Tennessee’s defense was up and down last year, and Tim Banks is looking for a little more consistency this year. However, he’ll have to replace one of the most important players from last year’s unit, as Byron Young heads to the NFL.
The Volunteers have a big void to fill on the edge, and that process begins this spring. The good news? Tennessee has recruited in a big way at the position, landing four 4-star prospects over the last two cycles. Now, James Pearce, Jonathan Josephs, Chandavian Bradley and Caleb Herring are the next guys up.
Last week, Rodney Garner discussed the status of that group to open the spring.
“We definitely have the body types that we are looking for,” Garner said of his edge rushers. “We have to get going. We have to get the juices flowing, get the confidence going and get them the technique where they can get loose, let the hair down, let some personality come through and get the confidence where they say, “I can go out there and do it down there.”
Tennessee has a ton of length and athletic ability in each of those four bodies mentioned above, now it’s just about getting them in the system and adding some seasoning. We saw a couple of flashes out of Pearce and Josephs last season — now those flashes have to turn into consistency in expanded roles.
“I’ve seen some growth out of James,” Garner said of Pearce. “He’s maturing a lot on and off the field. He has to continue to do that. He has to keep moving the needle in the right direction. He has a lot of potential, but he has to make sure that he’s invested enough in it to get what he wants out of this. That’s what it has to take.”
Pearce put up two sacks last year in a very limited role last year. Josephs added six tackles and got home one time for a sack in mop-up duty.
4-star prospect Caleb Herring enters the picture this spring, and he’ll be joined by fellow 4-star prospect Chandavian Bradley this summer. For Herring, it’s a chance to find his footing and adjust to college life, perhaps with a chance to do what Josephs and Pearce did as freshmen last year.
“I think he is going to be a really good player,” Garner said of Herring. “I’m really excited about him. I think he really loves football. I think he’s tough, has the length and has the skillset. I think he has a bright future. I think it’s important to him. I’m pleased with all of those guys. We have to keep working and you hope you start to have some separation. From where they’re all right there together, we need some people to start pulling away.”
Tennessee also returns veteran Roman Harrison at the LEO spot, who will likely factor into the rotation. Tyler Baron remains at defensive end, manning a 6-tech hybrid defensive end role for Garner.
Tim Banks has spoken about the importance of a four-man rush at length. The biggest part of that comes from the LEO spot, where the Volunteers have plenty of options. Just who will step up remains the question. Hopefully we find out this spring.