KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — While Derek Barnett stands as Tennessee’s preeminent pass rusher, help soon could be on the way.
The Vols depth at defensive end is the best they’ve had under coach Butch Jones, as guys like Kyle Phillips and Jonathan Kongbo are pushing for starting roles.
“It’s competitive,” senior end Corey Vereen said.
“I’ve never experienced it, honestly. Dudes are really competing for reps (now).”
Phillips, a 6-5, 259-pound sophomore, has turned heads early in camp, rebounding well from a shoulder injury that shortened his freshman season. The former 4-star prospect missed spring practice with the injury, but he’s shown no ill-effects early in camp. Running mostly with the 2s, Phillips has emerged as a potential valuable super-sub in the fall.
“He’s definitely had a strong camp,” Vereen said.
“He’s just been running to the ball. Kyle Phillips is a gazelle. I’ve never seen someone run to the ball faster than him, so I’m looking forward to his helping us.”
Meanwhile, Barnett, Vereen and the rest of Tennessee’s veteran linemen are mentoring Kongbo — the No. 1 junior-college prospect the Class of 2016. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound athletic freak has flashed so far, but the newcomer still is learning the speed of game and the conditioning it takes to survive in the SEC.
“We’ve been working with him,” Vereen explained, acknowledging expectations are different than what Kongbo was used to at junior college.
“He’s been showing promise.”
Abernathy playing ‘primarily at safety’
While defensive back Micah Abernathy has worked at both nickel and safety early in training camp, the sophomore said he is “primarily a safety” in coordinator Bob Shoop’s scheme.
The 6-foot, 195-pound underclassman admitted the move was a bit of an adjustment initially, but he’s embraced the added run-game responsibilities and is battling for a starting job alongside Todd Kelly Jr., Rashann Gaulden and freshman Nigel Warrior.
“Everybody’s competitive,” he said.
“On and off the field we’re brothers, so it’s a brotherly love. On the field, we’re competing all the time.”
Abernathy effusively praised Warrior’s camp thus far, calling the former hot-shot recruit “a ballhawk.”
“He likes to get after it,” Abernathy said. “He’s an energy guy, he’ll get to the ball regardless of where the ball is and how far it is.”
Single-game tickets on sale
Single-game tickets are available for every Tennessee home game this fall, the school announced Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased at AllVols.com — the new official UT site for buying season and single-game tickets.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com