Tennessee football: Greg Emerson in portal a testament to Kurrott Garland

Tennessee defensive lineman Greg Emerson (90) at practice on Tuesday, August 6, 2019.Kns Vols Walkonqbs
Tennessee defensive lineman Greg Emerson (90) at practice on Tuesday, August 6, 2019.Kns Vols Walkonqbs /

Just before the 2019 season, Tennessee football lost Kurrott Garland to the transfer portal, and Greg Emerson was a rising star. However, Garland returned to the Vols in time for the opener, and he became a regular in the rotation.

Now, ironically, two years later, Emerson is the one who appears to be leaving Rocky Top. According to Patrick Brown of GoVols247, the 6’3″ 290-pound defensive tackle has now entered the transfer portal.

On the surface, this seems like a big loss for Tennessee football. Once a four-star recruit in Jeremy Pruitt’s first class, back in 2018, Emerson started nine games in 2019 and appeared in eight games in 2020. Given how badly the Vols struggled on the defensive line in spring ball, a player like Emerson would seem to be crucial.

However, Emerson’s transfer seems to speak more about how much Garland has developed since returning from the portal in 2019. In fact, a deeper look into the production of both players show that Garland has started to become the better player, and that speaks volumes to how much he has improved the past two years.

Remember, despite starting nine games in 2019, Emerson’s production declined midway through the season. He peaked with six tackles against the Alabama Crimson Tide, but he never had more than two a game after that.

Garland, meanwhile, began to see more action, and he peaked the last two games of 2019, with three tackles against the Vanderbilt Commodores and five tackles in the Gator Bowl against the Indiana Hoosiers. That continued into 2020, as Garland finished this past season with 22 tackles, one for a loss. Emerson just had one tackle.

Simply put, Garland began supplanting Emerson’s spot as the nose tackle. Although the Vols are switching back to a 4-3 with Tim Banks, the changes coming to the defensive line still appear to leave room for only Garland or Emerson to be on the field at once.

As a result, while Emerson entering the transfer portal hurts Tennessee football depth wise, the real story with it is the development of Garland, which seems to have played a role in Emerson’s decision.. At 6’3″ 310 pounds, Garland was also in that 2018 class with Emerson but not nearly as highly touted. Getting to where he is now is a huge testament to how much he has improved.

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This year, with lots of questions on the defensive line, Garland figures to be key for Tennessee football at defensive tackle. In fact, he could be the anchor for the entire unit. Given the fact that his brother, former walk-on Kwauze Garland, is began to stand out at linebacker this past spring, the Garland brothers together clearly appear to be overachieving.