Tennessee defense might be better

Marvin Westwestwords

Out and about, in training for the kickoff …

At Hardees, biscuit stop with coupon, conversation was about freshman linebacker Henry To’o to’o and how to pronounce his name.

At Glenn’s Barber Shop, haircuts now $7, I was told that Aubrey Solomon’s eligibility offsets the loss of Emmit Gooden and maybe Bryce Thompson.

At Food City, in the produce section, the word was we will be much better on defense this season.

Henry To’o to’o

No matter how good Solomon and To’o to’o are or who tells you what about Tennessee’s defense, stay a skeptic. Projections might not prove to be the guaranteed gospel truth.

Right now, nobody knows. Some are better qualified than others to guess. I’m guessing the defense won’t be a disaster. I’m also guessing it won’t be a juggernaut.

Not that it matters now, but the Volunteers were ninth last season in Southeastern Conference run defense. Pass defense statistics are misleading because some foes didn’t have to throw. The Vols gave up 200 or more yards rushing in five of eight league games.

Last year is also relatively meaningless because so many elements have changed. The best four players from the defensive front are gone. The best cornerback is under suspension. The best inside linebacker is not fully recovered from knee repairs.

The defense has more depth. There is more size. It does help that Solomon (6-5 and 299) is eligible. It will help even more if the offense can move the ball and allow the defense time to catch its breath.

That reminds me, most of the remnants of the Butch Jones defense are gone. This is Jeremy Pruitt’s defense. It is too young. It is not fully developed, physically or mentally. It might be better by mid-October.

There is reasonable debate as to whether bad experience is better than no experience at all. The Vols got a lot of how-not-to-do-it in 2018. Will Grier threw for three touchdowns in the third quarter of the West Virginia game. The Mountaineers racked up 547 yards in total offense.

Missouri was uncommonly rude, far worse than expected. It romped 50-17. It gained 489 yards. I remember thinking Derek Dooley, offensive coordinator for the Tigers, sure has improved as a coach.

Kyle Shurmur completed 31 of 35 for 369 yards and three touchdowns on behalf of Vanderbilt. This is embarrassing to say: He made it look easy.

Good news is Grier, Missouri’s Drew Lock and Shurmur are gone.

The secondary should not have been branded as inept because of all those aerial yards. There was, generally speaking, minimum pressure on quarterbacks. Tennessee ranked 11th in the SEC with 25 sacks.

If you believe big games are won in the trenches, here is the current problem: The Vols are terribly uncertain in the defensive front.

The depth chart, presented by UT as semi-official, is no help. Actually, it adds to the confusion. One defensive end may be Solomon or Matthew Butler or LaTrell Bumphus or Savion Williams. The other may be Darel Middleton or John Mincey or Ja’Quain Blakely.

There are similar questions at nose tackle. You’ll see Greg Emerson or Kingston Harris or Elijah Simmons.

Eleven Vols are listed as linebackers, one kind or another. Could be this is a conspiracy to sell more game programs? Daniel Bituli, main man at inside linebacker, is on medical leave.

Darrell Taylor projects as our outside star. He has ability to rush the passer. Sometimes he did last fall.

The loss of Gooden is serious. The loss of Thompson will be serious or no big deal, depending on how replacements play. Freshman Warren Burrell and junior Shawn Shamburger will be asked to take up the slack.

Georgia State dual-threat quarterback Dan Ellington threw for 2,119 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and led the team in rushing with 625 and five.

Those numbers sound OK but to tell you the truth, it wasn’t Dan or Georgia State I was thinking of when I said we don’t know about the Tennessee defense. We’ll know a lot more after the other Georgia game.

In the meantime, Bob Kesling says Henry says it is TOE-oh, TOE-oh.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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