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Tennessee Football Spring Preview: Defensive Line

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Tennessee’s defensive line has high expectations for 2024.

The Vols have a lot of experience up front and coach Rodney Garner leading the way.

Tennessee plans to compete for the SEC championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

If that’s going to happen, the Vols’ defensive line will have to make their presence felt throughout the season.

This offseason offers a big development opportunity for one of Tennessee’s strongest position groups.

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Let’s take a look at why the hopes for UT’s defensive line are so high entering spring practice.

BIG STORY

The return of Tennessee’s senior interior linemen to go with other talented players has created a lot of buzz.

Bryson Eason, Omarr Norman-Lott and Omari Thomas all decided to return for one more season.

They’ve played a lot of football in the SEC (and Pac-12 for Norman-Lott, a former Arizona State transfer).

Norman-Lott was on the radar of a lot of NFL teams.

His decision to play one more season at Tennessee will elevate the Vols’ defense.

The return and the development of players like Dominic Bailey, Daevin Hobbs, Elijah Simmons and Tyre West should create real depth on the defensive line.

The edge is featured by James Pearce Jr., who exploded onto the scene in 2023.

Joshua Josephs is another edge defender with a lot of experience; he’ll look to make a jump this offseason.

Jaxson Moi will be another intriguing player to watch this spring.

The transfer from Stanford has SEC size (6-2, 300) and will help strengthen the interior of the D-line.

Tennessee felt comfortable playing 10 different defensive linemen during the 2023 season.

That number should grow this year.

SPRING STAR

It’s difficult to choose someone other than Pearce.

He’s already established, but he also might be the best defensive player in college football.

Pearce has the ability to wreck an opposing offense.

Just look at the Citrus Bowl when the Vols held a comfortable 14-0 lead.

Two defensive plays by Pearce turned the game into a blowout.

Pearce will use this spring to develop his game, which already includes the ability to win with speed and power.

Pearce has unlimited potential.

A big spring could help him develop into a first-team All-American and top-10 pick in next year’s draft.

That could help turn Tennessee’s defense into one of the best units in the SEC.

BIG QUESTION

What kind of development will Tennessee’s young players make?

Hobbs flashed star potential last year as a freshman.

West’s performance in the bowl game made it look like he’s on the verge of a breakout season.

Caleb Herring and Chandavian Bradley, two highly-touted edge rushers in the 2023 class, will have a chance to show what kind of development they’ve made in the last year.

Another player to watch: Tyree Weathersby.

He impressed coaches last year before suffering an injury in August that cost him last season.

Weathersby looked like he might be Tennessee’s steal of the 2023 class; he’ll have a chance to show what he can do now that he’s back healthy.

ULTIMATE GOAL

Tennessee wants to create the best defensive line in the SEC.

That’s a big goal considering the competition in the conference.

But the Vols have a real star in Pearce and a bunch of players who can play at a high level around him.

Garner will push them hard this spring – and internal competition should make everyone better.

Tennessee’s defensive line has strong leadership and play-making ability.

How many All-SEC candidates can this defensive line group produce?

Pearce is a no-brainer.

How about Norman-Lott or Thomas?

A year ago, Pearce had to prove that he could contribute… and he ended up being Tennessee’s best defender.

Tennessee would love to find another breakout performer like Pearce.

If the Vols’ young players take advantage of the spring, they should enter the summer believing their defensive line can play with anyone in the country.

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