KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee defensive line coach Brady Hoke said when he took the job in January he was looking forward to getting everyone in his position group healthy.
Hoke is waiting for that to happen with the season-opening game against Georgia Tech approaching. The No. 25-ranked Vols play the Yellow Jackets at 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept 4, in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Tennessee was besieged with injuries at defensive tackle last season, with five of the top six players at the position knocked out by injuries by the end of the season.
This year’s defensive line group hasn’t been tested as much as coach Butch Jones would like — largely because the offensive line hasn’t been able to stay healthy to give the Vols enough bodies to scrimmage with.
But Hoke, who built Michigan’s national championship defensive line in 1997, likes how hard the Tennessee defensive linemen have been preparing.
Shy Tuttle update
Hoke said while defensive tackle Shy Tuttle is getting back up to speed, there are injury issues with junior defensive tackles Quay Picou and Alexis Johnson.
The good news is Kendal Vickers and Kahlil McKenzie are healthy after injuries kept Vickers out of spring drills, and McKenzie was limited. Tuttle, who also missed spring drills, took a big step in Thursday’s practice.
“I think he’s made great progress the last two weeks,” Hoke said. “We got him in some real team stuff yesterday against the offense, which is something he hadn’t done, and I think he felt real good about it.”
Tuttle suffered a season-ending knee injury against South Carolina last October. Hoke said he has seen Tuttle toughen up mentally as well as physically.
Picou and Johnson, however, have been nicked up in fall drills.
“Quay is really getting better, got a little bit of a calcium buildup on his thigh, but he’s done most individual drills and a little more team [drills] each day, so I think he feels better,” Hoke said. “Lex [Johnson] had a little bit of a tweak, but he’s back at it, I like his progress.”
Hoke said junior Paul Bain and freshman Matthew Butler are the other defensive tackles competing to be in the rotation.
“I think Butler will be the guy, we all have talked about, we’ll play him a little bit inside in this game,” Hoke said, “because I think it fits his skill set a little better.”
Tennessee appears to be set and healthy at defensive end, with Jonathan Kongbo, Darrell Taylor, Kyle Phillips and Deandre Johnson.
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