WATCH: Tennessee Defensive Tackle Shows Off Punt Returning Skills

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    Tennessee is looking for a new punt returner after losing the reigning SEC co-Special Teams Player of the Year Velus Jones Jr. to the NFL. Josh Heupel may have found an answer in 340-pound defensive tackle Elijah Simmons.

    Ahead of its second fall scrimmage, Tennessee’s players had some fun with linemen attempting to field punts. Simmons rose to the occasion and made the play, setting off an explosion from his teammates.

    The exercise allowed Tennessee’s players to relax and have some fun during the peak of the fall camp grind.

    “We’ve been in a pretty good routine of what we’re doing everyday,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “It felt like giving them a little bit of a mental break potentially— they were able to catch the football. Elijah is the hero as you all could all see. Doing something fun to keep the guys engaged. That’s true during training camp. I think it’s true during the season too. You guys know around here we try to compete really hard but we have a heck of a lot of fun doing it too. Last night is a great example of it.”

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    Simmons is entering his redshirt junior season after totaling 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in an injury riddled 2021 season. The Nashville native was a starter to begin the 2021 season but played in just seven games due to injury.

    The 6-foot-2, 340 pound defensive tackle is dealing with injuries again this fall camp as he prepares for his redshirt junior season. Simmons missed Tennessee’s Sunday scrimmage and a handful of practices earlier this week.

    “Think he’ll have an opportunity to participate in this next four-day block,” Heupel said of Simmons availability. “Kind of a freak deal. Don’t think it’s a long term injury for him that will inhibit him in any way as we get to the season but we got to get him back fully ready to go.”

    Tennessee is hoping for a breakout season from Simmons along the defensive line. Simmons can sing, he can dunk a basketball and he’s making his best case as an effective punt return. If he can take the next step along the defensive line of scrimmage, the Vols’ defensive line may take a big step forward.

    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.