The Tennessee Vol defense is making improvement in all areas. The defense rolled out the 2014 version in front of 40,000 fans at practice Saturday night, and they did not disappoint.
The team looked faster, more poised, and much more athletic than the defenses the Orange and White have fielded the past two seasons. The past two years have been tough to watch. Quite honestly I have not seen a Tennessee defense as ineffective as these past two, and I have been a Vol fan since the 60’s.
We know the defensive line is going to be a problem. However I think they can be better than expected if ( and that is a big if ) they can stay injury free. At this practice Trevarris Saulsberry went down with an apparent leg injury. This injury appeared fairly serious as he stayed down for quite some time, and was moved off of the field without putting any weight on it. At the time of this writing I have not heard a report of the severity of his injury. Needless to say, the Vols can not have this happen. This front is simply not that deep. Saulsberry would (or will) play a significant role in the interior of this line.
Curt Maggitt was held out with an ankle injury, but he will be ready to go soon. He was not in a boot while standing on the sideline. Maggitt will hold down one defensive end side, and he will be incredibly hard to block. They are taking all precautions with Maggitt and AJ Johnson in camp as they know what they are going to get out of these two.
On the other side is Corey Vereen. Like Maggitt he is not big, but extremely quick with his first step. He will put pressure on the opposing quarterback. Big Derrek Barnett , Danny O’Brien, Jordan Williams, and Owen Williams will lend help on the interior as well, and these guys will be rotating consistently.
Another area that I was pleasantly pleased with was the linebacking position. We know what AJ Johnson has All American credentials. He is everywhere. Dillon Bates looked really good in all of the individual drills. He looks the part of a linebacker.
Kenny Bynum, Gavin Bryant, and Justin King, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin looked like legitimate SEC players during drills as well, but there were two others that stood out to me. The one that will be a game changer is JUCO transfer Chris Weatherd. This kid is fast, and he arrives angry when he gets to his target. I am positive he will play a lot, and when he does, the offense better find him. If they don’t, he will find the quarterback fast.
The other is newcomer Jakob Johnson who may play the middle behind AJ. He is a thumper, but he is very new to football period. He is a specimen, and would give Tennessee that big middle linebacker they have not had in a while.
The most improved position as I saw it Saturday was in the defensive backfield. The corners return in tact with Cam Sutton and senior Justin Coleman. LaDarell McNeil and Brian Randolph were at Safety. Randolph is a solid safety in coverage and in run support.
So why are they improved? The depth is much better than it has been, and that will pay off big. Emmanuel Moseley is going to be a star eventually. He is all over the receivers, and has great quickness and closing speed. Independence High School’s Rashaan Gaulden made a great play on a well thrown ball from Justin Worley. He breaks on the ball well, and has great ball instincts. Add to these two Malik Foreman, Devaun Swafford, Evan Berry, Michael Williams, Elliot Berry, Riyhad Jones, and Todd Kelly, Jr. These guys can all run, and they can all play. They are young and inexperienced, but man are they athletic.
All in all the defense gave reason to get a little more excited about this team. I don’t think this team will be the brick wall type of defense that will stop opposing offenses stone cold. But the overall speed and athleticism will make opposing offenses have to work a little harder, and really concentrate on protecting the ball. I can’t wait to see how they stack up against Utah State. I won’t have to wait long.