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Bob Shoop Surprised, Impressed with Several Young Vols

Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

Tennessee added several intriguing and athletic pieces to their defense in the 2017 recruiting class. A fair amount of those players weren’t the most highly-rated defensive players Butch Jones and his staff have brought in over the last few years, but if fall camp is any indication, those players might have been underrated in their class.

Vols’ defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has been thoroughly impressed with some of Tennessee’s newcomers on defense through the first couple weeks of fall camp.

“At linebacker, I didn’t expect Will Ignont to be as good (as he has been),” Shoop said of freshman linebacker Will Ignont. “I mean he’s good, but he’s got ‘it.’ (Colton) Jumper and (Darrin) Kirkland are there, and it’s good that (Daniel) Bituli came back and has been practicing again. But Ignont is right in the mix with those guys.”

Will Ignont was a four-star linebacker in the 2017 class and was considered a top-150 overall player in the country by 247Sports. He, along with safety Maleik Gray, was one of Tennessee’s highest-rated defensive players in the 2017 class.

But Ignont was expected to make more of an impact earlier in his Tennessee career. Some of the Vols’ other 2017 defensive recruits weren’t. That hasn’t stopped them from asserting themselves this fall, however.

Shawn Shamburger was a three-star cornerback who was one of the lowest rated players in the Vols’ 2017 class. Shamburger was listed as just the 1,008th overall player in the country for the 2017 cycle, but he’s come in and already separated himself from the Vols’ higher rated freshmen corners.

“He’s really separated himself from the other young corners and really put himself in a position that he may find himself playing early,” Shoop said of Shamburger. “He has separated a bit from the other freshmen. You have that next group of guys that I call, not really the veteran group, but they’re the guys in the second year of the program. DJ Henderson, Baylen Buchanan, and Marquill Osborne. Shamburger is fighting with those guys for that next position.”

But as big of a surprise as Shamburger has been, he isn’t even the biggest surprise on defense according to Shoop.

“The one guy who probably is a surprise is Theo Jackson,” Shoop stated. “I think that’s always the way it is. Maybe the guy who doesn’t have the highest number of stars or isn’t the most highly recruited, but his football IQ is off the charts, his work ethic is tremendous.

“He’s a mentally and physically tough guy who’s practiced really as consistently as anybody on the defense throughout the first 10 or 11 practices.”

Tennessee’s safety group is full of experienced and talented players such as Todd Kelly Jr., Micah Abernathy, and Nigel Warrior. The fact that a true freshman like Theo Jackson, who was just a three-star safety out of Nashville with only a handful of SEC offers, is able to stand out among that group is impressive. And Shoop has certainly been impressed.

The Vols won’t necessarily need these freshmen to play significant snaps this season barring some sort of injury outbreak on defense again. But knowing that they may be ready to step up should the need arise is a relief to a defensive coordinator, and Bob Shoop is happy with what he’s seen from his youngest players so far.

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