HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee will miss Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen in 2017.
But how much?
Barnett and Vereen combined for 20 sacks, 30.5 tackles for loss and 8 pass deflections in 2016, making it seem like the Volunteers will have an enormous void to fill.
The unit also will have a new voice; former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke replaces Steve Stripling as defensive line coach.
Hoke will have Jonathan Kongbo, Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips, Kahlil McKenzie, Alexis Johnson, Quay Picou and Darrell Taylor. Butch Jones said Tuttle is running and should be available on a limited basis for the start of camp.
Several freshmen also are in the mix to provide quality depth. Deandre Johnson, Eric Crosby, Ryan Thaxton, Matthew Butler and Kivon Bennett are all new faces who can play a role if needed.
Then there is senior Kendal Vickers, who represented the Volunteers at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
Vickers did not hold back on discussing being an alpha dog on the defensive line this season.
“It’s me,” he said confidently. “I’ll tell them that myself, though. It’s mine. I’ll make sure to let them know about that. We have camp on July 30, so …”
The senior is not looking back at not making Atlanta last season as SEC East favorites, he is only focused on the task at hand.
“Any time you do not go to Atlanta — we have such high expectations for ourselves and not just from outside people — it’s disappointing. But you can’t look at the past and say ‘What if?’ You have to look forward and right those wrongs.
“We have been working hard this offseason, so we’re just going to go out July 30 and get camp started and try to right the wrongs from last season.”
With the disappointment of how last season ended comes outside noise surrounding Butch Jones and the program going forward.
Vickers sees negativity toward his head coach as “a little disrespectful.”
Kendal Vickers on Butch Jones hot seat talk: I think it's disrespectful, compared to where we are now as opposed to when I got here
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) July 10, 2017
He does not feel that most remember how bad of shape the Volunteer program was in upon Jones’ arrival, following fours seasons of Lane Kiffin (2009) and Derek Dooley (2010-12).
“When I got here we were 5-7 and I was redshirted. Things were bad. For us to win three straight bowl games, us being 9-4, we haven’t won every game, but we go out there to win every game.
“(Jones has) changed this program so much, and he has done everything he’s possibly been able to do to change the culture at Tennessee. So, yeah I think it’s a little disrespectful, but we do not worry about that in the locker room.”