Darrell Taylor and Kyle Phillips battle for starting spot
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee coaching staff knows three of the four starters on the defensive line right now.
Senior Kendal Vickers and junior Kahlil McKenzie will anchor the middle of the defense at tackle, and Jonathan Kongbo will start at end.
Who will start opposite of Kongbo at the other end position remains one of the biggest positions battles in fall camp.
Junior Kyle Phillips and redshirt sophomore Darrell Taylor have competed for the spot with neither pulling ahead in the race.
Tennessee defensive line coach Brady Hoke said after Sunday’s practice Taylor’s work ethic has impressed through the first seven days of fall camp.
“Darrell has come out and played hard every day,” Hoke said. “That’s what he’s done. It always hasn’t been perfect but if you’re playing hard enough sometimes you make up for not being perfect and Darrell understands that piece of it. I would say the same thing with him, he’s shown good leadership by example and then the vocal part also.”
Taylor played in eight games last season, but really began to have hype build around him this summer.
Offensive lineman Marcus Tatum compared Taylor to all-time Tennessee sack leader Derek Barnett in April.
Hoke also praised the way Phillips has come in and performed early.
“Phillips has done a really good job,” Hoke said. “He’s got really good leadership and loves the game, and he’s got good effort.
“He’s been impressive.”
Phillips’ leadership has shown through to the coaches as well.
“His effort,” Hoke said. “You watch film and you see the backside end sprinting down the field to cut off the ball carrier. That’s Kyle Phillips. That’s what you try to show all the young guys.”
The 6-foot-4, 263-pound Phillips has one start for the Vols in his 17-game career. He has recorded 23 total tackles and a sack in the last two seasons.
Phillips and Taylor will continue to battle for the starting position, but Hoke can envision scenarios when both ends and Kongbo take the field at the same time.
“You always want to put playmakers on the field and however you can do that, that’s what we’ll do,” Hoke said.