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Josh Heupel praises the Tennessee defensive line following first scrimmage

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Following Tennessee’s first scrimmage of the fall, an unlikely group received the most praise from head coach Josh Heupel — the defensive line. The new staff has completely reworked this group while swapping schemes, as veteran defensive line coach Rodney Garner gets his new guys up to speed.

Garner isn’t for everyone, but he’s going to maximize the roster in front of him. There have been defections, there have been additions — now we get to see what this new unit looks like.

“From the first day of pads in the spring to where we are now, it’s a different group,” Heupel said following Thursday’s scrimmage. “It’s different on the practice field with our physicality, playing up the field, disrupting and changing the line of scrimmage.”

Tennessee already had a veteran core up front, but it was a group that didn’t cause much disruption. The Volunteers were average against the run last year, but really couldn’t generate any negative plays. In Tim Banks’ defense this year, those negative plays and turnovers are a point of emphasis.

The Volunteers lost John Mincey, Greg Emerson, Savion Williams and Darel Middleton to the transfer portal, but also added Da’Jon Terry and Caleb Tremblay. They’re hoping young players like Dominic Bailey and Omari Thomas can step into the rotation to provide depth behind veterans like Matthew Butler, LaTrell Bumphus and Aubrey Solomon.

“Most importantly, it’s a different group inside the meeting room, who they are, accountability every single day as well as their consistency, work habits and ability to learn and want to play for the guy next to them,” Heupel said. “Accountability in that room is completely different, and that’s why they are different on the field.”

Tennessee has to have disruption from this group — it’s a must. With the offense playing as fast as they’re going to play, this unit isn’t going to have much time to breathe on the sidelines. That creates a need for depth, obviously, but it also creates a need for negative plays. Getting off the field quickly via downs or turnover is something that Tim Banks has preached since his arrival. To his point, UCF finished with a +12 mark in the turnover battle for the 2020 season, so that’s something Heupel’s team did well last year.

Those turnovers start up front with the defensive line, both inside and out. It’s all about disruption, and it sounds like this unit is off to a really good start following the first scrimmage.