For a program that’s churned out some all-time greats at the defense tackle position, the past few years have been somewhat of a dry spell at the position.
That starts in recruiting – or the lack there of at the position – for the past decade plus. The Vols have had some hits from the JUCO ranks and a few lower-ranked players that have panned out, but the star power has been taken away from the position.
That all changed in the 2015 signing class.
After not signing a five-star true defensive tackle straight out of high school in the common era of recruiting services (since about 2002), the Vols landed Kahlil McKenzie, who was ranked as high as the No. 1 overall player in the nation by Scout.com and was a consensus top prospect across the board. It was almost two. Fellow signee Shy Tuttle was ranked as a five-star by some services, but was bumped down to a four shortly before signing day.
Regardless of those technicalities, the McKenzie-Tuttle duo is extremely close to becoming a reality for the Vols on the field. Tuttle got a head start this spring – a time he took full advantage of. McKenzie is now just a few weeks from officially enrolling and joining the team as well.
“The advantage they have is they’re big and physical kids,” Stripling told Rocky Top Insider at the end of spring practice. “I think Kahlil is going to go through the same growing pains that Shy is now. I just talked to (former Vol and NFL defensive tackle) John Henderson and said, ‘What’s the key’?
“You know what he said? ‘Leverage.’ So if your big guys can learn to play with leverage, it’s a different game. So Shy’s struggling with that, I’m sure Kahlil is going to struggle with that. So, getting those big guys down (low), but the positive aspect is that both of those big guys are extremely big and strong, so they’ll have a lot of advantages over the other players.”
And Stripling thinks McKenzie’s adjustment this summer will go smoothly. There’s a lot of hype. Stripling’s aware of that. There’s a lot of weight to be lost too – something Stripling said McKenzie’s working on, as he’s in the process of getting down to a goal of about 330 pounds from the 342-pound neighborhood right now.
But he sees McKenzie at the type of player who will mesh well in the meeting room with a mixture of young and veteran defensive linemen.
“The thing about Kahlil is he has an outgoing personality, and so I think he’ll fit right in,” Stripling said. “I think our older players – we’ve had great interaction with our older players – so I’m sure there’s going to be adjustment period as he comes in, and finding his fit in the group and those type things, but we’ll be excited to get him here.”
Vol fans can’t wait either. The star power is returning to the defensive tackle spot.