Tennessee is looking to recapture its glory from the 1990s. Join us daily at SEC Country for the latest Tennessee recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Volunteers. Check out previous editions here. In this edition, we discuss where Tennessee is looking to fill the hole left by Kahlil McKenzie’s surprising departure for the NFL draft.
Targets at defensive tackle
Tennessee’s coaching staff has to be shocked that defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie declared for the NFL draft on Sunday night. He isn’t high on any draft boards and his production over the last three seasons has been subpar. Regardless of whether it was the right decision to turn pro, McKenzie has made it and he will not be playing for the Vols next season. This leaves a hole at defensive tackle, where McKenzie was a likely starter.
The coaching staff was already recruiting two defensive linemen before McKenzie’s decision.
RELATED: 2018 Tennessee recruiting big board
Coynis Miller is one of the best prospects left on the Vols’ board. The defensive tackle rates as a 4-star prospect and ranks as the No. 13 defensive tackle in the Class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite.
The Birmingham, Ala., native has the size at 6-foot-1, 300 pounds to come in and hold his own in coach Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 defense. He’ll likely add more weight once he’s on a college campus.
Miller is expected to take an official visit to Knoxville on Jan. 26. It will be imperative to sell Miller on the idea of playing early and learning the necessary skills to make it to the NFL.
Miller is a strong Auburn lean right now who would likely choose the Tigers if he had to make a decision today. It won’t be easy unseating the Tigers for Miller.
Tennessee also offered defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia from Katy, Texas, last week. The staff likes him and its pursuit of him might heat up after the McKenzie announcement.
Ogbonnia isn’t nearly as highly sought-after as Miller. He’d be more of a project, but he does have offers from Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Nebraska and Texas Tech, so there are Power 5 schools after him.
What is appealing about Ogbonnia is his familiarity with the 3-4 defense. He played in that scheme in high school, and with his 6-4, 290-pound size he could theoretically fit in early if he shows he’s strong enough.
Tennessee has laid the groundwork for these two prospects at defensive tackle. There is more interest in Miller, but he’s more of a longshot.
Look for Tennessee to extend a few more offers in the coming days. It might look into the junior college ranks to fill this need quickly.
Signees at DT
Tennessee has two signees who play defensive tackle. Brant Lawless is a 4-star prospect from Nashville Christian School who uses his athleticism at the position to make plays.
The 3-4 scheme is built around bigger, harder-to-move tackles, though. The tackle needs to occupy multiple blockers, which frees up linebackers to make plays. Athleticism isn’t always the most important prerequisite in the system.
Lawless is skilled and will likely find his way onto the field while at Tennessee. The previous staff recruited him for a 4-2-5 system.
Kingston Harris is a defensive tackle signee who the new coaching staff targeted and persuaded to join the Vols in fewer than two weeks. He is a 3-star player and measures in at 6-3, 285. I don’t imagine we’ll see much of Harris next season, though.
The D’Andre Litaker question
Tennessee has held a commitment from Murfreesboro, Tenn., defensive tackle D’Andre Litaker since the summer. The coaching staff didn’t waver in its commitment to him when he tore his second ACL in as many seasons last fall.
The previous coaching staff had talked to Litaker about possibly redshirting next season.
The McKenzie decision might put the coaching staff in a tough spot. Litaker is a good kid from the middle of the state. The Nashville-Murfreesboro area features a tight-knit community of players and coaches. It might not be the wisest move to upset the area heading into a dynamic 2019 class.
The coaching staff might believe it needs more production from the spot, though. Taking a guy who will almost undoubtedly need a redshirt year to rehab is a tough pill to swallow with depth issues on the roster.
I imagine the coaching staff will bring Litaker on board, but they have almost certainly have thought about alternatives.
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