Tennessee football is known for its offense under head coach Josh Heupel. But the Vols’ defense has stood out to Virginia coach Tony Elliott while he prepares for Saturday’s season opener in Nashville.
The Vols’ run defense was one of the nation’s best a season ago in large part due to their strong depth along the defensive line. When asked about Tennessee’s defense, it’s the first thing Elliott brought up.
“You can’t help but notice when they’re big, like they’re really big,” Elliott said earlier this week. “When I look at the list, especially the inside guys, 320, 343, 310, 301, 310, right? That’s big on the interior. And they’re not just big, two-gappers, man. These guys can move. They can push the pocket, they can get off of blocks. They can disrupt the run game. And then you’re gonna have to double them, right? It’s gonna be hard to single block those guys.”
Tennessee will be down one of those big guys, Elijah Simmons, against Virginia but have the talent and depth to overcome an absence.
While the Vols are looking for much more out of their four-man pass rush this season, Elliott praised veteran edge rushers Tyler Baron and Roman Harrison.
“When you look at guys off the edge, (Roman) Harrison and (Tyler) Baron, man, they’re twitchy, they’re talented,” Elliott said. “They can get after the quarterback.”
Under defensive line coach Rodney Garner, Tennessee’s defensive line has become a high quality SEC unit over the past two seasons. The Vols’ secondary seems like it’s still a year away from taking a big step forward, but Tennessee’s linebackers have the talent to take a major step forward this season.
Senior Aaron Beasley is the leader in that room and predictably jumped off the page to Elliott.
“I think the best player (on the defense) is Aaron Beasley, the linebacker,” Elliott said. “He roams around. He’s a great pass rusher, man. He’s a big guy. That’s a matchup problem on your backs. It doesn’t matter who your back is. Our biggest one is 215. listed at 225 (Beasley), but he plays a lot bigger than 225. Very experienced too. He’s a senior. Played a lot of football.”
Beasley and Tennessee’s defense is looking to make a strong season debut Saturday in Nashville. Kickoff from Nissan Stadium is at noon ET. Joe Tessitore, Jesse Palmer and Katie George are on the call for ABC.