Last year, Tennessee football had a big issue on defense. The Vols were outside of the top 90 in total yards and points allowed and outside of the top 100 in total passing yards allowed. To make matters worse, with the pass defense the big weakness, that’s where they lost the most help.
UT has to offset No. 1 cornerback Alontae Taylor and nickel Theo Jackson. It doesn’t help up front, though, that they have to replace Matthew Butler and deal with the departures of Caleb Tremblay and Ja’Quain Blakely. These are critical losses for a unit that struggled.
In fact, the only position in which they have all key contributors back is at linebacker, but that was by far the worst unit on the team last year, so that’s not ideal. Still, Tennessee football added a lot of talent, and they also had solid guys on the bench last year waiting in the wings.
Also, the Vols were actually in the top half of the nation in fewest yards and points allowed per play. Lots of the raw totals had to do with the offense they ran. Now, pass defense was below average, and it was worse in the Music City Bowl against the Purdue Boilermakers without Taylor, but it’s not as bad as it looked on first glance.
On special teams, they have a huge advantage when it comes to kicking and punting, but they lost their advantage when it comes to the return game. Does the loss of Velus Jones Jr. outweigh the return of Paxton Brooks and Chase McGrath? That’s what we’ve been analyzing.
This post is a home page for all of our positional previews on defense and special teams from the past week with fall camp set to begin Monday. Each one looks at returning talent, guys lost and newcomers. You can click on any of them to see our analysis of each unit.
Beyond the key departures we mentioned, the Vols do have some real weapons back, most notably edge rusher Byron Jones and linebacker Jeremy Banks. They also bring back some experience on defense in Trevon Flowers and Jaylen McCollough.
Underrated advantages on special teams are the return of long snapper Matthew Salansky and Brooks moving on from his knee injury. As a result, Tennessee football has a lot of things going for it, even if there are real questions about the defensive unit overall.