The Tennessee defense isn’t expected to be a strength of this team this year, but one thing they do have going for them is a veteran secondary. The Vols suddenly have a bunch of defensive back that have played quite a bit of football after being tossed into the fire as younger players a few seasons ago.
Alontae Taylor, Kenneth George, Warren Burrell, Trevon Flowers and Theo Jackson are the anchors of this secondary, and defensive coordinator Tim Banks is hoping that they can at least keep his unit afloat in a transitional 2021 season.
After one game, one particular veteran stood out among the group. Theo Jackson, manning his new STAR role, really made things tough on Bowling Green last week. The veteran defensive back was everywhere, making tackles in the backfield and defending a handful of passes.
“Theo has done a great job all of camp,” Banks said of Jackson on Tuesday. “He has been the same guy since we got here in the spring. His level of preparation is a model for the young players to look at. It’s no surprise he played well. I think as he continues to grow and learn the system, the sky is the limit, because of the way he goes about his business, day in and day out. He is a wonderful kid and loves to play the game of football.”
Jackson ended up with 11 total tackles and three passes defensed. To put that into perspective, Jackson had a total of six passes defensed in his entire Tennessee career, and no more than two in a single season. He put up three against Bowling Green.
Jackson also was credited with 2.5 tackles for loss, as Tennessee held the Falcons to just six points. The Volunteers generated all kinds of pressure up front, and Jackson was there to routinely clean things up.
“We expect him to play at a really high level because of who he is inside of our program,” Josh Heupel said on Monday. “How he interacts with his teammates, how he competes every day, that’s why he was a team captain on Thursday night. We expect that high level, that’s how he has performed and really grown since we’ve gotten here. He’s got a great understanding of what we’re trying to do defensively, what his job is and the job of the guys around him, as well as.”
Jackson, who is now a ‘super senior’ in his fifth year, was a bit of an unexpected bright spot for the Tennessee defense. They need more veterans like him to emerge as they continue to try and replace so much production from last year’s team.
Tennessee needs Jackson to replicate his performance this week, as the Volunteers welcome an experienced offensive Pitt team to Knoxville.