Tennessee will wrap up spring practice Saturday with its annual Orange & White spring game in Neyland Stadium.
(For offensive players to watch, click here.)
It will be much more of an exhibition than a normal game, but here are some defensive names to look for.
LB Daniel Bituli
The skinny: Bituli’s impact may not be huge this season, but he’s taken significant strides at linebacker. If middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. can stay healthy this season, he may have an NFL decision to make after his junior year. Then, Bituli could step in in 2018. As for this season, Bituli can spell Kirkland Jr. when needed. Also, if Kirkland Jr. goes down with an injury like last season, Bituli will be waiting in the wings. There’s also a chance the two could play simultaneously in Tennessee’s two-linebacker system.
DT Alexis Johnson
The skinny: Johnson didn’t come in with the same fanfare as some other recent defensive tackles, such as Kahlil McKenzie or Shy Tuttle. But after redshirting last season after moving in from junior college, Johnson has continually improved this spring. The Vols are a bit thin at defensive tackle. After a good spring, Johnson should be able to be relied on to at least provide depth and perhaps much more.
DE Jonathan Kongbo
The skinny: The much ballyhooed junior college prospect didn’t do much last season. But that wasn’t all his fault: Kongbo was forced to play defensive tackle instead of defensive end last season. It wasn’t a great fit. Now, Kongbo has lost weight; he’s reportedly down 20 pounds to 265. That should make him a quicker player and a better fit at defensive end. Kongbo also has realized the transition to the SEC wasn’t as easy as he believed it would be. His coaches have said he’s matured and his work ethic has improved. With star defensive end Derek Barnett gone, the Vols certainly could use Kongbo.
CB Marquill Osborne
The skinny: Tennessee struggled to find a lockdown corner opposite Cam Sutton, who is off to the NFL. Osborne seems to have the ability to be that guy. With Sutton gone, UT will need a cornerback who can handle the top receivers on their schedule. Osbourne played in 10 games last season. He’ll need to make a jump this year in order to help the Vols.
DE Darrell Taylor
The skinny: Taylor is another player Tennessee needs to step up after losing Barnett. Taylor has taken some time to develop, but he garnered some strong reviews this spring. Is he ready to assume a more significant role? That’s what Vols coaches are hoping for.
S Nigel Warrior
The skinny: Warrior showed a penchant for being around the ball as a true freshman last season. The secondary is a little crowded, but Warrior has the athletic ability to contribute and perhaps break into the starting lineup.
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
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