Does Tennessee’s current defensive line meet Jeremy Pruitt’s ideal?

Yesterday, we took our best guess at Jeremy Pruitt’s ideal roster makeup and concluded it would probably look something like the following:

  • 3-6 nose tackles;
  • 6-10 defensive ends;
  • 5-8 inside linebackers;
  • 5-8 outside linebackers;
  • 4-8 safeties;
  • 5-10 cornerbacks;
  • 4-6 running backs;
  • 3-4 quarterbacks;
  • 3-6 tight ends;
  • 8-13 wide receivers; and
  • 14-18 offensive linemen

Today, we’ll start taking a closer look at the returning roster to see how Pruitt might be viewing the current roster compared to his ideal roster. We’ll start with the defensive line.

Nose Tackles (3-6)

It’s probably not much of a stretch to think that defense will be foremost on Pruitt’s mind as he gets to work. In his 3-4 scheme, nose tackle is arguably the first and most important piece of the puzzle, which at first glance makes Kahlil McKenzie’s decision to leave early for the NFL all the more baffling.

Tennessee’s official roster does not delineate between defensive ends and tackles, so we’re going to go through the information to see which guys meet the ideal criteria for a nose tackle, which is a guy who is 5’11” to 6’5″ and between 290 and 340 pounds. Here’s a list of those guys:

98 Alexis Johnson DL NT 6-4 300 R-Jr.
97 Paul Bain DL NT 6-5 290 R-Jr.
2 Shy Tuttle DL NT 6-2 308 Jr.
52 Maurese Smith DL NT 6-3 324 Fr.
27 Eric Crosby DL NT 6-1 336 Fr.

Unless I’m mistaken, both Paul Bain and Maurese Smith are walk-ons, so they won’t be included in this analysis.

Looking at this list, it’s pretty clear that Shy Tuttle has the inside track to nailing down the starting position at nose tackle. He may have also beaten McKenzie out for that spot if McKenzie had chosen to return. That there is only one spot available might actually explain McKenzie’s decision to leave early.

In addition to the returning guys, the Vols also have signed letters of intent from three defensive linemen within 5-10 pounds of ideal nose tackle weight in Greg Emerson, Brant Lawless, and Kingston Harris. They also have a commitment from D’Andre Litaker, who already fits the criteria.

With three nose tackles already on scholarship, one probably coming, and at least three other recruits who could maybe grow into the position, the Vols are within their range of 3-6 nose tackles, but also have some room to add a couple more if desired.

Defensive Ends (6-10)

The ideal criteria for a defensive end is someone who is 6’2″ to 6’6″ and between 270 and 310 pounds. The list of returning guys on Tennessee’s roster who meet that criteria are . . . drumroll . . .

56 Matthew Butler DL DE 6-4 274 Fr.

No, that is not a mistake. Matthew Butler is the only defensive lineman on Tennessee’s roster who meets the ideal height and weight combination for a defensive end in the 3-4.

That leaves ten defensive linemen on Tennessee’s returning roster who don’t fit as either a nose tackle or a defensive end in the 3-4:

19 Darrell Taylor DL 6-4 254 R-So.
1 Jonathan Kongbo DL 6-6 264 R-Jr.
88 Brandon Benedict DL 6-2 250 R-Fr.
48 Ja’Quain Blakely DL 6-2 254 R-Fr.
55 Quay Picou DL 6-1 280 Jr.
5 Kyle Phillips DL 6-4 263 Jr.
95 Kivon Bennett DL 6-1 275 Fr.
94 TJ Minnifee DL 6-3 214 Fr.
44 Ryan Thaxton DL 6-4 236 Fr.
13 Deandre Johnson DL 6-4 258 Fr.

Brandon Benedict and TJ Minnifee are walk-ons, so don’t count against the scholarship limit.

Of the remaining guys, everyone seems to be a bit undersized for their positions, although some are very close. The Vols also have a signed letter of intent from Jordan Allen, whose recruiting profile lists him as a weakside defensive end, but he, too, is undersized at only 230 pounds. At that weight, he may actually end up a linebacker this fall.

With all of that, it appears that Tennessee currently has only one defensive end that is ideally-sized for the 3-4. Jonathan Kongbo and Kyle Phillips are the right height and are close to the right weight for the position, and we know that Darrell Taylor can play the spot despite being 15 pounds shy of the lower target range for weight. All said, though, it seems that there are a ton of defensive linemen who will be asked to add weight this offseason, and even then, the Vols may still be short 2-6 true defensive ends. The problem, of course, is that there are a lot of spots taken up by guys who may not fit the mold Pruitt is looking for, and he won’t be able to just add his guys without having those spots available.


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Bill PruettJoel HollingsworthAtkins91 Recent comment authors
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Great article. Very informative. Our brains apparently work alike.

Bill Pruett
Bill Pruett

Good article. I think it shows why it will take some time for CJP to really transition to the 3-4 defense he wants to run. How difficult is it for big men to add 30-40 pounds of quality weight in an off-season? With deer-antler spray?