The Tennessee Vols’ defensive line and pass rushing options will be the most youthful aspect of their team in 2019 (outside of edge rusher Darrell Taylor).
But in 2020, it will be a much different story.
This season, the defensive line won’t have a lot of experience. Emmit Gooden’s season ending ACL injury certainly hurt an already thin unit.
The hope for Tennessee is that Michigan transfer Aubrey Solomon will be deemed immediately eligible by the NCAA at some point. If not, then junior Darel Middleton, a junior college transfer, will be expected to step up in a major way.
Redshirt freshman Greg Emerson, a former four-star recruit, would also see significantly more playing time.
Matthew Butler, Kingston Harris, Latrell Bumphus and Savion Williams are other defensive linemen that should be factors in 2019.
As for the edge rushers, Darrell Taylor and Deandre Johnson appear to be slotted in right now as starters.
The Vols have plenty of talent to have a solid defensive line and a nice pass rush. But their inexperience could mean some growing pains for Tennessee.
But moving forward in 2020, I think the Vols will have a potentially dominant defensive line/pass rush situation.
Darrell Taylor will be gone, but essentially everyone else will be back. Experience and young talent will abound.
Gooden should return healthy next season. Solomon will 100 percent play in 2020 (he won’t have to worry about the NCAA). Butler will be a senior. Young players like Elijah Simmons will gain experience. Junior college transfers Middleton and Williams will be seasoned vets.
And then there are the outside linebackers — which is what fans should really be excited about.
Even without Taylor, the Vols will have some potentially elite edge rushers.
Quavaris Crouch, a true freshman this season, is going to be an absolute stud. I think we’ll see early this season some glimpses of how good he can be. Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt has already called Crouch a playmaker.
I think Deandre Johnson is a player that we’ll see take a big leap in 2019. Johnson played in all 12 games last season, starting one. He ended the season with two sacks, but they came in wins against Auburn and Kentucky.
Linebacker Roman Harrison, who is a player that outside linebackers coach Chris Rumph gushed over prior to fall camp, is the type of player who already has the physical ability to manhandle opposing offensive linemen. Once he gets some experience, he’ll be a force in the SEC.
The Vols’ latest commit, four-star linebacker BJ Ojulari, is a future NFL player. He has all the tools be a dominant pass rusher in the SEC. He has good size and he already possesses solid technique. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Ojulari have a big impact as a true freshman in 2020 (especially with Taylor gone after this season).
Jordan Allen, who recently underwent surgery for a hip injury, should be back at full strength next season, giving the Vols some added depth.
It’s clear that Pruitt and his staff have done a nice job of building Tennessee’s roster. They’ve had to be creative in recruiting, thanks to a few down years in Knoxville, but they’ve been able to identify talent and bring it to Rocky Top.
Now it’s all about development.
Fortunately for the Vols, they have some of the best player developers in the country on their staff.
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