KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — At practice Tuesday, Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop jokingly asked a couple reporters if anyone could play defensive tackle.
I weigh 155 pounds.
The Vols are that desperate.
Shoop made his comment in jest, but the hard truth is that Tennessee is legitimately running out of bodies along the interior of its defensive line.
Danny O’Brien is gone. Kahlil McKenzie (torn pectoral) and Shy Tuttle (knee injury) are out for the season. Junior college transfer Alexis Johnson has been on the shelf all season.
Now, walk-on Paul Bain, who flashed in spots against Tennessee Tech, is likely sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.
The Vols “next man up” philosophy has become so dire that they’re asking anyone and everyone — including moving an offensive lineman to tackle — just to have enough men to rotate against Kentucky on Saturday (noon, SEC Network).
“We’re just trying to find big, able bodies,” coach Butch Jones said.
“We’re down a number of defensive tackles, so we’re just trying to find individuals who can help the team win and give us an opportunity. Kentucky is very, very physical and is going to want to establish the line of scrimmage. We’re just trying to create depth across the defensive front.”
Jones joined Shoop in searching for options outside of the box, too, agreeing to run through the “T” with Rick Barnes if the 62-year-old basketball coach would give him some snaps at defensive tackle.
Earlier in the weeks, Tennessee moved Charles Mosley, a 6-foot-4, 340-pound redshirt sophomore guard who was recruited as a former 4-star tackle in high school, back to defense this week.
Mosley, as well as defensive ends Kyle Phillips, LaTroy Lews and Jonathan Kongbo have taken additional reps inside preparing for Kentucky’s explosive ‘Wildcat’ rushing attack.
“Charles has been working hard and asking questions, staying late,” said Lewis, who added that learning the defensive tackle position is “extremely difficult.”
“If we can get Big Mo to play, even if he played two snaps or 200, anything to help us. Whatever role he’s asked come Saturday, today and moving forward, he’s put himself in position be able to do the job and do it well. I think he’s done a great job embracing and adapting to that role.”
While Phillips, Mosley and others have selflessly shifted inside to give Tennessee a modicum of depth, Jones openly challenged Kongbo, who has resisted a move to tackle, to “buy into the team concept.”
“It’s important to him, understanding the standards and expectations that we have in our football program,” Jones continued.
“What’s required on a daily basis. … It’s like raising children. Everyone is ahead in some way or the other. It’s just understanding the things that go into it.”