It's been a fantastic start to the new year for the Volunteers to say the least. After thrashing Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Tennessee kept the momentum going by securing the pledge of Tennessee's top defensive high school player in defensive end Kyle Phillips of Hillsboro. Phillips gives Tennessee six of the top defensive linemen in the nation for 2015 and will be considered the best incoming class of defensive linemen not only in the SEC but the world!
Tennessee's resurgence this season on defense was stark, especially considering they played one of the nation's more difficult schedules, and they played so much youth on all three levels on defense and in their two-deep. In one season, Tennessee jumped from the #64 overall efficient defense to #26 according to Football Outsiders while playing an entirely new defensive front. This number correlates precisely with the team's ability to get to the QB. In 2013, Tennessee had 18 sacks, while in 2014 they had 35 sacks. 21 of those sacks came from two players alone, Derek Barnett with 10 and Curt Maggitt with 11, both of whom will be returning next season. Also returning will be starting defensive tackle Danny O'Brien, who has lived up to his 4-star hype (and will only be a junior next season), and contributors Corey Vereen, LaTroy Lewis and Owen Williams.
It almost seems unfair for Tennessee to be adding so much talent to the line for next season. Current commits include: #1 DT Kahlil McKenzie, #7 DT Shy Tuttle, #5 DE Andrew Butcher, #14 DE Marques Ford (who has been described as the fastest lineman in Orlando this week for the Under Armour All-American game), #11 DE Kyle Phillips and #10 DE Darrell Taylor.
Line play is essential to having a good unit on either side of the ball and Tennessee appears to be adding to a unit that already should be one of the best in the East next season. If these incoming players live up to the hype, the Vols could have the best line in the country before too long.