Tennessee’s defense gets a major boost this week as pass rusher Byron Young makes his UT debut. The junior college transfer missed the first two games of the 2021 season due to eligibility issues stemming from a prep school he played two games for.
Young is looking to jumpstart a Tennessee pass rush that struggled in last week’s loss to Pitt. The Vols’ failed to get pressure with a four man rush and tallied just two sacks while Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
Tennessee’s coaches and players have raved about Young dating back to spring practice, and the Georgetown, South Carolina native is will be one of the Vols’ best pass rushers
“Through training camp, through spring ball, (he) has been really good as a pass rusher off the edge,” Heupel said. “I think he’s going to add some things we need on that side of the football.”
Heupel increased his praise for Young on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches Teleconference, setting high expectations from the first year player.
“To play at a championship level,” Heupel said of his expectations for Young. “He’s been really consistent in his effort and technique playing on the edge for us over the course of training camp. Missed him in a big way the first couple weeks. I’m excited for him to get on the field to go compete. I expect him to be able to apply pressure on the quarterback and to do a good job in the run game too.”
While Tennessee’s pass rush struggled against Pitt, defensive end Tyler Baron continued his impressive sophomore season.
Through two games, Baron has been Tennessee’s best playmaker at defensive end, recording six tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Still, Baron played just 47 of the Vols’ 82 defensive snaps and just 11 of 20 third downs, including the final five third downs of the game.
Heupel chalked Baron’s limited number of snaps up to minor injuries that occurred during the game. The Knoxville native did leave the game due to injury prior to a key second quarter third down.
“He was nicked up with a couple of different things during the course of the game today specifically,” Heupel said of Baron postgame. “I talked with our trainer multiple times about him.”
Baron gives Tennessee one strong piece at defensive end and the Vols think Young will give them a second.
While Baron has been better playing the run than rushing the passer up to this point in his career, the former Knoxville Catholic standout has shown he’s capable of pressuring the passer. If Young can live up to his coaches expectations, Baron should have more opportunities open up for him.
“He works his tail off and I’m excited for everybody else to see what we know (he can do),” Baron said of Young. “He is a force to be reckoned with off the edge. I think teams are going to have to gameplan for him.”
Tennessee’s defensive line, particularly its interior, has been better than expected so far this season thanks in large part to the play of Elijah Simmons and Matthew Butler.
The Vols’ defensive line can be a strong group and strength of the team if Baron can continue to play the way he has and Young can live up to expectations.
The exciting thing for Tennessee is those two have plenty of room to grow. Baron is just 12 games into his career and Young hasn’t played a snap of division one football.
Baron has already made big jumps from his freshman to sophomore season despite dealing with an offseason surgery.
“From January when I got here, (Tyler was) a guy that was coming off a shoulder surgery,” Heupel said Monday. “Did a great job in the rehab process, along with our training and strength staff. He’s gotten himself back to being able to play and compete at 100 percent. His movement is so much better, just functional speed and power. Being able to play on one arm and one leg as a defensive lineman and push the pocket, really like a lot of what he’s done here early in the season.”
The Vols pass rush may not look dramatically different when it takes the field at Florida on Sept. 25, but Young’s prescension should improve it right away. If Young and Baron can continue to grow and develop then it could look dramatically different by the end of the season.