KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Brady Hoke knows what a championship defensive line looks like, and Tennessee is not there yet.
Thursday’s “Circle of Life” drill featured three of the Vols’ top linemen with mixed results:
• Offensive tackle Trey Smith (6-6, 313) beat defensive end Jonathan Kongbo (6-6, 270)
• Defensive end Darrell Taylor (6-4, 240) tied with tight end Ethan Wolf (6-6, 245)
• Defensive tackle Quay Picou (6-1, 277) beat offensive guard Jack Jones (6-4, 307)
• Offensive guard Ryan Johnson (6-6, 275) beat defensive tackle Alexis Johnson (6-4, 295)
Hoke’s messages from earlier in the week remained in effect.
“The guys who are out here are doing a nice job, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be as a defensive front,” said Hoke, the former head coach at Michigan who coached the Wolverines’ defensive line when that program won the 1997 national championship.
“I think Jonathan and Darrell, those two guys, have done a good job,” Hoke said. “In some ways Quay has done some things from a penetrating and puncturing the line of scrimmage (standpoint).”
Hoke explained that Picou has been great in the weight room, but because he is shorter he will be at a disadvantage against most offensive linemen, as they will have longer arms.
“He’s got to take his explosiveness and power and add good fundamentals with his hands, so he can get inside (on blockers), because most guys are going to have longer arms than him,” he said. “But if he can get inside and use his explosiveness and quickness, he can be effective.”
Kahlil McKenzie has been limited in spring drills after suffering a torn pectoral muscle last season, and Shy Tuttle remains sidelined by the right knee injury he suffered last season.
Kendal Vickers, a returning senior starter at defensive tackle, also has been limited in spring drills.
The Vols lost four of their top five defensive tackles to injuries last season, and that contributed to the defense fading in November.
“You’re always prideful about the position,” Hoke said. “We talk about pride and ownership.
“We’ve got to stop the run and be physical up front.”