1. Attrition on the defensive line
The trenches in general are major concerns for Tennessee football, but different reasons apply. For the offensive line, it’s because the Vols were historically bad last year. But on the defensive line, it’s because they lost everybody.
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This was the strongest unit on Rocky Top last year with Alexis Johnson, Shy Tuttle and Kyle Phillips. Paul Bain even turned into a decent backup after being a walk-on. But all four of those guys are gone.
What made this an even bigger concern, though, was the loss of Emmit Gooden. Once a four-star junior college transfer from Last Chance U, he was the only returning contributor on the team. And after developing throughout last year, picking up seven and a half tackles for a loss and a sack, he was clearly a guy ready to show what he had.
But news was confirmed hours before this post that Gooden suffered a season-ending injury. Meanwhile, the other proven lineman Jeremy Pruitt went for, Michigan Wolverines transfer and once five-star recruit Aubrey Solomon, is still waiting on his NCAA eligibility waiver.
So right now, the Vols have two junior college transfers in four-star Savion Williams and three-star Darel Middleton, the latter of whom is also from Last Chance U, and then a bunch of freshmen at defensive tackle in Kingston Harris, Greg Emerson and Elijah Simmons. Meanwhile, they have Matthew Butler, John Mincey, Ja’Quain Blakely and LaTrell Bumphus at defensive end.
Finally, Kurrott Garland, who could provide more depth, is in the transfer portal. So with none of these guys proven, Tennessee football’s giant step forward in Pruitt’s second season could be derailed by insane attrition on the defensive line. That would be disastrous, and it’s why this is the biggest concern for the season.