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Friday Top 10: Reasons to be Optimistic in 2016

2. An Elite Defense

Derek Barnett-1

Thanks to both cornerback Cam Sutton and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin announcing their intent to return for their senior seasons, the Vols’ 2016 defense is receiving massive amounts of hype. The defense already received a boost when Butch Jones brought on Shoop, but now there’s talk that the 2016 defense could be a top-15 or even top-10 defense.

As previously mentioned, the Vols will be returning eight starters on defense heading into 2016. The only area of concern comes in the back end of the defense where safeties LaDarrell McNeil and Brian Randolph are gone after graduating. But those vacant positions are likely to be filled by juniors Todd Kelly Jr. and Evan Berry, and both are very talented and have experience playing already. Adding Nigel Warrior on signing day gives the Vols even more options there.

And every other area of the defense is full of experience.

At linebacker, the Vols have Jalen Reeves-Maybin returning as a senior. And alongside him will be sophomore Darrin Kirkland Jr. who had a very solid freshman season in 2015. Along the defensive line, you have junior Derek Barnett who has 20 career sacks in two seasons, both Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle expected to start as sophomores after getting some useful action as freshmen, and either senior Corey Vereen or sophomore Kyle Phillips will battle for the other defensive end spot opposite Barnett.

And with the return of Sutton, Tennessee’s cornerbacks get a major boost. Sutton will be the undeniable No. 1 corner in the secondary, and Justin Martin came on strong to end last season and looks like a good option for the No. 2 corner. Rashaan Gaulden looks like the nickel corner position will be his to lose, but with guys like Emmanuel Moseley, Malik Foreman, Micah Abernathy and Darrell Miller on the roster, competition will keep everyone in line.

Defense wins championships. The old cliché is true. Powerful offenses are good, but if you can’t stop the opposing team, then you’re not going to win very much. Just look at the 2012 Vols.

Tennessee should have at least a very good defense in 2016. But they have a potential to be the best defense the Vols have had in over a decade, and that is truly exciting. 

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