Tennessee football podcast
The linebacker group might inspire some optimism with the first two fall practices over.
The Vols boast veteran and new talent across the board. The middle linebacker might be the best example of the new depth in the middle of the defense.
Junior Darrin Kirkland Jr. played eight games in 2016, but he transforms the defense when he plays. Kirkland had 66 tackles, three sacks and an interception last season.
Kirkland’s health will continue to be his biggest question mark. The 6-foot-1, 238-pound linebacker missed the Orange and White Game after suffering a hamstring injury in spring drills. He has not participated fully in fall practice, yet due to a lower body injury.
Freshman Will Ignont has taken full advantage Kirkland’s absence by impressing the coaches early.
The ceiling might be high if the Vols have a healthy Kirkland with Ignont spelling the veteran.
Redshirt junior Colton Jumper will also likely factor into the mix at middle linebacker.
Jumper played in all 13 games last season and recorded 61 tackles in mostly fill-in action for Kirkland.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said after Sunday’s practice he believes the experience will pay dividends for Jumper this season.
“I said it all last year, we look at Colton Jumper as a starter,” Shoop said. “He’s played a lot of big football for us. He’s a leader and the guy who played and won big games here and on the road.”
WMNL’s Josh Ward discusses the linebacker depth as well as the cornerback situation on the Rocky Top Talk Podcast.