Seniors: Jonathan Kongbo, Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle, Quay Picou, Alexis Johnson
Juniors: Darrell Taylor
Sophomores: Deandre Johnson, Eric Crosby, Ryan Thaxton, Matthew Butler, Kivon Bennett,
Freshmen: Greg Emerson
Though Tennessee’s defensive line has plenty of age, that age doesn’t necessarily translate to experience thanks to injuries and lack of production in the past.
Tennessee’s defensive line will be undergoing possibly the biggest change of any unit this year. The Vols are transitioning from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 scheme, which means the roles of the Vols’ defensive linemen will be changing. Pruitt said recently that he views the defensive ends at Tennessee as potential outside linebackers, so that leaves plenty of room for some of these linemen to change positions this spring and heading into the fall.
The Vols have five seniors listed as defensive linemen and another fourth-year player in redshirt junior Darrell Taylor. But injuries or lack of quality production have limited the roles most of those experienced players have had during their careers.
In Tennessee’s base 3-4 defense, the Vols will have two ends and a nose tackle. Right now, Shy Tuttle is the hands-on favorite to play the nose tackle position with Alexis Johnson and Eric Crosby likely providing depth there. It will be interesting to see where Quay Picou and Matthew Butler end up as both are somewhat undersized for defensive tackles but might be too big to play defensive end too.
At the end positions, Jonathan Kongbo, Darrell Taylor, Kyle Phillips, and Deandre Johnson are the main names to watch. But there’s a good chance one or two of those players end up as more of a pass rush specialist or switch to outside linebacker. Kongbo, Taylor, and Johnson all are smaller and more athletic ends with the potential to be used as a specialist on passing downs. Ryan Thaxton is also undersized for a defensive lineman, so there’s a chance he gets moved to linebacker as well.
Greg Emerson is an early enrollee from the Vols’ 2018 signing class, and the four-star lineman could fit in at any number of positions along the line. He could trim down and go to end, or he could bulk up and move to tackle. Getting in early this spring is big for him.
Tennessee’s defensive line is the hardest unit to predict. With so much uncertainty about where players will end up and with such a big scheme change, the Vols’ defensive line will be one of the most intriguing units to watch this spring.
Projected Initial Depth Chart:
This unit is a mess to predict. While Tennessee is in a 3-4 defense, Shy Tuttle could be the main tackle with either Kongbo or Taylor as one of the starting ends and Phillips as the other. But when they’re in a 4-3 front, Picou or Alexis Johnson could slide in for the second tackle position. Ultimately, every position in this unit is up for grabs, and the depth chart could change week to week.
Check out our previous position preview piece on the Vols’ linebackers