The Tennessee football team’s defense will have a new look this upcoming season under first-year defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley. With a new coordinator and a whole spring of practices, some fresh faces may have a chance to step up this fall.
Here’s a look at what Tennessee’s depth chart might look like next year:
All three of Tennessee’s starters along the defensive line from last season are now gone, leaving what might be the most gaping hole for the defense. That doesn’t mean the cabinet is completely bare, and the Vols still have some quality players there.
Perhaps the most important is Aubrey Solomon, though he may not be able to play this upcoming season due to NCAA transfer rules. If he can get a waiver, though, the former Michigan Wolverine should start at defensive tackle from day one.
Emmit Gooden, a former JUCO transfer, returns for his senior season, and he should assume the starting role at nose tackle. He’s a big body that can stuff the run and fill space. Greg Emerson could be a good option behind him.
The defensive lineman that garnered the most praise during the spring was Matt Butler. At 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, he has the ideal body for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, and he’ll lock down the starting spot there. Behind him, John Mincey should get a lot of rotation this season.
Darrell Taylor returns as one of the senior leaders this season, and he brings an eight sack 2018 campaign with him. He’s a shoe-in for one of the outside backer positions as arguably the best pass rusher on this roster.
Deandre Johnson will likely hold down the starting spot opposite of Taylor. He had a decently productive year last year, seeing significant playing time in lieu of Jonathan Kongbo, who graduated. He was able to get to the quarterback twice.
Jordan Allen should be in line behind those two to get some snaps early. He struggled last season in limited playing time, but he has shown some flashes this spring.
Darrin Kirkland Jr.’s future in football is up in the air, as he’s battled injuries for almost his entire career. With him out of action, there’s plenty of opportunity for younger players to step up at the Mike and Will positions.
Given his experience with the defense, Daniel Bituli should hole down the Mike position this fall as the quarterback of the defense. He’s been a starter for almost two years, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in this upcoming season.
Shannon Reid was arguably one of the biggest standouts in the Orange and White Game. He led all defensive players with 10 total tackles and got run with the first team defense. He completely transformed his body in winter conditioning, and it appears that it paid off.
Some younger guys, like Quavaris Crouch and JJ Peterson, should factor into the rotation early, though they won’t start. Crouch, as a freshman, already looks like an SEC caliber linebacker in terms of size.
Tennessee’s dynamic freshmen duo, Alontae Taylor and Bryce Thompson, return for their second year in the Vols’ secondary, and both will re-assume their starting roles at corner.
Thompson was a revelation for Tennessee last year, leading the team in interceptions with three and pass breakups with seven. Taylor might be one of the most athletic guys on the roster, and he could likely keep up with any receiver in the conference.
Both have higher expectations this year, though, as the coaching staff will look to them to make a big leap.
Baylen Buchanan is one of the veterans in the secondary, and he’ll probably hold down the star position, which is similar to a nickel corner. Behind him, freshman Tyus Fields could see some early run.
Freshman Warren Burrell could be one of the next men up at outside corner. He has garnered a lot of praise from the coaches this spring, and he could see a lot of early playing time.
Tennessee lost two seasoned safeties to graduation in Micah Abernathy, and Todd Kelly Jr. Though Kelly didn’t start last season; he provided quality depth.
Nigel Warrior returns for his senior season with a starting role in hand. He was one of the team’s permanent captains last season, and finished second on the team with 64 tackles. He also brings energy to the secondary as a hard-hitting safety.
The other spot is up for grabs. Trevon Flowers played on the first team in the spring game, and he could start early in the season. He’s a top-shelf athlete who was a standout baseball player in high school, as well.
Freshman Jaylen McCollough could push for a starting role, though, and will certainly factor into the rotation early. He was arguably the most impressive player in the spring game, soaring for two interceptions and notching seven tackles.
Theo Jackson and Brandon Davis could provide quality depth as well.