Tennessee football DL Tyler Baron. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.
After losing a handful of key contributors from the team this past offseason, Tennessee and defensive line coach Rodney Garner are looking to find new production from their guys in the trenches this spring. That includes both the on-field production and the off-field leadership qualities.
Two of Tennessee’s departing players, edge rusher Byron Young and defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus, were incredibly important for the Tennessee defense during the 2022 season. Their versatility and prowess on the field helped Tennessee in crucial positions throughout the season, whether it was always noticed or not.
“We have to accelerate the learning curve, especially at the Leo position to replace all the production that Byron Young gave us,” Garner said over the weekend. “Just the steady play, people don’t realize how valuable LaTrell Bumphus was. When we go back and we’re looking at our cutups from this past season, he did a heck of a job for us. We have to have that guy that we can count on. That guy did everything right exactly how he was coached, strained and he was selfless and played for the team.”
As Tennessee looks for the guy on the line that they can count on, as Garner put it, there are several names that are going to try to be that figure for the Vols’ defense this season.
“We have Tyler Baron back, Dominic Bailey back, (Tyre West) back, Jayson Jenkins, so you’ve got some veteran guys at the defensive end position,” Garner continued on to say. “But still the same thing, we need to continue to grow at that position. Tyler’s been a little banged up. Today (Saturday) was probably the most practice that he’s done, so we need him to keep taking that—he has really good leadership qualities, so we need him to get that (group) pointing in the right direction. He is an influencer, and we need him to be a positive influence.”
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Spring camp isn’t about perfecting the scheme or the system or anything along those lines. Yes, of course, that is a part of the practice routine for Tennessee throughout the months of March and April. But the reality of spring camp is the evaluation period that the coaches get with the players – being able to take notes on where each player is at and what aspects need to continue to grow in the five months before the season starts.
The point of leadership is extremely valuable, especially in the culture that head coach Josh Heupel and his coaching staff have created on Rocky Top. Tennessee will need to continue to rely on its veteran players to help mold the younger players in the program in order to keep the success trending upward. As Garner mentioned on Saturday, though, that’s still a work in progress throughout the spring.
“That’s something we’re still trying to cultivate,” Garner said about the topic of leadership. “We have some good young men in that room. I can’t say that (leadership is) probably a strong suit. Omari Thomas, he’s going to do everything the right way, but is he willing to grab the bull by the horn and snatch a knot when that isn’t really his personality? He does it by example, but we still need him to grow and become an even better leader. We still need for some other leaders to come on. You don’t have to be a senior to be a leader. You can be a young guy and be a leader. It’s just about you doing things the right way, and people know you’re doing it the right way, and they’re willing to listen and adhere to what you’re saying.”
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So, who is going to step up on the Tennessee line and be that leader that Garner is calling for? Only time will tell.
Tennessee will continue to practice throughout each week as the team draws closer to the Orange & White spring football game on April 15, 2023. The game will be held inside Neyland Stadium at 2:30 p.m. ET, with a five-dollar entry fee for spectators. Tennessee will also be hosting a Vol Village setup on that day starting at noon featuring live music and more.
Check out Rocky Top Insider’s spring practice highlights from Rodney Garner and the Tennessee defensive line on Tuesday morning below.