A lot of where success happens, when it comes to football, begins and ends on the defensive side of the ball. Last week’s article was written about the hype behind the offense, well this week will be about the hype behind on the offense. Jeremy Pruitt came from an Alabama team that was first in many facets of the defensive game. Pruitt is trying to improve every aspect of Tennessee’s defense, from the players to the coaches, to get to that elite level where Tennessee is supposed to be.
One of the main differences from last year to this year is the addition of former University of Alabama/Oakland Raiders defensive back coach, Derrick Ansley. Coach Ansley returns to Rocky Top, after coaching the Vols in 2012, under head coach Derek Dooley. Ansley is coming aboard to be the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. In a segment with UTSports.com, Ansley is quoted by saying, “Winning cures everything.” Let’s take a look at this Tennessee defense.
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker returns for his second year at Tennessee. His first year the defensive run game showed a massive improvement by nearly knocking down the average rush yards per game by almost 100 yards. The vols have 13 defensive linemen on the roster, 14, if Kurott Garland is included. The redshirt freshman Garland entered his name into the transfer portal recently. The vols lost two very valuable seniors that they must replace, Kyle Phillips and Alexis Johnson Jr. The two former vols combined for 8 sacks and over 100 tackles. That will not be easy to replace.
The players that will do their best to replace last year seniors are returning senior Emmit Gooden, JUCO Transfer Savion Williams, JUCO Transfer Darel Middleton, and last but not least, freshman Elijah Simmons. The internet may be familiar with Simmons most of all, because he went viral by dunking a basketball and then subsequently chucking it across the court and draining a full court shot with ease.
That athleticism shows that Simmons is ready to take the SEC by storm. One unknown with the whole defensive line is the eligibility of transfer Aubrey Solomon. The former 5 star from Leesburg, Georgia, is a former Michigan Wolverine. The university is still waiting to hear from the NCAA if Solomon will be eligible for this upcoming season.
Linebacker coaches, Chris Rumph and Kevin Sherrer return for year two with the vols after improving the linebacker core immensely from the previous year. Two of the main catalysts for such an improvement was redshirt-senior Darrell Taylor and senior Daniel Bituli. Taylor finished the year with two 3 sack games making his season total 8. Bituli finished the year by leading the team in tackles with 79. Taylor and Bituli look to build on the improvement that the team made from last year. Some other players returning from last year are Will Ignont, Shannon Reid, Jordan Allen, and the latecomer that no one knows what to expect, J.J. Peterson. With this core alone, the vols have one of the best linebacker groups in the SEC.
The players I have already mentioned aren’t even including the talented freshmen that will ultimately help bring Tennessee back to national prominence. Henry To’o To’o, Roman Harrison, and Quavaris Crouch are three commits from the 2019 recruiting class that will help Tennessee’s defense run the SEC. All three of these commits have the ability to challenge the veteran players for early playing time. The potential in this linebacker core is limitless.
As previously stated, the defensive backs have a new face coaching them in Derrick Ansley. Coach Ansley has a criminally underrated core of defensive backs to work with this season. Sophomores Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson, who have been dubbed, “Biscuits and Gravy”, are in store for a very productive year. Look for Trevon Flowers and Theo Jackson to make an immediate impact this season. The leaders of the position group are seniors Nigel Warrior and Baylen Buchanan.
Similar to the linebackers the newcomers in the 2019 defensive back class are some that will bring Tennessee back to the top. Look for Warren Burrell, Tyus Fields, Jaylen McCollough, Aaron Beasley, and Kenney Solomon to make a name for themselves this season that will ultimately put their names by the names that help Tennessee get back. With the experience of Coach Ansley, the defensive backs will be the defensive position to watch for, for the biggest leap in improvement.
Linebacker Coach, Kevin Sherrer is starting a new role this year as the Special Teams coordinator. Paxton Brooks returns to be the kickoff specialist. Brent Cimaglia returns to kick field goals after going 10 for 13 last year. Lastly, Joe Doyle, a Ray Guy Award Final Candidate, returns to punt for the vols. Doyle, who punted the ball 65 times, will hope to continue to be a super productive part of the special teams.
There is a lot of hype for the 2019 Tennessee Volunteers, and understandably so. This season can’t get here soon enough.
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