KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s so-called “Circle of Life” drill was back in effect on Thursday, and Coach Butch Jones put some of his leaders to the test in the one-on-one battle of power and leverage.
It was a test that 6-foot-6, 313-pound true freshman offensive lineman Trey Smith appears to have already mastered.
Departing Tennessee all-time sack leader Derek Barnett described Smith last week as having a “nasty” attitude, and the ESPN.com’s No. 1-ranked signee in the 2017 class backed it up by beating Jonathan Kongbo in the drill.
Smith used his 48-pound weight advantage to top Kongbo, who has had an exceptional spring session at defensive end and is showing signs of living up to his No. 1 junior college prospect ranking of a year ago.
“When he doesn’t have to think he can really come off the ball and hit somebody in the mouth, that’s for sure,” UT coach Walt Wells said with a chuckle, asked if any conclusions could be drawn from Smith’s display of power. “Trey is a good player. Trey is intelligent, he’s mature beyond his years. He’s still learning as we go through it.”
It was only one drill, but the Vols’ offensive players showed an edge in the matchups involving the highest-profile players.
In addition to Smith topping Kongbo, running back John Kelly got the better of middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland, and receiver Jauan Jennings scored a win by getting Todd Kelly Jr. off balance.
The fact the Vols’ leaders at each of the three levels of defense got beat is something Jones and his coaches will surely be discussing.
It’s a safe bet defensive coaches Bob Shoop, Brady Hoke, Tommy Thigpen and Charlton Warren will not be all right with the Tennessee defense getting pushed around this season.
The Vols defense got the better of the offense in last Saturday’s scrimmage, however, so there’s not likely to be a great deal of panic.
But the small portion of Thursday’s practice that was open to the media belonged to the offense, and no one looked as mighty as Smith.
Kongbo explained how he and Smith have been making one another better playing against one another throughout spring drills.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and every day we push each other to get better,” Kongbo said “There are times he gets me, and there are times I get him.
“He does’t look like a freshman or seem like a freshman.”
Kongbo, meanwhile has the look of a potential All-SEC player with the strides he’s making under first-year defensive line coach Brady Hoke.
“There were times last year it was tough for me, but one thing I learned was perseverance,” Kongbo said. “I feel like I’m finally at home.”