All eyes were on top-ranked junior-college transfer Jonathan Kongbo when fall camp got underway in August.
And that was understandable. He was one of the top players in Tennessee’s 2016 signing class, the Vols battled down to the final moments to sign the highly-touted pass rusher, and he certainly looked the part this fall.
As the season got underway, Tennessee made a concerted effort to use his skill set – bringing him on the field as a defensive tackle in pass-rush situations early in the year. But as the season as progressed, that role has diminished at times, with Kongbo playing a bit more sporadically.
He picked up what appeared to be his first sack of the season on Saturday against Tennessee Tech before a questionable facemask call nullified it. But nine weeks in, he officially stands with just five tackles, three QB hurries and an on-and-off role on a defensive line that has been been beat up all season.
Butch Jones was asked about his outlook going forward.
“Well I think just consistency, also just buying into the team concept, and it’s important to him,” Jones said. “Understanding the standards and expectations that we have in our football program, what’s required on a daily basis. You know, a lot of times with individuals there goes through a growth and a maturity, just like your own kids, of (understanding) everyday the expectations, just like a lot of our newcomers as well, and they’ve done a good job to date on that.”
The Vols need some of that maturation down the stretch with the defensive line looking for “able bodies” as Jones said on Wednesday.
Kongbo isn’t a natural defensive tackle, but any snap he can give the Vols inside would be a boost.
Defensive ends Kyle Phillips, LaTroy Lewis and Dimarya Mixon have all, at times, slid inside to help a defensive tackle group that has lost two players for the season – Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle – and a third to dismissal in Danny O’Brien. Offensive lineman Charles Mosley, who Jones just weeks ago said wasn’t under consideration to be moved to defense, just made the switch this week.
And even if the light doesn’t completely come on this year, Tennessee will likely be replacing Derek Barnett, Lewis and Corey Vereen at defensive end in 2017. There will be opportunities for Kongbo on UT’s defensive line.
“But I think also repetitions – when you’re able to have game-speed repetitions and you’re able to really coach and critique yourself,” Jones said. “And you know, see what you did, your technique and what you need to do to get better and all that, so I just think constant growth and maturation.”