Tennessee DL coach Tracy Rocker admits his unit has been inconsistent in camp but 'loves the talent level' of his players
Two weeks into training camp, Tennessee continues to search for answers on both sides of the line of scrimmage. While the program’s offensive line has been discussed as the biggest factor when it comes to determining the success of the team, the defensive line can’t be far behind when it comes to that conversation.
Before Emmit Gooden was lost for the season due to a training camp injury, the Volunteers were already having to deal with the loss of every starter from last season’s defensive line. Now with completely uncertainty upfront, compounded by the fact Tennessee has no idea if Michigan transfer Aubrey Solomon will be eligible to play this fall, it’s up to Tracy Rocker to get his unit up to speed in a hurry heading into the season.
When asked about the state of his unit on Thursday, Tennessee’s defensive line coach said the easiest way to describe his group was to compare them to a rollercoaster.
“Well, it depends on what day. Some days it’s good, some days it’s bad, but the thing is, it’s part of football and a part of growing up,” Rocker said. “We have good days and bad days but you do see the potential. It’s like a roller coaster. You start and you’re like ‘oh we’re going to have a good one,’ and then it’ll come down and then it goes back up. The biggest thing we’re working on is trying to be consistent and that’s the most important thing. I feel good that we are, but it’s part of camp, it’s part of growing up.”
The Volunteers may not be returning any experience on the defensive line but that doesn’t mean Rocker doesn’t have talent to work with on Rocky Top.
Greg Emerson came to Tennessee as a high school All-American, Savion Williams was a JUCO All-American, Elijah Simmons is looking like the most underrated prospects in the program’s entire 2019 signing class, John Mincey had a long list of SEC offers coming out high school and Darel Middleton has the frame of an NFL lineman.
That talent has not gone unnoticed by Rocker.
“I love the talent level,” Tennessee’s defensive line coach said. “What we got is what we got and it’s up to me and the defensive coaches to keep pulling the best out of them and keep working. Hopefully, while we’re in camp, we keep putting them in different situations so that they will be ready for the season. You’ve got to know when to push and pull, but also be demanding and also know, hey, it’s part of the process of growing up.
“The next day, they’ll come back and they’ll fight and then all of a sudden, the wheel will come off. Then we put the wheel on, let’s go again. That’s excitement and that’s part of coaching. It’s no different than you guys. You’re raising a family, you know what’s going on. Some days, that car is going right and another day the wheel is getting wiggly. Hey, we got to straighten it up and tighten up the lug nuts and let’s go.”
When it comes to an emerging pass rusher up front, Rocker singled out a player not listed above and one that did not even arrive at Tennessee on the defensive side of the ball. The unit’s most emerging pass rusher showed up on Rocky Top hoping to play tight end.
“The guy that has probably stood out, that we think has the potential is (Latrell) Bumphus,” Rocker said. “Bumphus has really improved. He’s improved run and pass and getting better as a football player, he has really stood out… One, his body has changed. Bump was a tight end and he’s kind of been all over this team. For now, he’s at the defensive line. He’s playing defensive end and it’s been really good to have him there and he seems to enjoy it. He enjoys practice. He enjoys getting better.”