take that for granted.
Everything will come down to whether or not the line can get a push in the middle. Oh, and it will come down to health given what we’ve noted about Tuttle, Phillips and Johnson. However, we’re turning a new page on that for everybody because of the rash of injuries that hit the team the last two years. It had to be something about the staff.
As a result, don’t read too much into Tennessee football’s poor rush defense down the stretch of last year either. The horrendous pass defense in 2016 was due to lack of pressure up front as well. Both times, it came down to injuries. So with everybody healthy, that issue should be rectifiable.
Still, this unit does have some issues that will make it struggle. Lack of size in the middle, numerous position conversions and the scheme of Pruitt and Sherrer will make things difficult. Fortunately for the Vols, the talent is such that it shouldn’t be a poor unit. Just don’t expect it to be a strength of the team. The guys simply need to be able to fill their roles and do their jobs right.
Note: This preview is part of a series of previews for the 2018 Tennessee football season. For a look at other positions, please click here.