Kahlil McKenzie: Ready or not?

Marvin Westwestwords

If we can just get past the Super Bowl, we can begin to concentrate on more important things.

The NFL combine assembles in late February. The draft is in late April. Those are doorways to the great Kahlil McKenzie debate.

The Vols’ big KMac surprised a few thousand fans by leaving a year of Tennessee eligibility on the table and declaring professional intentions. Commentary erupted. Ready or not was the obvious theme.

Best fan line: “He had one more sack than I had. Does this mean I’m like, basically, almost NFL ready?”

Interesting logic: “He was great? I must have missed that. Just never saw anything that shows he can play in the league except his size. He got pushed around more than he pushed around.”

Perspective: “As defensive tackles go, he was not Reggie White or John Henderson.”

Suspicion: “Is this wanting into the NFL or out of Tennessee?”

Nobody – NOBODY – expressed ill will toward Kahlil. The summation, after the excitement, was good luck, young man, good luck.

Reginald Kahlil McKenzie Jr. is one of us, the son of June and Reggie McKenzie, 1981-84 Volunteer, nephew of Raleigh McKenzie, same seasons in orange. The menfolk grew up in east Knoxville. When the husky twins were high school student-athletes of the year, I presented their trophies on behalf of the Knoxville Quarterback Club, noon luncheon, S&W Cafeteria, downtown Gay Street.

Both played well at UT. Both went on to NFL careers. They remain engaged. Reggie is general manager of the Oakland Raiders. Raleigh is a scout.

You’ve read fan opinions. These are mine. Bloodlines indicate Kahlil will play. He is 6-3 and 320. That he has chosen a different direction is not all that surprising. He has endured a lot in recent years.

It hurt to be ineligible as a senior at Clayton Valley Charter School in Concord, Calif. There was a different hurt as a sophomore at UT, a serious chest injury. After the 4-8 record of last season, he may not have relished the drudgery of reconstruction. He did not blindly declare for the draft. He was the beneficiary of high-level advice.

At Tennessee, Kahlil did not live up to expectations. He arrived as a five-star prospect, No. 1 player in the country according to Scout’s evaluation, No. 3 according to 247 Sports, No. 6 with Rivals.

Butch Jones foresaw “a very bright future because of the work ethic this individual shows on a daily basis in every aspect of his life.

“Kahlil has a dynamic presence on the defensive front that not many people have. He brings size, speed and stature. He is 350-plus and has great acceleration off the ball and great disruptive quickness. He’s a special player and we are excited about his future on Rocky Top.”

Added Jones: “To Kahlil’s credit, if you look at this individual, he was, obviously, very, very highly recruited. Very high-profile type of individual. He’s a great character person obviously raised by a great mother and father, great home life.”

Kahlil was overweight but he played in all 13 games as a true freshman and had 24 tackles and one forced fumble.

As a sophomore, McKenzie accumulated a grand total of 12 tackles. He got his first start against Alabama and suffered a season-ending injury, a torn pectoral muscle.

This past season, McKenzie had 36 tackles, four for losses, two sacks and a pass break-up. He anchored one of the worst defenses in the country. The Vols gave up 5.43 yards per rushing attempt, second worst average by an SEC team in the last 10 years.

Kahlil’s job was not to lead the world in stops. He said he was supposed to be disruptive and dominant, just controlling those across the line of scrimmage, freeing up linebackers, making the job easier for corners. Ideally, he would have turned more blockers upside down and alarmed more quarterbacks.

Please read this line carefully: I thought he played his entire college career out of position. He should have been an offensive lineman.

I’m guessing Tennessee fans will be surprised by McKenzie’s future. Pros will put more stock in potential than Vol video. I can already hear the first reaction as soon as he is drafted. Critics will say his father made it happen.

Sounds OK to me. Success runs in the family.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com


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