KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Statistics suggest Tennessee football had the second-softest defensive front among Power 5 college football teams last season.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt said early in the spring football session that he has made sure his team knows it.
Only UCLA allowed more yards rushing per game (287.4) among Power 5 teams than did the Vols (251.3), despite Tennessee’s concentrated efforts to stop the run.
An NFL scout evaluated the Vols in the 2017 preseason and declared the upperclassmen “soft,” drawing the ire of some fans who may not have wanted to hear such a raw evaluation.
But as the 4-8 season played out, it was evident the scout was on target.
Pruitt had his own strong words for the Tennessee defense following the Orange and White Game. The first-team defense was throttled by the first-team offense by a shocking count of 34-7, leading Pruitt to say some “flat-out quit.”
The good news for the Vols is that Shy Tuttle and Kyle Phillips, two talented projected starters, are coming off their first healthy offseason.
Junior college transfer Emmit Gooden is considered an impact player who could start.
Phillips and Tuttle figure to be bigger and stronger than ever, and Tennessee needs junior college transfers Alexis Johnson and Jonathan Kongbo to live up to their billing, too.
Young defensive line prospects Eric Crosby, Matthew Butler and Greg Emerson took snaps on offense in spring drills, but are expected to return to defense.
Projected starters: DE Kyle Phillips, NT Shy Tuttle, DE Emmit Gooden
Pressing issue: Smallish three-man front lacks power, has yet to exhibit toughness.
Big concern: Not enough talent up front for effective 3-4 defense.
Tennessee football previews
- PODCAST: Tennessee wideouts have lacked the YAC
- Vols receivers looking to catch on with new football staff
- Defensive line podcast, talk of Jeremy Pruitt challenging defensive line
- Tennessee offensive line dealing with weighty issues podcast
- Vols offensive line preview: Will Friend triggers big improvements
- Tennessee tailbacks: Can Ty Chandler play big enough to win starting job?
- Vols running backs podcast: Who will Jeremy Pruitt turn to for a yard?
- Tennessee quarterbacks podcast: Discussing Vols issues at QB
- Vols quarterbacks: Don’t call it a controversy, but it is a competition