10. Defensive line
It’s really a coin flip over which unit is worse between Tennessee football’s offensive line and defensive line. The Vols’ defensive line was the best unit on the team last year, but it lost all three starters in Kyle Phillips, Alexis Johnson and Shy Tuttle and also lost Paul Bain. Given how bad the depth was here last year, those backups becoming starters doesn’t bode well.
In the spring, the line did have issues. So as the one unit losing all of its starters with no proven depth, it’s clear why we are keeping it near the bottom of the list. And to many people, this should be the worst unit.
Initially, there were enough signs to show this unit should be better in the fall than the offensive line. That may put some unfair expectations on Tracy Rocker, but he has the coaching talent. For starters, it won the trenches in the spring game. Also, Emmit Gooden was the one proven returning contributor who developed last year, racking up seven and a half tackles for a loss.
But Gooden then suffered a season-ending injury, leaving Jeremy Pruitt with no returning starters up front. As a result, we had to move this down to the worst unit on the team for the year, which is indeed devastating.
Pruitt has gone the junior college and transfer routes, which involves more proven talent than regular recruiting. He got four-star Savion Williams and three-star Darel Middleton out of junior college and then Aubrey Solomon, once a five-star, to transfer from the Michigan Wolverines.
Solomon may get eligibility this year, but Williams and Middleton already have it. Then there’s 350-pound freshman Elijah Simmons. As such, those factors combined with Kingston Harris and Greg Emerson mean defensive tackle is in okay shape to have a couple of guys fill the roles.
At the one defensive end spot, there is more concern with Matthew Butler leading the way and John Mincey as a likely backup. LaTrell Bumphus and Ja’Quain Blakely could threaten there as well though. Simply put, the defensive line has bodies, but it doesn’t have enough proven bodies. And the injury to Gooden has moved it to the bottom of our list.