Alexis Johnson

Pruitt’s mostly accomplished his defensive size- and shape-blueprint in one short summer

There’s no doubt that new Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt has been a very busy man since he was hired last December. His to-do list is full of major projects, but over the past seven months it’s become more and more clear that one of his main priorities was re-shaping his roster and the guys on it.

In a post we published back in January, we took an educated guess at what Pruitt’s ideal roster looks like and concluded that he had some work to do to make Tennessee fit his blueprint. He wasted no time attacking the problem on multiple fronts, adding freshmen, JUCO, and graduate transfers who fit his mold and asking many of his current players to change the shape of their bodies over the summer and/or switch positions.

So, now that the summer work is over, how much progress was he able to make in re-shaping the Vols’ roster into his ideal? It looks to me like he got almost all the way there in one short summer.

Here’s a look at the defensive roster blueprint and the current status of Tennessee’s defensive guys.

Nose Tackles

Goal

  • 3-6
  • Between 5’11” and 6’5”
  • Between 290-340

Guys who meet the criteria (6-7)

Every defensive lineman meets the height criteria for a nose tackle, and seven guys also meet the weight criteria:

  • Paul Bain (292)
  • Shy Tuttle (300)
  • Maurese Smith (305)
  • Greg Emerson (305)
  • Emmit Gooden (306)
  • Alexis Johnson (314)
  • Kingston Harris (316)

Status

Goal met. They want 3-6 nose tackles and have 6-7 of them. As with all of these positions, we’re talking only about numbers here, not talent, although I’d say that there’s a fair amount of talent on the roster as well.

Defensive Ends

Goal

  • 6-10
  • Between 6’2” and 6’6”
  • Between 270-310

Guys who meet the criteria (4)

True freshman John Mincey (264) and sophomore Kivon Bennett (266) aren’t quite there yet, but there are eight guys who fit the mold of defensive end:

  • Kyle Phillips (273)
  • Kurott Garland (275)
  • Matthew Butler (276)
  • Paul Bain (292)
  • Shy Tuttle (300)
  • Maurese Smith (305)
  • Greg Emerson (305)
  • Emmit Gooden (306)

Several of those guys, though, are better suited for nose tackle. Shy Tuttle is likely your starter in the middle, and Emerson and Gooden are more likely nose tackles than ends. Maurese Smith appears to be a walk-on. So that leaves scholarship players Phillips, Garland, Butler, and Bain as the team’s primary defensive ends. That’s pretty low on numbers, so they’ll likely be looking for Mincey and Bennett to continue to gain weight, and in the meantime, help may need to come from some of the tweener nose tackles or outside linebackers.

Status

Goal not yet met. They want 6-10 and only have 4, so they’re 2-6 guys short at this position. Until they get their numbers here, expect some tweeners to move around as needed.

Linebackers

Goal for outside ‘backers

  • 5-8
  • Between 6’1” and 6’5”
  • Between 220-260

Goal for inside ‘backer

  • 5-8
  • Between 6’0” and 6’3”
  • Between 230-250

Guys who meet the criteria for OLB (5-6)

Only Shanon Reid and apparent walk-on Matt Ballard fall outside the ideal height, and only Solon Page III and walk-ons Nick Humphrey and Landon Knoll don’t meet the weight criteria. Everybody else is in the right range for outside ‘backer:

  • Joshua Warren (222)
  • Quart’e Sapp (223)
  • Nyles Gaddy (226)
  • Dillon Bates (229)
  • JJ Peterson (231)
  • Darrin Kirkland Jr. (234)
  • Cole Hughes (237)
  • Will Ignont (239)
  • Jordan Allen (242)
  • Deandre Johnson (244)
  • Daniel Bituli (244)
  • Austin Smith (246)
  • Darrell Taylor (247)
  • Jonathan Kongbo (254)

Guys who meet the criteria for ILB

Kongbo, Taylor, and Allen are too tall for inside linebacker, so they’re not candidates. Of the other guys, Page, Reid, Sapp, and Bates are under-weight for the inside. That leaves the following guys who are ideally-sized for inside linebacker:

  • JJ Peterson (231)
  • Darrin Kirkland Jr. (234)
  • Cole Hughes (237)
  • Will Ignont (239)
  • Deandre Johnson (244)
  • Daniel Bituli (244)
  • Austin Smith (246)

One interesting note on ILB, Sapp is likely going to be relied on a lot at this position despite being slightly underweight at 223.

