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Report Card: Tennessee’s 2014 Season

Derek Barnett-1

 Defensive Line

Daniel: The defensive line turned into perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the team. Few knew what to expect with the Vols replacing all four starters along the defensive front, but the emergence of Derek Barnett, Danny O’Brien, Jordan Williams, Corey Vereen, and the contributions from the versatile Maggitt, helped Tennessee’s defensive line become one of the fastest and most aggressive in Knoxville that we’ve seen in a long time. Barnett was both the surprise of the group and arguably the MVP as well. The true freshman had a fantastic training camp that he carried over into the season – rewriting the freshman record book at Tennessee with 10 sacks and 20 TFLs. Maggitt finished third in the conference in sacks with 11 as he split reps between DE and OLB, depending on the formation and situation. Jordan Williams, a converted DE, O’Brien and junior college transfer Owen Williams created a serviceable trio of defensive tackles that held their own for much of the season despite limited depth. Considering the expectations for this group compared to what was delivered, this was one of the surprises really of the entire SEC. Grade: A

Houston: Steve Stripling deserves some kind of an award for what he was able to accomplish with the defensive line this year. True freshman Derek Barnett surprised everyone after enrolling in June, earning a starting role and then cruising to the most successful freshman season in the long history of Tennessee’s great defensive linemen. Jordan Williams and Danny O’Brien weren’t flashy at defensive tackle, but their ability to clog the middle and hold their own against most teams really helped this defense get off the field on third down. Curt Maggitt’s explosion over the second half of the season was a huge reason that this team went bowling, and his return in 2015 should bode extremely well for the future of this group. Sophomore Corey Vereen battled some knee injuries all season long that hurt his production, but he showed flashes of his ability and could be in for a breakout season in 2015 if he can get healthy. There were a couple games in which teams found success on the ground against the Vols, and this group would have had much better numbers if not for some missed tackles behind the line of scrimmage; but considering how thin this group was and how physically demanding it is to play DL, they were my surprise group of the season on defense. Grade: A-

Reed: I’m with Houston – give Steve Stripling an award and a massive raise for what this unit accomplished. Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt were two of the most productive players, not just defensive linemen, in the SEC and were downright unstoppable at times. Having them both back next season spells all kinds of trouble for the rest of the SEC. LaTroy Lewis showed some flashes in his limited snaps at defensive end and racked up five tackles for loss and a sack on the year. Owen Williams, Jordan Williams and Danny O’Brien didn’t put up huge numbers but, for the most part, held their own in the middle and freed up their compadres at end to make plays. Grade: A-

Average Grade: A-

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