Tennessee may have lost its top edge threat from a year ago in Byron Young, but the Volunteers have a pretty good looking future on the edge. Josh Heupel’s staff has attacked the position on the recruiting trail, adding a handful of blue-chippers and getting quite a bit more athletic.
It’s been a clear point of focus for this staff as they look to continue to ramp up the aggression on the defensive side of the ball. Now, despite not having that one obvious guy, Tennessee has plenty of options — and plenty of time to develop them.
“One of the position groups, just to date back to my earlier comments, about real depth, real competition, length, athleticism, some of the traits that we’re looking for off the edge and some of that inside too with some of the guys that we’ve brought in,” Heupel said of his pass rush group. “Looking forward to great competition, looking forward to us continuing to develop and our ability to affect the quarterback.”
Tennessee brings back Roman Harrison, who will play out his fifth and final year of eligibility this fall. Harrison got home for three sacks last season, adding seven tackles for loss in a reserve role. He’s likely set for an expanded role this season.
After Harrison, it gets very young very quickly. Joshua Josephs and James Pearce got their feet wet as freshmen last year. True freshmen Caleb Herring and Chandavian Bradley now join the mix and will try to crack the rotation. It will be interesting to see how quickly they can come along.
“You guys know that at the end of spring I felt like we made real strides and that all our guys that were back and a part of our program,” Heupel said. “We’ve had a couple of new guys that came in here, late May, early June too. Anticipate those guys learning, continuing to learn what we’re doing, but playing with great technique and, and competing for a spot at the end of the day.”
You’ve heard Tim Banks talk about the need to get pressure with the front four for a couple of years now. It’s something Tennessee hasn’t been great at during Banks’ time in Knoxville, but now with the depth chart loaded up with length and athletic ability, that could start to change.
Figuring out some sort of pecking order is the next step in the process, which will be settled over the next few weeks in fall camp.
“Right now, this time of year, you gotta show that you can master what we’re doing,” Heupel continued. “You can go take the job. It’s yours to prove that you’re gonna play at a championship level. And once that happens, then we gotta find a role for those guys. Anticipate those guys doing that during course of training camp.”
Tennessee has a veteran secondary and linebacker group — getting a couple of pass rushers with fastballs off the edge could take this entire defense to the next level. I’ll be watching this group closely over the next few weeks.