Kendal Vickers Bulks Up For Shot at Defensive Tackle

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    Defensive LineA year after often rotating just three total defensive tackles over the course of a game, the 2015 season has a different outlook at that position.

    It could be a unit that’s not just three-deep, but more three units deep. Veterans Owen Williams and Danny O’Brien are set to return. Newcomers Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie are among the top-ranked incoming recruits in the country at the position and both seem destined to at minimum, at least help out in the rotation.

    There are others who could help as well. Charles Mosley and Trevarris Saulsberry are both fighting to overcome injuries, and newcomer Quay Picou, though not as highly-acclaimed as the other two freshmen, could be in the conversation as well. But perhaps the most unexpected name to add to the list is rising redshirt sophomore Kendal Vickers, who is turning heads this offseason with some big numbers.

    The biggest number is 710. That’s how many pounds he maxed out with on the squat this offseason – leading the team in that category.

    “My legs have always been strong like that,” Vickers said. “Even when I came into college, my legs weren’t as big as everybody else’s, but I always had that lower-body strength for some reason. I don’t know where it came from.”

    And maybe not as big, but equally impressive, is the amount of sheer weight he’s put on.

    Players putting on 20-30 pounds in a few years of a college weight program is fairly standard, but Vickers, who came out of Havelock (N.C.) High School as more of a speed rusher at defensive end, is now up to 288 pounds after weighing in around 230 pounds at the end of his high school career. That’s up 58 pounds in just a few years, and up over 30 pounds from when he was rotating between defensive end and tackle last year in the 255-260 pound range.

    Though he’s talked to friend and mentor Jordan Williams, who graduated last year after following a similar career path, for tips, Vickers said it’s been mostly business as usual for him as the weight has packed on, with a little help from a few extra trips to the cafeteria.

    “I had to eat a little bit more than I usually did,” he said. “Same in the weight room, though, just had to keep grinding.”

    “I think he carries the weight more comfortably than Jordan,” added defensive line coach Steve Stripling. “I think Kendal has had a little bit more of a slow progression, which has helped him manage the weight, where as Jordan kind of threw it on there. The young man (Vickers) – he looks good. Some young guys when they start looking that big, they start looking soft. Kendal looks great. It’s nice that he’s adding that weight, and it’s been a progression ever since he got here.”

    And while the rotation has a chance to grow next season, it’s clearly not there this spring. O’Brien and Saulsberry are out. Williams and Mosley are limited. McKenzie and Picou aren’t on campus yet. That leaves Tuttle and Vickers as the only two fully-healthy scholarship defensive tackles going through spring practice.

    “I feel that (the extra reps will helps),” Vickers said. “But when everyone gets back we are going to work as one. We have only have one goal and purpose. When everyone gets back we are going to working 100 miles per hour.”

    And when everybody does get back, that rotation mentioned at the beginning could become a reality for the Vols. It’s something that hasn’t been seen on a regular basis at UT in years, and a big part of the reason expectations are rising for a defense that already took a big step last year.

    “Obviously it helps because you don’t get worn down,” Stripling said. “Especially inside, I think we got worn down last year. Obviously having people to roll in, it helps with that, it helps with your effort, all that, all those kind of things. It’ll be nice to have that and I think we’re getting to that point where we’re developing some depth.”