Tennessee football: Deandre Johnson in transfer portal scariest sign yet

Tennessee linebacker Deandre Johnson (13) during a game between Tennessee and Georgia in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday, October 5, 2019.Utvgeorgia1005
Tennessee linebacker Deandre Johnson (13) during a game between Tennessee and Georgia in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday, October 5, 2019.Utvgeorgia1005 /

The Tennessee football Volunteers edge rusher looking elsewhere is alarming.

There have been numerous transfers over the past two weeks from Tennessee football, but none were too alarming. Jarrett Guarantano, J.T. Shrout, Brandon Johnson, Austin Pope and Baylen Buchanan either didn’t play this year, saw limited action or were relegated to backups by the end of the year to make room for younger talent.

On Tuesday, though, a much more disturbing bit of transfer news took place. Patrick Brown of GoVols247 reported that senior edge rusher Deandre Johnson has entered the transfer portal, joining a growing list of seniors to be graduate transfers and look elsewhere.

This is a much worse look for Jeremy Pruitt. After the dismissal of Kivon Bennett earlier in the year Johnson became Tennessee football’s sole consistent pass rusher. As a result, he has lots more to gain by returning next year to play for the Vols than the other transfers did.

This past year, Johnson started 10 games and came away with four and a half sacks, six tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and 28 overall tackles, 17 of which were solo. He proved himself to be a reliable and sometimes explosive pass-rusher.

In the Vols’ season-opening win over the South Carolina Gamecocks, Johnson earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors with two and a half sacks, a forced fumble and six tackles, five of which were solo. He never matched that production the rest of the year, but he remained reliable when he was in the game.

As a senior, Johnson obviously could have simply graduated or tested the NFL Draft waters. However, if he were going to take advantage of the NCAA rule allowing him another year of eligibility, it would have made sense for him to stay with the Vols.

Given the fact that he is looking elsewhere, he may recognize a sinking ship on Rocky Top. Why else would he look elsewhere? He’s certain to hold onto his starting job, there’s limited competition behind him, and he’s playing a position that thrives in Pruitt’s and Derrick Ansley’s defensive system. Darrell Taylor is UT’s highest NFL Draft pick under Pruitt.

Sure, Pruitt is bringing in more talent that could make for a deeper rotation, but Johnson is still the main guy who will see the bulk of the action. With Bennett not returning to Tennessee football, his role is even more likely to increase with a full offseason.

At this point, the only explanation is that he doesn’t want to be a part of the program under Pruitt anymore. Following offensive line coach Will Friend’s departure for what could seem like a lateral move, this could be a sign of things truly falling apart.

If similar players follow Johnson’s lead in the coming days, that will paint a clearer picture. The same holds true of assistant coaches who may jump ship. We don’t know if any of that will happen yet, but it’s something for UT fans to be concerned about.

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A 2017 commitment to Butch Jones, Johnson was a reserve as a freshman for Tennessee football. He started the second half of the 2018 season after Jonathan Kongbo’s season-ending injury and split time with Bennett in 2019 opposite Taylor before becoming a full-time starter in 2020.