There aren’t permanent captains on the Vols’ defense this fall. But Colton Jumper has emerged as a leader of a defensive unit that needs improvement. And in Jumper’s second year under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, he’s seen signs of improvement.
Tennessee lost three key starters from its inconsistent defense last year. Derek Barnett, Cam Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin can’t help right the ship in Shoop’s second season. It’s up to other veteran players to help do that.
Colton Jumper will be one of those players who will be counted on to do just that. Jumper enters this season having made 10 career starts, including seven last year. He has 71 total tackles, five tackles for loss, two passes defended, a forced fumble, and an interception over the last two seasons.
So how does Jumper see improvement?,
He sees hunger.
“I think our defense, we lost some guys, but there’s guys who are coming in ready to make that next step,” Jumper said after the Vols’ practice on Tuesday. “In some places we might be less experienced than in the past, but there’s a lot of guys who are really hungry on this defense.
“They fly around the ball and have an edge to them. With Coach Shoop, we’re a lot more comfortable with him from last year to this year.”
Continuity is key for Jumper, who says not much changed from a schematic standpoint with Shoop in charge. But there’s still a learning curve, one that Jumper thinks everyone has adjusted to.
“We were able to adjust really well,” Jumper stated. “Anytime you can have another year to get to know somebody, get to know their tendencies, it helps a lot. It has helped us a lot. We’re a lot more comfortable in year two.”
While Darrin Kirkland Jr and Daniel Bituli watch practice from the sidelines due to injury, Jumper is thrust into the spotlight at middle linebacker. And alongside him are a deep cast of new faces. Freshman Will Ignont, freshman Shanon Reid and redshirt sophomore Quart’e Sapp have all filled in.
Ignont specifically drew high praise from Jumper.
“He’s head and shoulders above when any other linebacker has come in,” Jumper said of the former four-star prospect. “You can tell he’s really smart. When I came in my first game, it was just about setting up the front. He’s already calling out pass coverages. He just recognizes the game really well.”
For now, Jumper is assisting a young corps of linebackers who benefit from extra first team reps in the offseason. There may not be permanent captains this season, but Jumper has certainly established himself as a leader on and off the field for Shoop’s defense.