Rodney Garner says Tennessee still looking for leaders on defensive line

On3 imageby:On3 Staff Report05/06/23

Tennessee came oh so close to a College Football Playoff appearance, stumbling in a hard-to-explain loss to South Carolina late in the season. Still, an 11-win campaign provided a ton of momentum for coach Josh Heupel as he continues to build the program.

Maintaining that momentum will require getting better across the board.

Starting quarterback Hendon Hooker is gone, and his production will be tough to replace. But if enough other positions can improve the Volunteers should be able to maintain their high level of play. One are of focus in particular this spring was identifying leaders on the defensive line.

“That’s something that we’re still trying to cultivate,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “We’ve got some good young men in that room. I can’t say that that’s probably the strong suit.”

But that’s not to say the Volunteers don’t have some quality options that could become leaders on the defensive line. Garner spent a good deal of spring practice working with a few to try to coax that leadership out of them. It can’t just be about production on the field.

“Like Omari Thomas, he’s going through everything the right way,” Garner said. “But is he willing to grab the bull by the horn and snatch a knot when it needs to be? That ain’t really his personality, but he does it by example. But we still need him to grow and become even a better leader.”

Tennessee made some progress finding leaders on the defensive line in spring football practice, but it’ll be an ongoing process throughout the summer strength and conditioning period and into fall camp.

The good news is the Volunteers are aware it’s an area that needs work. That’s where Garner is trying to sell guys on the importance of chipping in in that regard. Doesn’t matter who you are.

“We still need for some other leaders to come on,” Garner said. “You don’t have to be a senior to be a leader. You can be a young guy and be a leader. It’s just about you doing things the right way and people know you’re doing it the right way and they’re willing to listen and adhere to what you’re saying.”