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Jancek: Inside Linebacker a “Three-Man Competition”

Kirkland Jr-1-2

The biggest competition on the defensive side of the ball seems to be coming closer to a resolution.

The inside linebacker competition, which started with as many as seven players in contention at the beginning of camp – Kenny Bynum, Jakob Johnson, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Dillon Bates, Gavin Bryant, Colton Jumper and Austin Smith – appears to be down to an interesting trio – a walk-on, a true freshman and a veteran.

“Right now, it’s still a three-man competition between Colton Jumper, Darrin Kirkland and Kenny Bynum,” defensive coordinator John Jancek told reporters following Monday night’s practice.

It was the freshman, Kirkland, who seemed to pique Jancek’s interest the most on Monday night as the Vols head into a couple off days on Tuesday and Wednesday before returning to the practice field on Thursday afternoon.

“I tell you what, Darrin Kirkland did some things tonight that you just can’t coach, so I want to get in there and look at some film and see where they’re at,” Jancek said. “But they’re all getting the reps, getting the looks they need, but we know that we’re going to have to settle in here when we get back on Thursday, can’t share three guys with reps, but we’ll know a little more after we watch some film tonight, and Darrin really jumped out.”

While Kirkland, a four-star recruit from Indianapolis, has been praised for his “photographic memory” and retention of the defense, it was some of the things he did on Monday night that can’t be taught that caught Jancek’s eye.

“Just instinctive things where he just kind of slipped a block – he’s not robotic,” Jancek said. “He understands concepts and make plays with maybe not exactly how it’s drawn up. It never unfolds exactly as you think as a coach, so you want those players who are in there who can maybe slip a block, kind of like a (Jalen) Reeves-Maybin, just kind of a feel for the leverage on the ball – can I take the run through, can I not? Do I have to play a little bit more over the top? And those were the things I saw tonight, and he’s got the athleticism and the quickness as an interior blitzer that will give some offensive linemen some problems.”

And though Jancek admitted that finding a top guy there is important, he also said he’s looking at the defense more in terms of depth than finding the starting 11. He hopes the days of 70-80 snaps per player is over on the defense as the Vols have built depth at almost every position on that side of the ball. So while 11 will start the game, he sees it as a battle to find a couple guys behind them at each spot to keep the Vols fresher in 2015.

“Who is going to be able to give us 25 to 30 snaps a game?” Jancek said said. “Because, as you guys know, last year we just played too many snaps. Our inside linebackers had 1,000 or 1,200 snaps, and you cannot do that in today’s game with the tempo and all that.”

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