One of Tennessee’s most obvious defensive issues over the last couple of seasons has been a lack of pass rush. The Volunteers have struggled in the area pretty much since Derek Barnett stepped off campus — now with a new staff coming in, what can they get out of that group?
To answer that question, you’ve got to assess what is left on the roster. Perhaps nobody in the group is as talented as second-year player Tyler Baron. The 6-5, 257 pounder is a former four-star prospect and was able to get his feet wet as a freshman in 2020. While he didn’t impact the pass rush in a big way, Baron flashed plenty as a disruptor in run defense.
With Tim Banks now running the show on defense, Baron’s position title is likely to change, though he will be asked to do much of the same. Baron was working with the defensive line on Tuesday afternoon, which was the first padded practice of the Josh Heupel era.
“We’re still defining all our roles right now on our defense,” Tim Banks told reporters on Tuesday. “Obviously a skilled athlete, I think it’s too early to say exactly how we’re going to utilize him, whether it’s strictly a hybrid or strictly as a defensive lineman. Quite frankly, I think that’s a good problem to have.”
Banks, along with veteran defensive line coach Rodney Garner, will be tasked with figuring out the best fits for this new-look defensive front. The feel is that Tennessee will go back to more of a four down lineman base, departing from the three down look we saw during the Jeremy Pruitt era. That means shifting around outside linebackers to defensive end, along with figuring out who may kick inside or out.
With the current state of the Tennessee roster, Baron is an obvious candidate to slide into one of those starting end roles, despite the limited pass rush production from 2020.
“He has a good skill set, so we’re still evaluating him,” Banks said. “Hopefully by the end of spring and heading into fall, we’ll have a better idea of exactly how we want to utilize him.”
Joining him in the mix is Roman Harrison, newcomer Byron Young and Bryson Eason, who shifted from linebacker to the defensive line today. This is another spot where Tennessee could use some help from the transfer portal over the summer months.
With impact players like Bryce Thompson and Henry To’o To’o exiting the program, the Volunteers need that next man up to develop quickly. Baron is in as good of a position as anyone on the roster to do that, now it’s up to him to make that happen.