Josh Heupel had several tough decisions to make this offseason, but the hiring of veteran defensive line coach Rodney Garner probably wasn’t one of them. Heupel hired the former Auburn assistant quickly after arriving in Knoxville, adding some SEC experience and a lifetime’s worth of knowledge to the incoming staff.
Garner has already proven to be intense, and he’s not for everyone. The defensive line room has been churned a bit since his arrival, but that doesn’t worry senior defensive tackle Matthew Butler. The veteran player spoke to the media on Tuesday, and gave a glowing review of Garner to this point.
“Now we’re just playing physical, tough football, running through people’s faces,” Butler said. “When it comes down to it, we’re playing football, yes? And now that we have the best coach with us in the country, what else can you really ask for?”
When asked if the defensive line will be the most improved unit on the team, Butler showed even more confidence.
“I’m not going to tell you what we have, we’re just going to go out there and continue to show you.”
Tennessee struggled up front last season, despite appearing to have plenty of talent and size on the roster. The group returns a solid group of veterans once again this season, under new leadership and a new defensive scheme led by Tim Banks.
How much of an impact can Garner make in year one? The answer to that question will go a long way towards telling the story of the Tennessee defense in 2021. Butler is bullish on the room as a whole, however, saying they’ve made big strides from the spring.
Tennessee welcomes back Butler, Aubrey Solomon, Kurott Garland, Ja’Quain Blakely, LaTrell Bumphus, Elijah Simmons, Omari Thomas and Dominic Bailey, while adding USC transfer Caleb Tremblay and Kansas transfer Da’Jon Terry. They’re hoping to cause more disruption up front than they did in 2020, which Tim Banks hopes will translate into some takeaways.
“We’ve made leaps and bounds since the spring, and we’re going to continue to take leaps and bounds,” Butler said. “We’re dead set on proving that.”
The group will have a chance to prove themselves starting tomorrow as fall camp opens in Knoxville.