A huge part of Tennessee Football developing an identity completely opposite to last year’s team was the resurgence of the secondary. The Vols’ defensive backs have been among the best in the SEC as a collective unit.
Kamal Hadden’s dramatic improvement was ground zero for the turnaround back there as a whole. UT has gone from giving up 289.5 yards per game and 7.14 per attempt last year to 201 and 6.36 respectively his year.
Now, though, Hadden is out for the season after undergoing surgery, as he revealed on social media Thursday. Make no mistake, this is a devastating blow to Tennessee Football, and it’s unclear if they’ll be able to recover from this.
Heading into last weekend’s game against the Alabama Crimson Tide, when he got hurt, Hadden had a 90.1 PFF coverage grade and was top 10 in coverage and overall PFF grades for the year. He had two pass deflections last week alone in the first half.
In terms of raw stats, Hadden had three interceptions, including a pick-six, and eight pass deflections on the year. He went into last weekend having only allowed 12 catches on 33 targets and no touchdowns, forcing a passer rating of 7 for quarterbacks who threw his way. Simply put, he has been elite.
It’s no coincidence that once he went out, Alabama’s offense was able to reach another level in the second half, scoring 27 unanswered. Jalen Milroe’s touchdown pass to open that half had a lot to do with a busted coverage that wouldn’t have happened with Hadden.
Without him, you’ll see more action from Gabe Jeudy-Lally, Doneiko Slaughter and Tamarion McDonald. All have shown flashes this year. Wesley Walker is emerging as an elite safety. Jaylen McCollough is a veteran. Still, Hadden was the star of the Tennessee Football secondary. As a result, his loss is huge.
So who does this put the most pressure on? The answer, honestly, is Joe Milton III. Assuming the secondary has a drop-off, Milton will have to move closer to playing like Hendon Hooker did last year. Is that possible when the Vols visit the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday? Time will tell.