We’ve been staying on the front seven throughout the start of this ranking, and that continues with Kyle Phillips. The senior defensive end is also a guy that Tennessee football can’t afford to lose and one most likely to win a postseason award. Why? Because he’s the only proven guy at the position there now.
All the other players with experience at the position have moved to outside linebacker. So this role belongs to Phillips and Phillips alone. Once a five-star defensive end, Phillips was part of that 2015 defensive line recruiting class as well along with Shy Tuttle and Darrell Taylor.
However, like Tuttle, he suffered two season-ending injuries after his freshman year that left him out for most of the following offseasons. And like Tuttle, this was his first full offseason since that freshman campaign.
Now, provided Tuttle can fill his role along with the other defensive tackles who need to step up, Phillips has a chance to finally be the impact player he needs to be. Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 scheme calls for the tackles to be cogs and the linebackers to take advantage of that by having free reign to rush the passer or stop the run. As the defensive end, Phillips needs to do both.
The 6’4″ 273-pound senior had 33 tackles, four and a half tackles for a loss and two sacks in 2017. But he was in a rotation that involved three defensive ends that year. This year, he is the sole defensive end on the line. And we expect him to have a huge role as a star player.