Defense: Can Vols Get Step-Up Performances from any Butch-era Bench Players?

Defense: Can Vols Get Step-Up Performances from any Butch-era Bench Players?

We’ve taken a look at the potential for the 2019 Tennessee team were its former bluechip recruits on the offensive and defensive side of the ball to play up to their rankings.  When you look at it from that angle, there is reason for some optimism if you put a any amount of faith in Coach Jeremy Pruitt and his staff to coach them up.  However, we’ve also stipulated that regardless of whether or not that elevation in play from former 5 and 4-stars happens, the team does not have enough quality depth across the board despite Pruitt’s relatively strong efforts in his stub 2018 class and first full class of 2019. 

Yesterday we took a look at the true Juniors and RS Sophomores from the class of 2017 as well as the handful of seniors and RS Jrs on the offensive side of the ball who, if they step up and play the best ball of their respective careers, can have a meaningful impact on the 2019 season.  Whether its providing quality depth and rest for the first-teamers or even better make big plays when the opportunity presents itself, shoring up the bottom portion of the roster (from a star ranking perspective) with play that exceeds what anyone is expecting from them would simply be huge for Tennessee. 

Below we look at the defensive side of the ball from that perspective:

DL

Matthew Butler (Jr)/Latrell Bumphus (Jr)/Jaquain Blakely (RS Jr)

There is expected to be greater overall depth on the DL this season after Tennessee leaned (too) heavily on three since-departed seniors.  However, there is a big difference between a player who can provide actual quality depth and “Just A Guy.”  Butler  is without a doubt the Vols are counting on to if not push for a starting role than be a first off the bench kind of player.  Bumphus and Blakely, both of whom have played TE in their time in Knoxville, are big guys with athletic ability – if that can translate this season into meaningful skill and ability on the DL such that they can give the starters some real rest without a huge dropoff that would be big

OLB

Deandre Johnson (Jr)/Kivon Bennett (RS So)

Johnson has shown flashes and has actually played a lot of football.  Bennett hasn’t played much on Saturdays but had a strong spring.  These two, along with former 4-star JUCO Jordan Allen, are going to be given every opportunity to take the OLB spot opposite Darrell Taylor.  Whoever does win that job will also probably get a lot of 1-on-1 chances as the hope is that Taylor is commanding double teams on every play.  If either, or preferably both, of them can step up and grab the opportunity and be legit pass-rush threats while also effectively setting the edge in the run game that would take the defense to another level and give DC Derrick Ansely much more freedom and flexibility with his back 7

ILB

Shanon Reid (Jr)

Solon Page (RS So)

Reid was a breakout star in the spring, having completely reshaped his body (read: got a lot bigger) while not losing any of the speed that was his calling card in high school.  At this point it seems like the Vols are counting on him to if not start at ILB – pending what a stud freshman like Henry To’oto’to can do – than at least give them a ton of high-quality snaps. 

Page on the other hand still hasn’t found his niche on defense and is likely a special teamer.  However, there’s a ton of value there too, and if he can make some big plays throughout the course of the season on coverage teams, etc, that would give the Vols a big boost

DB

Shawn Shamburger (Jr)/Theo Jackson (Jr) – sdafadsf

Cheyenne Labruzza (RS So)/Terrell Bailey (RS So) – asfads

Shamburger and Jackson have played a lot of football for Tennessee in their careers – unfortunately it’s been on two of the worst teams in the program’s history.  However, they both do have talent, and Jackson in particular could be in line to start at S.  That’s particularly the case depending on what happens with the Nickel position, where there’s a real chance that Nigel Warrior could slide down and take snaps there. 

Labruzza and Bailey have not played at all on defense in their respective careers to date, and it remains to be seen if they will.  That said, Labruzza has generated some buzz in the offseason and does have a pretty solid pedigree as a prospect and is also finally healthy.  He’ll be in the mix at Nickel and will also play teams for sure.  Anything the Vols can get from these two would be counted as a bonus and would boost the overall play of the team

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