Tennessee’s hobbled defensive front needs help. Fortunately, a couple of rising newcomers look like they may be just what Butch Jones wanted.
The Volunteers coach cited defensive tackles Quay Picou and Darrell Taylor as two of UT’s most improved players at the start of spring practice Monday.
Jones said Picou, a junior, has made dramatic improvements in the weight room. Last year, he appeared in only six games with five total tackles, but that’s likely to change in 2017.
“I’m excited to see him transfer all of the gains he’s made in the strength and conditioning area onto the field,” Jones said.
Taylor, a redshirt sophomore, meanwhile, has grown in confidence as he has “continued to grow and develop” his body. He entered practice listed at 240 pounds, but that figure may be changing shortly. Taylor finished 2016 with nine tackles.
Junior defensive tackle Shy Tuttle remains out of action in spring practice, while fellow junior Kahlil McKenzie missed much of last season due to injury.
Jones credited strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson with the team’s fitness upgrades.
“Rock Gullickson has made a monumental difference in our football program, along with the entire staff in the strength and conditioning room,” Jones said.
Jones said there’s no timetable in place for determining the quarterback job, which shapes up as a contest between Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano.
Whoever gets the upper hand in that contest, though, will have big shoes to fill.
In four years of working with now-graduated quarterback Josh Dobbs, Jones developed a solid relationship with the longtime starter, and he said that hit home when he spoke with Dobbs at Jon Gruden’s quarterback camp earlier this year.
“It really was eye-opening to me,” Jones said. “He was finishing my sentences and I was finishing his sentences.”
Jones said aside from Jonathan Kongbo’s return from defensive tackle to defensive end, no players have switched positions at the start of spring practice, although that could change.
For now, though, the focus is on building the qualities that Jones hopes will make 2017 a happier season in Knoxville than the disappointment of last year.
“The details, the accountability, the toughness,” Jones said. “That all starts here.”
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