Tennessee Football defensive tackles can do plenty to pick up the slack left by the Vols’ most recent injury. After all, if a ball carrier can’t make it to a linebacker, is that linebacker really missed?
The Vols will be without middle linebacker Keenan Pili, who is expected to miss several weeks after suffering what has been reported as a triceps injury against Virginia last week. While it remains to be seen who exactly will take up the snaps left by Pili, his absence won’t be as significant if the Vols’ defensive tackles can control the line of scrimmage as they did last week against Virginia and surely will against Austin Peay on Saturday.
Then, there’s that Florida matchup looming next week. Why can Tennessee Football survive yet another significant injury, as they did when All-SEC center Cooper Mays went down in preseason camp?
“I’m going to say the team, I think our will to win,” Tennessee defensive tackle Omar Norman-Lott said of the Vols’ team chemistry. “I’ve never been around people, like it’s a culture, a winning culture. The belief that we’re going to win, and then defense, just our strain to get to the ball. We are just more attacking, more and more attack defense I would say … Coming here was more like getting off the ball, going on the attack. I would say that’s something I really like about this defense, is our will to attack and then get to the ball.”
Pili wasn’t the only transfer that the Vols were depending on this season. Along with a handful of others, Norman-Lott transferred to Tennessee Football for playing time, winning and more. There were also other reasons.
“I will say the community surrounding Tennessee, the opportunity to play in the SEC and just get a new look on life, with me never being on the East Coast or in the South ever,” said Norman-Lott who transferred from Arizona State. “For me just being from California, being a west coast kid, just something new, an opportunity.”
Norman-Lott, who is originally from North Highlands, Calif., register four tackles against Virginia this week. His defensive tackle mate, senior Omari Thomas, also excelled against the Cavaliers, registering three tackles and a career-high 1 1/2-tackles for a loss. Thomas has also been there as a mentor for Norman-Lott throughout the offseason after he traveled across the country to join the Vols in January.
“He’s helped me a lot, honestly,” Norman-Lott said. “When I’m not too sure as far as like early in camp, spring camp, he helped me a lot when I just wasn’t too sure with where to be, as far as alignment and just learning the defense. I would say he helped me a lot, just being comfortable with the defense.”
Now, both can help the Vols be more comfortable with playing without one of their key contributors.