For the second time in less than five days, Tennessee football lost a key defensive lineman to the transfer portal. Once again, he was a Jeremy Pruitt recruit whose production declined from 2019 to 2020 due to the emergence of other talent.
Darel Middleon, a junior college transfer in the Vols’ 2019 class, has reportedly entered the transfer portal and will have one year of college eligibility left, according to Clint Buckley of 247Sports. His transfer follows that of Greg Emerson, who left the program on Sunday. Both are defensive tackles.
Standing at 6’7″ 305 pounds, Middleton had just 15 tackles, one and a half tackles for a loss and a sack in nine games last year. That was a dip from 28 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack in 11 games back in 2019.
Although Middleton provides value in the rotation, particularly in terms of depth, his departure won’t impact Tennessee football long-term. Similar to Emerson, his departure comes on the heels of the emergence of other players.
Even without Middleton, UT has Kurrott Garland and Aubrey Solomon. Both players were more productive than Middleton and Emerson last year, and Solomon, who once transferred from the Michigan Wolverines, will likely mostly handle Middleton’s role.
Now, the future of UT at defensive tackle is a major question. However, given the fact that Middleton only has one year left to play, he wouldn’t address that issue anyway. Solomon, another senior with one year left, can fill that void left by him, as can Caleb Tremblay, who transferred to Rocky Top from the USC Trojans.
Simply put, with or without Middleton, Tennessee football was set at defensive tackle this year, and he wasn’t going to address the future depth issues anyway. In addition to Solomon, Garland and Tremblay, the Vols have Kansas Jayhawks transfer Da’Jon Terry and potential emerging stars Omari Thomas and Dominic Bailey.
Isaac Washington and KaTron Evans, two commitments in Tennessee football’s 2021 class, have been released from their letters of intent, so there still are some issues. They still have players, though, and losing Middleton won’t do anything to make the issues of Evans’ and Washington’s departures any worse.