At least one positive for all the issues Tennessee football last year was that a lot of young guys got to be thrown out on the field to gain some experience. Now, those players are mostly entering their sophomore seasons, and with the roster wide open, they have multiple opportunities to work their way into the starting lineup and be major contributors.
As we get set to break down the most important players who are official sophomores this year, we’re not going to do with them what we do with freshmen. Our ranking will include both regular sophomores and redshirt sophomores. There won’t be any distinctions on this one.
Newcomers could still make the list, though, if they have the right classification based on year. Did any of them find their way on here? Let’s break that down now. This is based on our projections of the players, what they have done lately and how crucial they are. Here are Tennessee football’s five most important sophomores for 2021.
6’2″ 350 pounds
Initially, Elijah Simmons committed to the Vols as a nose tackle expected to be the heart and soul of the rush in Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 defense. After redshirting in 2019, he showed his ability to do that in 2020 with limited action, registering a pass deflection and 10 total tackles, two of which were solo.
This year, the graduate of Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville who initially hails from Shelby County should take another major leap forward. Even as Tim Banks brings in a new scheme that will likely include four down lineman, Simmons can be highly effective and doing the dirty work inside to help other players score lots of stats.
UT will run a deep rotation on the defensive line this year, and the departures of Greg Emerson and Darel Middleton make that more difficult. Even with the additions of Caleb Tremblay and Da’Jon Terry, look for Simmons to be a key contributor for Tennessee football. He appeared in every game last year with two starts for a reason.