Tennessee sophomore outside linebacker Cortez McDowell came to Tennessee as a safety, added some weight before moving to outside linebacker, was a special teams ace as a freshman and is looking to expand his role on defense in Year 2 on campus.
It’s almost an identical path to now rising junior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who became one of Tennessee’s most consistent defenders in 2014 as an outside linebacker after starting his career in Knoxville as a safety. It may not be realistic for McDowell to reach the levels that Reeves-Maybin did in 2014 as a true sophomore, but he’s soaking in anything he can from Reeves-Maybin, who he considers a mentor, in order to take that next step in 2015.
“Definitely, definitely he has,” McDowell said when asked if Reeves-Maybin has been somebody he looks up to. “He and Kenny Bynum have both been there with me every day, helping me out. Helping me with my keys, just talking to me and making sure I have everything under control, make sure I’m using my head right. I thank both of them every day.”
“Invaluable,” coach Butch Jones said of the job Reeves-Maybin has done helping McDowell. “Jalen has been a great mentor to Cortez and they kind of laugh how they are following the same transition. I love Jalen Reeves-Maybin. I tell you what, he is being a leader, it is important to him, he is invested in Tennessee football and his has made himself better in the weight room. He is a leader of our football team and he holds others around him accountable, he is really, really competitive, great competitive makeup. Again, he has been a great mentor for Cortez of going through the maturation phase.”
McDowell, who said he’s up about 30 pounds since enrolling at Tennessee, recorded 19 tackles as a true freshman out of Locust Grove, Ga., but 14 of those came on special teams, good for first on the team. His athleticism was evident on units such as punt and kickoff coverage.
Often one of the first players down the field, McDowell had a knack for tracking down speedy returners in the open field, and the strength to pull them down once he got there.
Expect that role to continue in 2015. Because while he’s making strides and primed for a bigger role on defense, he does still have his friend and mentor (Reeves-Maybin) in front of him on the depth chart at Will linebacker. But he’ll definitely be more than an afterthought on the defensive side of the ball this year. Jones is expecting him to keep progressing to the point where he can get in the mix more in 2015.
“Next step is working kind of like the Jalen Reeves-Maybin next step, really working into the defensive side of things at the Will linebacker position,” Jones said. “He came in here as a safety, so he is still learning how to play fast at the linebacker position and trusting your run reads.
“We talked about the eye discipline and that is one of the other things we have to continue to get better at as a football team across the board, all eight positions, is our eye discipline, our eyes and where do we place our eyes and trusting our reads, so we can play fast. I think Cortez is going through that maturation phase right now. But I have been encouraged by him as well.”
Reeves-Maybin has been encouraged as well. Even to the point where he admitted that the student may even have a little more speed than the teacher in this situation.
“I think Cortez is going to be really good,” Reeves-Maybin said. “He’s kind of the same-build player as me, a little faster than me, actually. He’s definitely going to be a good player. He’s going to be able to come in and make an impact on the game. He’s a playmaker.
“Right now it’s his mental game [that is most improved]. He’s smart and he’s savvy enough to know the offense and how it’s going to attack him. He’s looking good.”