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Tennessee “best” DL in the nation has plenty of improving Vols

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Tennessee defensive line coach Rodney Garner has a challenge. His boss, defensive coordinator Tim Banks, said the Vols have the best defensive line in the country. That remains to be seen.

In order to have the very best defensive line in the county, the Vols will need depth. Here is what Garner had to say about some of the lessor known defensive linemen that could play a big role this fall:

On James Pearce Jr. as an emerging star nationally 

“No one man is bigger than the program. Never ever, alright. So James, he had a really good season, but when he looks at that film, there’s a lot of areas that he needs to improve on. I think he can see it, if you open your eyes and be realistic. For what he wants to achieve and where he wants to go, there is some things that needs to get better at to make him that commodity, so you don’t have any red flags or any negatives about you.

“He’s been fine. He is a competitor. He’s very smart. He’s very talented. He just has to make sure he’s channeling all his energy and everything in the right direction and then just making sure that he’s going out there every day and taking championship reps, paying attention to details. Especially, he has to improve in the run game.

“That’s just like I was telling him with (former Vol) B.Y. (Byron Young). I didn’t get a chance to watch much pro ball, but when the season was over, I think the Rams, their last game, regular-season game, I got a chance to watch that. Obviously B.Y. had the great year as far as sacks, but the game I watched, they were running the ball right at him and he’s having to set the edge, getting knocked back and all that. I was like, man, that’s grown-man stuff, so you’ve got to improve and do those things so you can have the right to be able to rush the quarterback. So those are the things that we’ve got to continue to improve on.”

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On the development of junior Joshua Josephs and sophomore Caleb Herring

“Obviously I think both of those young men are trending in the right direction. I think Josh is starting to get some of the juice back that he had Year One when he first got here and starting to be more focused and more dialed in. I think Caleb Herring has a tremendous ceiling. I think he’s just going to continue to get better every day, but all three of those young men are very talented.

“I think they’re going to do a good job of pushing one another, and that’s the thing that’s probably been the most rewarding so far the first four days is watching the guys out there coach each other, push each other, try to correct each other, be excited for one another. That’s what’s been really cool with everything.”

On Stanford transfer Jaxson Moi

“Overall I think the group overall is trending the right way, I would say that. Jaxson’s a young man that transferred in to us from Stanford. We’ve been very pleased with him. I think his teammates, they love him. He’s fit in really well here. He brings exactly what that room needs. He’s a team-first guy. It’s important to him. He loves being at the University of Tennessee. He’s taking really (a lot of) pride in this. He’s tough. He’s athletic. He’s smart. He’s going to be a tremendous addition to the room.”

On redshirt freshman Tyree Weathersbee

“Weathersby, we are pacing him a little bit, coming off the (hip) injury. Talking to the training staff and the strength staff, they feel like he is definitely on track to be 100-percent by the time we get going with camp. He’s doing individual (periods) and stuff with us now. We’re sort of pacing him and adding more to him every day, but I do like what I’m seeing, because obviously he flashed before he got hurt and obviously had that tragic injury, which was pretty tough. So he’s fighting back.”

On fifth-year senior Bryson Eason

“Bryson is starting to grow up. He’s always been a very talented individual. Like I think what speaks volumes, the last practice, Bryson was voted by the staff as the energy-giver of the day. Three years ago, nobody would have ever said Bryson Eason was an energy-giver, and it’s not that he’s rah-rah cheerleader type like that, but the way he has been practicing the first four days of camp, the energy that he’s bringing, the juice that he’s bringing, the attention to detail that he’s bringing – I’m hoping and thinking that maybe the light’s coming on and that hopefully he’s going to take that next step. It’ll be good for Tennessee, and it’ll be good for Bryson.”

On redshirt sophomore Jayson Jenkins

“Jayson is just a blue-collar guy. He just comes to work every day with his lunchbox and he puts in the work, and you have seen that guy grow in leaps and bounds, incrementally. I mean, he truly has taken steps where he can really have a role on this defense, and I think he’s gained the respect of his peers, because nobody’s given him anything. I mean, he’s had to work for every little thing that he has gotten, and man, have you seen him do that.

“It’s just like spring break, I’m coming off knee surgery so I had to come back and rehab. He didn’t go anywhere. I’m going in the training room, he’s out there every day working out, working on his get-off, working on bags – just putting in the work. He’s just a blue-collar guy that wants to be a part of it. He’s prideful about it. He loves this place. He wants to be here. I’m sure he could leave and go somewhere and probably would have had a lot more (playing time) with that, just like we had another young man leave before and go off to another school and did really well for them.

“So we’re happy that he’s staying and we’re excited about his expanded role that we expect from him this year.”

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