KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Bob Shoop specifically noted he wasn’t talking about anybody in particular, but it certainly seemed like it.
On Friday, Tennessee’s defense coordinator outlined his thoughts on a rotation for the Volunteers deep defensive line. Shoop then delivered a quick zinger before expounding extemporaneously on players’ roles.
“This isn’t youth league soccer,” he said.
“There’s not going to be balanced reps. To get seven defensive ends the reps they deserve is challenging, and that’s why ultimately, we’re trying to demonstrate to one of the guys why moving to 3-technique would be a wise decision for him and for the best interest in the team.”
Jonathan Kongbo, anyone?
Kongbo has been popular storyline of preseason practice, as the 6-foot-6, 285-pound lineman has wowed folks with his athleticism and raw talent, but also raised eyebrows due to his initial conditioning and a curious tweet.
Tennessee continues to experiment with the redshirt sophomore, as Shoop has asked Kongbo to play both end and tackle during camp. According to Shoop, “Jonathan had his best practices outside the last couple days.”
“He’s shown what he’s capable of doing. He’s a really kind of unique athlete,” he continued.
“He definitely has the size and the athletic ability to be a really nice player off the edge. But he also has the size and strength to be a really solid 3-technique. He has positional versatility just like a safety who has corner skills. To me he’s still kind of to be determined on a weekly basis. How we decide to utilize him within the framework of the package. His conditioning is pretty good. He’s done everything that (DL coach Steve) Strip(ling) and myself has asked him to do.”
With Tennessee’s loaded line, Kongbo’s best chance to see significant snaps is likely sliding inside on a more regular basis. Shoop can point to real success for similar type talents, moving Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib around at Penn State, and both players delivered award-winning seasons.
For now though, Shoop hasn’t carved out a specific role for the former No. 1 junior-college transfer, who is only playing tackle on passing downs.
“It’s a long season. Hard to tell,” Shoop explained.
“It’s just pass rush situations right now. But I’ve had success coaching players who have done that. The kid at Penn State named Anthony Zettel was a rotational d-end who we moved to 3-technique, and he became the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year in 2014 and a high-round pick by the (Detroit) Lions this year. … To me, whoever goes in there has to embrace it a little bit. But 3-technique isn’t taught a whole lot different than 5-technique or any a defensive end would play.”
In effort to get All-American Derek Barnett, starting end Cory Vereen and Kongob on the field together, Shoop has tinkered with some 3-4 alignments, too.
“We’ve got a couple different things were we may move to a 3-4, where I tried to show (Kongbo) as a 3-4 we can stem him from an inside guy to an outside guy,” Shoop said.
“Put he and Barnett or he and Vereen or he and (LaTroy) Lewis on the same side. Make it very difficult for (opposing offenses).”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com