One of Tennessee’s most open position battles is down from as many as seven all the way to two finalists, defensive coordinator John Jancek confirmed to reporters after practice on Tuesday.
The starting inside linebacker spot will be claimed by either walk-on Colton Jumper or true freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. – leaving veteran Kenny Bynum out of the equation for now after Jancek recently mentioned him as a finalist.
“It’s really been narrowed down,” Jancek said of the inside linebacker competition. “To get three guys reps at this stage in the season, in camp, preseason, it’s hard to do. It’s really between Colton Jumper and Darrin Kirkland [Jr.].”
It isn’t stunning to see Kirkland, a former four-star recruit, in the mix. Coaches have raved about him for much of the offseason, and his obvious athletic upside combined with UT’s opening at middle linebacker, led many to believe that he could be an early-impact player for the Vols in 2015.
Jumper, on the other hand, has been more of the surprise name in this competition. The former Chattanooga Baylor standout originally had plans to play at the Naval Academy, but a diagnosis of the kidney disease membranous nephropathy kept Jumper from the opportunity to enroll at Navy in 2013 after a year in prep school. He worked his way back to UT as a walk-on and has been impressive since he arrived, and now finds himself a finalists for arguable one of the most important positions on the field.
“He’s spent countless hours in the film room on his own, taking notes, watching video and all that hard work is paying off,” Jancek said of Jumper. “He’s really a great example for a lot of players in college football. Guys that come as four or five stars but lack the maturity or the work ethic that it takes really make yourself a great player. I think Colton is an example of that. He’s made himself a very good football player.”