4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE TENNESSEE DEFENSE
– The D doesn’t have as much experience returning as the O gets, but six of the top eight tacklers are back and there’s enough overall talent back to improve after a decent year, allowing 377 yards and 28 points per game. However …
– The front three is starting over, but there’s a whole lot to get excited about. Getting 6-5, 306-pound Michigan transfer Aubrey Solomon was huge, but he has to be ruled eligible by the NCAA for this year. He’s the main man up front when he’s ready to go, and JUCO transfer Savion Williams will make a difference once he joins the fun. 6-3, 302-pound Emmitt Gooden is the one steady part, locked in at one spot.
The depth is a bit of a concern on the end, and there needs to be more of a pass rush. 6-4, 285-pound Matthew Butler will move into a bigger role at one spot, and 280-pound sophomore John Mincey needs to rise up and be a bigger factor.
– The Vols have a whole lot of linebackers to throw into the rotation, but now they have to make more impact plays. Leading tackler Daniel Bituli is back on the inside after making 79 tackles, and the combination of Shanon Reid and 47-tackle Will Ignont will work at the other spot.
Darrell Taylor is a 255-pound edge rusher on the outside coming off a 36-tackle season with a team-high eight sacks, and 241-pound junior Deandre Johnson should do more after coming on last season with 13 tackles. True freshman Quavaris Crouch is took good to keep off the field right away, and 6-2, 251-pound sophomore Kivon Bennett will fight for the job on the other side of Taylor.
– The defensive backs are young, but good. The sophomore cornerback combination of Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson have decent size and a whole lot of talent to grow into the gigs over the next few seasons. Senior Baylen Buchanan can work at one corner job, but will fill in as more of a nickel. Now they all have to come up with more interceptions.
Senior Nigel Warrior is a sound veteran at safety finishing second on the team with 64 tackles, and sophomore Trevon Flowers and juniors Theo Jackson and Shawn Shamburger will all battle for time.