Grading is considered relative to all teams in the SEC.
Ratings are NOT designed to impugn any specific player.
DL: Grade C+
· This is hard call since the defense is scheduled to transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Simply by the numbers, the Vols will have a deeper group than usual. The question is…are they the correct players for this defensive alignment…and this same question can be carried over to the LB’s also.
· I would guess Tuttle and A Johnson are good fits for the NT. Assuming they remain healthy they are solid.
· DE is a somewhat different position in the 3-4 and will rely less on pass rushing than controlling the line. Given the mindset of the DE players the Vols have at this point it will interesting to see how they respond or whether they will drop back to a LB position.
· Regardless, K Phillips, D Taylor and J Kongbo all return with experience.
LB: Grade D+
· In Tennessee’s better years, LB was always the "signature toughness" of the defense. This has not been the case consistently in the past 5-10 years. This alone gives me concern about moving to a 3-4 but fortunately I am not the coach and can’t see what they do.
· Kirkland I fear is too inconsistent with health issues to play a major role. When he is in, he is good.
· This places tremendous expectations for newcomer and UT’s highest 2018 recruit, JJ Peterson. While obviously talented I would expect the SEC will not be mastered after just a few games.
· RS Jr Q Sapp returns as does D Bituli who both contributed last season. D Bates….where are you? Depth already seems to be a challenge at this spot.
· 2018 recruit J Allen is enrolled and could provide much needed help by fall as his strengths will fit the OLB in the 3-4
· Anyone following UT football expects and knows that CB is basically a wide open spot with not just a lot of optimistic options. Much has been shared about the Vol’s lack to land a CB in this past recruiting cycle but in their defense they were going after big talent and got a very late start. It was no surprise to be their number 2 or 3 choice but I have to appreciate the coaches’ effort. I think it sends a strong message to current players that this group of coaches expects this team to be high quality and they are willing to recruit to support them.
· 4 CB’s were signed in the 2017 class but have little experience to date. One would assume those four (Bailey/Labruzza, Buchannan and Shamburger) will be the initial primary candidates.
· In the end, coaching UP will be the call to arms here and it may not be enough if the front line does not contain the run game better than the past two years.
· The experience factor and talent exist more at Safety than CB. N Warrior is solid and I still see T Kelly JR on the roster as a Graduate player as of this post.
· M Gray is one the higher rated recruits from 2017 that has yet to make much impact.
· Depth appears to be a challenge at these two positions.
Special teams: ?
· No clue. There are so many aspects of the definition of special teams, it is difficult to summarize. Mostly we seem to recognize kick and punt returners and kicker. The punter only gets noticed if his punt is blocked for the most part. Additionally the past two years UT had an All American named at the "position" of returner but was never healthy enough to play.
· Punting: Will be difficult to replace Daniel.
· Kicking: Butch must have been one of the few coaches in the country to have used two kickers during the season and it was never terribly clear why he chose one over the other…regardless Cimaglia returns with some experience. He connected for one FG +50 yards last year…the team’s longest. For what it’s worth the 2018 class punter/kicker is enrolled and will probably benefit as much as any player to go thru spring practice.