Tennessee DE Derek Barnett has help this season with McKenzie, Tuttle
Several freshmen and a big-time JUCO transfer will impact Tennessee’s success this season, but there’s two playmakers in particular who are ready-made potential starters up front on John Jancek’s defense.
Interior linemen Shy Tuttle, a four-star tackle out of Lexington, N.C., and Kahlil McKenzie, a five-star from the West Coast rated the nation’s second-best player at his position, could give the Vols the SEC’s top 1-2 rookie punch at defensive tackle if both successfully develop and adjust to Tennessee’s scheme in August.
Literally, the 300-pound plus tackles will wear Nos. 1 and 2 on a defense that was quite soft the through the middle at times last season.
Tuttle went through spring practice as an early enrollee, trimming into game shape with his nose in a new playbook. Tuttle was often the biggest player on the field at the prep level, squashing opposing players off the snap at a massive 315 pounds. He’ll use that girth to his advantage this fall as a much-needed run-stopper in the Vols’ 4-3 look.
McKenzie’s even bigger at 335, but moves well for his size and has a variety of moves. The crown jewel of Tennessee’s most impressive class in several seasons, McKenzie won nearly every 1-on-1 battle during the all-star camp circuit and was the program’s most anticipated summer enrollee this month.
In an interview with 247Sports, three-star defensive tackle signee Quay Picou says McKenzie’s a likable guy and isn’t cocky despite his reputation as one of the nation’s top incoming freshmen.
“I mean, he’s obviously the guy on top of the pole, you know? But he’s never been a guy that act likes that, if you know what I mean,” Picou told 247Sports. “He’s a very humble kid, and he kind of passes that on to the rest of us. He’s just … he’s a good kid, man. Everybody likes being around him.”
Tennessee had no problems getting after the passer off the edge last season with Barnett’s incredible campaign along with 11 sacks from returning veteran Curt Maggitt, but the Vols struggled against the run, especially in the red zone where opponents scored touchdowns 23 times on 34 trips — an SEC-worst.
Tennessee’s defense yielded 23 rushing touchdowns again, tied with three others for second-most in the conference.
That changes this fall.
An emphasis was put on defensive line depth during the 2015 recruiting cycle and and Butch Jones delivered. Tuttle and McKenzie were picked to build a human wall against the run in a ‘line of scrimmage league’ and the results should be satisfying for the Tennessee coaching staff and fanbase.