Bituli and Smith appear to be the tweeners between ILB and OLB, but they’re likely more suited for the inside. Either way, there appear to be 5-6 guys ideally-sized to play ILB, and if JJ Peterson ever gets to campus, he’ll help there tremendously.

As a general rule, outside linebackers are taller and heavier than inside ‘backers (although there’s a higher weight floor for ILB than OLB). Former defensive ends Kongbo and Taylor don’t meet the criteria for inside linebackers, so they’re pure OLBs (but they could also slide back to defensive end in a pinch.) In all, there are 14 linebackers who meet the criteria for outside linebacker. Three of those appear to be walk-ons, 5-8 of those guys need to be reserved for inside ‘backer, and JJ Peterson isn’t here yet, but that still leaves at least 5-6 guys for OLB.

Status

Goal met. There’s a fair amount of flexibility among the OLBs and ILBs, so let’s say the team has 5-6 OLBs and 5-6 ILBs. If they want a total of 10-16 total ‘backers, then having 10-12 is there, albeit just barely.

Cornerbacks and safeties

Goal for corner

  • 5-10
  • Between 5’8” and 6’2”
  • Between 170-200

Goal for safety

  • 4-8
  • Between 5’10” and 6’2”
  • Between 190-220

Guys who meet the criteria for corner (8)

Every guy listed as a defensive back meets both the height and weight criteria for corner. Here they are:

  • Brandon Davis (170)
  • Jake Powers (178) (WO)
  • D.J. Henderson (179)
  • Bryce Thompson (180)
  • Carlin Fils-aime (180)
  • Garrett Johnson (182) (WO)
  • Bryce Collier (183) (WO)
  • Trevon Flowers (184)
  • Terrell Bailey (186)
  • Alontae Taylor (186)
  • Cheyenne Labruzza (188)
  • Nigel Warrior (188)
  • Marquill Osborne (190)
  • Sam Harvin (192) (WO)
  • Shawn Shamburger (193)
  • Baylen Buchanan (193)
  • Theo Jackson (193)
  • MaLeik Gatewood (194)
  • Kenneth George Jr. (195)
  • Micah Abernathy (195)
  • Todd Kelly Jr. (200)
  • Maleik Gray (200)

Guys who meet the criteria for safety (9)

  • Marquill Osborne (190)
  • Sam Harvin (192) (WO)
  • Shawn Shamburger (193)
  • Baylen Buchanan (193)
  • Theo Jackson (193)
  • MaLeik Gatewood (194)
  • Kenneth George Jr. (195)
  • Micah Abernathy (195)
  • Todd Kelly Jr. (200)
  • Maleik Gray (200)

Not counting walk-ons, that’s 18 defensive backs available to play safety/corner/nickel. All of the safety-sized guys are on the low end, with Kelly and Gray weighing the most but still 20 pounds off the maximum weight. And safety starter Warrior doesn’t even fit the criteria for safety, as he’s two pounds shy now that he lost six pounds over the summer. Still, there appear to be nine guys ideally-sized to play safety, well over the need of 4-8.

At corner, I count eight non-walk-ons that meet the criteria. There is a concern there, but it isn’t numbers; it’s talent, although it’s sounding like Alontae Taylor is a huge step in the right direction.

Status

Goal met. If they want 5-10 corners and 4-8 safeties and have 8 corners and 9 safeties, they’re in good shape, numbers-wise. It’s a little heavy on safety and a perhaps a little light on corner, but still within the desired range, especially considering that Warrior — the defense’s best player — is essentially a tweener.

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