Brady Hoke has been everywhere in college football. From coaching the defensive line at Western Michigan, Toldeo, Oregon State, and Michigan to taking head coaching positions at Ball State, San Diego State, and Michigan, and then becoming Oregon’s defensive coordinator, Hoke has seen hundreds of players under his watch.
Now that he’s back to coaching defensive line at Tennessee, Hoke no longer has to worry about a whole team as a head coach or even half of a team as a coordinator; he just has to coach up his specific unit. And he’s excited to get to work with the Vols’ promising defensive linemen this season.
Tennessee suffered several injuries along the defensive line last season, most notably at the defensive tackle position. But that isn’t deterring Hoke’s enthusiasm for his new position group.
“I think No. 1 coming into the spring, there were a lot of guys who were held out of spring ball because of surgeries and coming back and rehab,” Hoke said during media availability on Friday afternoon. “So it’s been really refreshing to see where they’re at now. I think there’s a lot that as a new position coach that you want to see from those guys, but I think they’ve done a nice job this summer when you look at some strength gains, body gains, that part of it.
“And also I think when we have a chance to meet with them, their football ID and intelligence, I think they’ve done a good job.”
One of those players who suffered a severe injury last season was Shy Tuttle. In both seasons with Tennessee so far, Tuttle has sustained season-ending injuries midway through the year. In 2015, Tuttle had his leg taken out from under him against Georgia, and last year his season was ended against South Carolina.
Now Tuttle has been cleared to run and slowly ease back into football activities, and Hoke has been impressed with what Tuttle has done even while injured.
“With any kid, when they get hurt and it’s any type of major injury that they have to rehab and come back from, there’s always a little bit of them being excited to come back but also ‘how much can I do’ and ‘how fast can I progress,'” Hoke said. “With Shy, I think every day, especially because how he’s been able to run right now on a limited basis, I think every day is a good day for him.
“He’s done a great job of being one of those leaders, though, even though he can’t physically do everything. But when the guys go out and do D-line school and those types of things, he’s really been a big part of that. When Shy gets back to full form, I’m really looking forward to that.”
Hoke also stated that he’s “as excited as anybody” to see Kendall Vickers. He said he’s watched Vickers on tape “a bunch,” but he’s looking forward to working with him live. Vickers is Tennessee’s most experienced defensive lineman by far heading into 2017, and he’ll be the anchor of the Vols’ defensive tackle position.
But it’s not just the returning players Hoke is excited about. He also likes what he’s seen from former four-star defensive line prospect Matthew Butler.
Butler is a versatile defensive lineman who has the size and athleticism to play both defensive end or tackle at the collegiate level. Butler played both for Garner High School in North Carolina, and Hoke plans to test out that versatility.
“We’re going to start him at an end position and really look at the detail from a technique standpoint from a strong-side end to a rush end or an open end situation,” Hoke stated. “Matt is a very committed young man. He loves the game, loves to work. He is constantly asking questions, and they’re good questions about what he sees or what he needs to develop a little more. It will be fun to get out there and really play football with Matt and see where he’s at.”
The Vols report to camp on July 28th, and their first practice for fall camp will be on July 29th. Hoke and the rest of Tennessee’s coaches will be able to see the gains and progress their players made over the summer starting then.