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Tennessee DL coach Rodney Garner handles lofty, in-house expectations for Vols

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Tennessee defensive line coach Rodney Garner wasn’t asking for any extra pressure this season. He got it anyway.

“I didn’t know he did that,” Garner said following the Vols practice on Saturday. “Well, obviously I would love to be able to ordain these guys to be that, but unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. For us to be that, we’ve got to come out and we’ve got to put in work every day. We’ve got to continue to grow. There are lots of areas that we’ve got to improve in, and I think they see that on the film. It’s like I tell them every day they go on that field, we’re chasing greatness. Either we’re getting better, or we’re getting worse. We’re not going to say the same, but I do not think that we can afford to take a day off.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks loaded Garner and the Vols’ defensive linemen up with a bit more to handle this fall when Banks said he thought Garner’s crew would be best in the country. Wow, that was quite a statement.

“I do like my room. There is some really good young men in the room. I think the energy’s been great throughout the first four days of spring ball. I do like the trajectory that we’re going on, but when you start looking at us from a fundamental standpoint, there’s just so many things that we have to continue to improve on.”

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Garner has just about every kind of defensive lineman one could imagine. He has the speedy EDGE rushers, massive interior lineman, quick defensive tackles and mixtures of all the above. Versatility? Yeah, Garner has plenty of that, even if he won’t admit it during spring practice.

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“Who said they were guaranteed?” Garner said challenging the media. “There’s no guarantees. I mean, my guys know it’s a bottom-line business. It’s about performance. The thing about what we do, and I think the kids are going to tell you the same thing, we want to play multiple guys. 

“Our goal is to be able to play 10 to 12 guys a game so we can be fresh and that we can play the fourth quarter like we play the first quarter, but nobody’s guaranteed anything.

“They have to come out there and they have to earn it every day, and not just on the field. I’m talking about off the field, too – going to class, going to study hall, going to tutorial (meetings), making sure they’re on time, being pros long before they become pros. We’re not just going to reward mediocrity. 

“These guys, you’re going out, you’re practicing the best, then you’re going to run out there and get your name called over the loudspeaker first, but I do think they know that we’re going to play a lot of guys. You earn that in practice by how you go about and show that, ‘Hey, I can go out there and I can execute the game plan at a championship level. Coach, they can count on me. My teammates can count on me. Then I’m going to go out there and get my job done.’”

Garner certainly isn’t content with his defensive line’s ability to provide different looks and body types to opposing offenses. Garner still wants to improve.

“I’m hoping that we can be better,” he said. “We’re going into Year 4 in the system, so guys should be more comfortable in the system, and I think they’re getting a better grasp of it. 

“If they just understand how the system works and what we’re trying to do conceptually, then we ought to be able to move guys around at different positions and being able to do different things, but the bottom line, we’ve got to be able to execute. We’ve got to be able to go out and communicate. We’ve got to execute at a high level.”

Garner, who is known for being fiery, wanted to make sure the media interviewing him on Saturday isn’t of a different mindset than he’s been known for, which is one of the most fiery coaches on Tennessee’s staff.

“It’s been rewarding for me to have an opportunity to coach these young men. I enjoy my room. I really do. I don’t want y’all to take that (like) now I’m soft on them. We still have come-to-Jesus moments.”

Speaking of faith, Banks apparently has plenty in Garner given how high he’s set expectations on Garner’s players.

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