Rodney Garner Talks Tennessee’s Most Improved Defensive Lineman

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    Tennessee defensive line coach Rodney Garner isn’t one to offer unearned praise. In fact, if you watch Garner coach his position group it won’t take long for someone to earn his ire.

    “Like I try to explain to the guys, all I want from my players is I just want them to be the best version of them,” Garner said. “When they’re in that moment (getting yelled at) it may not seem that way. … I think so many times they take it personal and I try to tell them I can probably be a little bit aggressive, I can probably be a little brutal. I may not say it in the nicest way, but I try to tell them don’t take the tone. Receive the message.”

    Meeting with the media for the first time during fall camp, Garner offered his honest thoughts on his defensive line. The longtime SEC assistant remarked on the need for consistency out of Omari Thomas and better leadership across the board to fill the void Matthew Butler’s departure left.

    Garner also offered praise for redshirt sophomore Dominic Bailey.

    “If we had to vote on who was probably the most improved guy in that room it would definitely be Dominic Bailey,” Garner said. “He’s gotten better. He really has. He’s flashed, he’s shown that he’s going to have an opportunity to help this team.”

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    The former four-star recruit has made just one tackle while playing in just four games during his Tennessee career. Working mostly at strong side defensive end, Bailey has made a quick impact this fall camp after a strong offseason.

    “Obviously, he’s done a really good job in the offseason,” Garner said. “I think his body has changed. I think his mentality has changed. He’s a little bit more talented than I thought. Maybe that just came in the strength with the weight program and the maturity and all that. Maybe him just getting more comfortable in the system we’re running too. He’s been able to flash a lot more.”

    There’s opportunities for Bailey to find the field after 2021 strong side defensive ends Ja’Quian Blakely and Caleb Tremblay graduated. Tyler Baron’s moved over to the strong side and Bryson Eason has been working there some too. Still, there’s going to be chances for Bailey to find the field.

    Garner isn’t the only one Bailey’s growth has impressed. Offensive lineman Dayne Davis praised Bailey last week while meeting with the media.

    Like any player, consistency is going to be the key for Bailey to earn Garner and the rest of the Vols’ coaches trust.

    “The thing that I was a little bit worried about out there today was I gave him that compliment in the meeting and I thought in practice he started out— I started seeing the old Dom,” Garner said. “I’m like we can’t do that. We can’t play yo-yo. We have to be consistently climbing that mountain. But from what he’s shown the previous – and he did pick it up at the end of practice — but what he’s shown the previous six practices he put himself in a position where we think he’s going to have an opportunity to help this team.”

    Ryan Schumpert is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. Ryan spent three years with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program before joining RTI. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.