Very quietly, Tennessee added a key piece to the defense during the early signing period. Byron Young, a JUCO pass rusher coming from the Georgia Military College, signed with the Volunteers, at the time giving Jeremy Pruitt another body at the position. Tennessee has since gone through a messy coaching change, with several starters from last year’s team leaving in the transfer portal.
However, Byron Young remains, and he might just become an instant impact player for the Vols. The 6-3, 240 pound edge rusher has generated consistent buzz throughout the spring period, and could provide an answer for Tim Banks at defensive end.
“(Byron Young) has really made a ton of improvement,” outside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler said this week. “He’s got some speed off the edge that you’re looking for. Bryson Eason has more power, and he’s done a great job. Those guys pack their lunch pail every single day. They have gotten better every single day. They have got an unbelievable attitude and the bottom line is they love ball. Every single day, they raise their game. Those two guys I have been really, really pleased with.”
Young was a three-star prospect, ranking 17th overall in the JUCO category. With Deandre Johnson transferring to Miami, Tennessee has a spot open at edge heading into the 2021 season. Roman Harrison, Tyler Baron and Bryson Eason have each been working in the rotation, but no player has stood out more than Young to this point.
“In that position, it’s really kind of a hybrid position. We will be moving them around a lot of times. Sometimes they’ll be a stacked backer. Sometimes they’ll be out wide in the boundaries. Sometimes they’ll be in the field. They’ll be running all kinds of blitzes, all kinds of stunts. Really the idea is not to let the offense find them. With (Byron Young’s) skill set, he’s got unbelievable speed. The guy is extremely fast and he’s bends really well so he can hit that corner and dip and rip and rub and beat them to the edge. He’s really doing a good job working on his counter moves, and I’m really excited about him. That guy, he really truly every single day just coming out and competing. I love the guy.”
Tennessee hasn’t had any consistency out of its pass rush since the Derek Barnett era. They still lack depth here, and we’ve already seen this staff address those numbers on the recruiting trail this week.
For Mike Ekeler and Tim Banks, they badly need to hit on a guy like Young to ease the blow of losing so many key defensive players from last year’s roster. So far, so good.