It’s been well-documented by now — Tennessee is looking for answers at edge rusher following the departure of Byron Young to the NFL Draft. The Volunteers would love to get more out of their four-man rush, but they’re going to need a couple of new faces to emerge in full-time roles this fall.
The good news? Tennessee has options. They’ve recruited this position really well over the last two years, adding length and athleticism. Ekeler also returns a seasoned veteran in Roman Harrison, a guy who seems like he’s been here forever.
Ahead of the spring game on Saturday, Ekeler broke down what he’s got at the position, making some interesting comments.
“Josh (Josephs) has had a good camp,” Ekeler said. “James (Pearce) needs to continue to learn how to practice, compete and strain. Roman Harrison has done a heck of a job. He’s had the best camp of all of them.”
Harrison is a bit of a forgotten man with the infusion of big-time talent over the past couple of years. But now a senior, and really the only veteran option, Harrison is now getting a chance to lead this group.
“He should — he’s a senior,” Ekeler said. “That’s what he should be doing. He’s been consistent overall and consistent in meetings. He has stacked 12 great practices together, but that’s his job. He’s taken ownership in that, and he’s doing nothing other than what he is supposed to be doing, which is what we want.”
He’s still working how to be the leader of that room, Ekeler admitted.
“It’s still a work in progress if I’m being honest and transparent,” Ekeler continued. “He would tell you the same thing. In order to lead, you have to set the standard and uphold it. You have to make sure that other guys in the room are upholding it. That’s what we are working towards right now, but it’s still a work in progress.”
Ekeler saved his highest praise for 4-star Caleb Herring, one of Tennessee’s biggest pulls of the 2023 cycle. The top 100 overall prospect has the 6-5 length you look for on the edge, and he’s been able to get in early and get things going.
More than that athletic ability, Herring has the work ethic to go with it.
“Caleb is coming on, and that guy can be a freaky talent,” Ekeler said. “He loves ball. The funny thing about Caleb is after practice, he’ll come in, and I won’t even have a chance to watch the film yet, and he’s watched it all. That guy eats, sleeps and drinks ball. He loves it. That’s what the great ones do. A lot of people want to talk about, “I want this” and, “I want that,” and their actions don’t match their expectations. You have a young guy like that who comes in, and he’s doing that on his own. He just goes in there, locks the door in the meeting room and gets after it. I am really excited about him as well.”
Don’t forget, another 4-star edge rusher, Chandavian Bradley, will enter the picture this summer.
Ekeler is about as real as they come, so his comments were certainly interesting — particularly the one about James Pearce. Him gushing over Herring’s early work is notable, as well as the progress that Harrison has made.
Unfortunately, it sounds like we won’t get to see Herring on Saturday during the Orange and White Game on Saturday, due to injury. However, Josephs and Pearce will have my full attention coming off of the edge.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network+.