The defensive line was not very productive in the 2017 season. An NFL scout evaluated the Vols in the 2017 preseason and declared the upperclassmen “soft”, which proved to be the correct term. Opponents rushed for an average of 251.3 yards per game and a total of 3,254 yards against Bob Shoop’s defense last season.
Shift to 3-4 defense
Coach Jeremy Pruitt brings with him a 3-4 base defensive scheme. In a 3-4 defense, size and strength become more of a factor. Lineman should be able to beat double teams and must control the run gaps. The 3-4 also puts more emphasis on linebacker play. A strength in the 3-4 is having speedy linebackers in pursuit of backs in run defense. And flexibility to use multiple rushers to confuse the QB during passing plays without being forced into man-to-man defense on receivers.
Alabama has long had success using a 3-4 defense. Pruitt took it with him to Georgia in 2014 and Kirby Smart had much success with it in the 2017 season. Running the ball on either of these teams is extremely tough. It’s not a question of if this system works, it’s a question of will it work for Tennessee this season? The D-line returns a lot of experience for the 2018 season but they make for a smallish three-man front that lacked in power last season.
Tennessee signed six defensive linemen in the Class of 2018. This was a position that clearly needed to be overhauled. The class gives the Vols the foundation for what they want to do up front in the future. JUCO Emmit Gooden should be expected to be a standout guy next season. As for the 2018 season here is my projected starting three-man front
Shy Tuttle (6-3, 300) Senior
Tuttle was unable to participate in 2017 spring practice while still recovering but did bounce back to have a very productive season last year while playing in 10 games. He finished his junior season with 27 tackles (9 solo) which ranked 13th on the squad and he logged 2.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery.
Kyle Phillips (6-4, 273) Junior
Phillips had a productive season in 2017 as he finished 10th on the team with 35 tackles (17 solo), and his 4.5 TFL ranked third on the squad. He also broke up two passes and logged four quarterback hurries. Phillips recorded his first career multi-sack game against Southern Miss last year when he took down their quarterback twice for minus 13 yards. He also stepped up big against Alabama with a career-high 6 tackles.
Alexis Johnson (6-4, 300) RS Junior
Johnson first saw action as a Vol in 2016 vs Virginia Tech and suffered a season-ending hip injury resulting in a medical redshirt. Last Season, Johnson played in 11 games and recorded 14 tackles (8 solo) with 2 tackles for loss. Alexis was considered a consensus 4-star prospect and was considered the No. 1 JUCO defensive tackle in the nation by Scout, ESPN and 247Sports in 2015.