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Tennessee football: Rodney Garner must prepare defense for a third straight mobile quarterback

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Not all mobile quarterbacks are created equal. Some are pocket-passers who are elite runners when necessary. Others rely heavily on their mobility to be successful. Tennessee football will be facing one of them Saturday.

Assuming Bryce Young is ready to go when the Alabama Crimson Tide head to town, the Vols will be facing a third straight mobile quarterback. All of them have different styles too.

This has made gap integrity crucial for Tennessee football’s defensive line, as they always have to prepare to stop the run. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner said that’s still a work in progress.

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“Obviously the kids are, the young men, they’re buying in, but it’s still going to come down to the details and doing the little things right,” he said Tuesday. “Like I tell them, the reasoning behind all the madness and the things that we put them through and the things that we try to stress is for moments like this, because every week it’s going to get better, it’s going to get bigger, and fundamentals are going to come into play.”

Part of what’s making the defensive line better is the different looks they’re seeing. Each quarterback brings a different type of mobility.

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson is a north-south runner relying on his mobility. LSU Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels is an east-west runner relying on his mobility.

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Young, meanwhile, is a pocket passer who can torch you on the ground. He did that to the Vols last year, having his best rushing performance against UT. Garner said the linemen are playing hard but need to play smarter.

“We’re still just making too many mental errors in areas that things that we shouldn’t be doing, that we’ve got to clean up and we’ve got to understand why it’s so important,” he said. “If you’ve got that A-gap, you’ve got to maintain it, you’ve got to keep it, you’ve got to be (aware of) how everything plays together and just playing selfless and just understand my role, do my job, if I do my job and the man next to me does his job, everybody does their job, then we have an opportunity to be successful.”

Alabama will be a lot tricker than LSU. One of the reasons the Vols handled LSU better than Florida was specifically because Daniels didn’t have great pocket presence and was an east west runner.

As a result, while they had to stay in their spots against Florida to keep Richardson from torching them, they could turn their edge rushers loose. That’s why the team had five sacks, two and a half from Byron Young.

Of course, if Jalen Milroe remains the starter due to Young’s injury, UT could have a plan similar to what they had against LSU. Milroe was sacked four times last week. Either way, though, they’ll have a mobile quarterback to face.

“When you’re playing against those types of quarterbacks, we’ve got to just make sure that everybody understands we can’t rush above the quarterback,” Garner said. “We’ve got to be ready to come back and understand where he’s trying to escape when he feels pressure coming.”

With Warren Burrell out for the season and Jaylen McCollough probably out at safety, it’s even more crucial for Tennessee football to be able to bring pressure. That’s where the defensive line will have to step up.

One of those defensive linemen, LaTrell Bumphus, stressed that playing vertical was key to stopping LSU’s run game. He also noted the advantage they have facing Josh Heupel’s offense to prepare.

“We really stress a lot in practice owning our gaps, too,” he said. “Everyday in practice, we got good running backs and a good quarterback, so we are well prepared every time we go into each game.” 

Linebackers will have to get involved as well. Aaron Beasley doesn’t have a lot of sacks but has brought pressure on numerous plays this year.

In Saturday’s game, regardless of who starts, Beasley will have to keep an eye on the quarterback while finding a way to get that pressure. He said facing mobile quarterbacks is a challenge, but he doesn’t get tired of it.

“If you’ve got a dual-threat quarterback, that definitely changes the game plan for you in how you prepare for him,” he said. “It’s a test for us for sure, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Last year, Beasley was one of the players who struggled with quarterback containment. He had to learn on the fly as a convert from safety after Juwan Mitchell suffered a season-ending injury.

Mitchell returning to make for a deeper rotation has helped the linebackers as a whole this year, but Beasley’s development is a part of that. It’ll be key in containing whoever plays quarterback Saturday for Alabama.

“I’m obviously more comfortable (and) more confident at the position,” he said. “I have to say my routines and my preparation throughout the week prepares me for the game on Saturday.”

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