Tennessee Position Preview: Defensive Line

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    Gone: Trevarris Saulsberry (Graduation), Curt Maggitt (Graduation), Owen Williams (Graduation)

    Returning: Derek Barnett (Jr.), Shy Tuttle (So.), Kahlil McKenzie (So.), Kyle Phillips (So.), Latroy Lewis (RS Sr.), Corey Vereen (Sr.), Danny O’Brien (RS Sr.), Quay Picou (So.), Andrew Butcher (RS Fr.), Austin Smith (So.), Darrell Taylor (RS Fr.), Kendal Vickers (RS Jr.), Dimarya Mixon (Jr.), Paul Bain (RS So.), Charles Folger (RS Sr.)

    Newcomers: Jonathan Kongbo (RS So., No. 1 overall JUCO player in Class of 2016), Alexis Johnson (Jr.), Mykelle McDaniel (Fr.)

    Outlook:

    Tennessee’s defensive line enters 2016 as one of the most elite units on the team. This group returns virtually everyone, minus Curt Maggitt, who was injured for most of his senior season anyways. Owen Williams leaves a spot open on the interior of the line, where the Vols are a bit thin. Expect a slimmer Kahlil McKenzie to compete alongside Shy Tuttle, Kendal Vickers and Danny O’Brien at the tackle position.

    On the edge, Tennessee is loaded. Derek Barnett returns as the clear leader of this unit, but he has depth to back him up. The cast of Kyle Phillips, Corey Vereen, LaTroy Lewis and Austin Smith should see plenty of snaps at the beginning of the season. As the season rolls on, newcomer Jonathan Kongbo and redshirt Darrell Taylor should start to see more snaps as well.

    The returning members of Tennessee’s defensive line accounted for 19 of the team’s 30 sacks in 2015, led by Derek Barnett’s 10. The Vols’ pass rush should be one of its stronger units on the 2016 team. With more experienced linebackers and defensive backs behind them, UT’s D-line should have more time to get to the quarterback.

    By the Numbers:

    • 32: The amount of tackles for loss Tennessee’s returning D-lineman had in 2015
    • 8th: Derek Barnett’s ranking on UT’s all-time sack list
    • 5: How many more sacks Tennessee had in 2014 compared to 2015

    Projected Initial Depth Chart:

    This group may look a bit different at the end of the season than it will in week one. Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen should start on the outside. On the inside, Kendal Vickers should start alongside Shy Tuttle, if the sophomore is healthy in time for the start of the season. If not, Kahlil McKenzie will most likely get the nod at tackle. Jonathan Kongbo, Kyle Phillips and Danny O’Brien will get plenty of snaps as well, especially on third down. Think of it more as a rotation than a strict depth chart.

    Redshirt Watch:

    Newcomer defensive end Mykelle McDaniel and defensive tackle Alexis Johnson, who both got a late start in training camp, are redshirt candidates, depending on how they progress and what UT needs. Dimarya Mixon, a junior, might have the luxury of taking a redshirt season if the coaches wanted him to with all the other depth at the position.