In the pre-season, defensive line coach Brady Hoke said he wanted to get 10 deep in his rotation along the defensive line. Through five games, Hoke's rotation has been smaller particularly early in games.
Saturday against Georgia, Tennessee didn't rotate at defensive tackle until mid-way through the second quarter. Hoke said it was in large part due to the way the defensive front was playing and that he had confidence in both Alexis Johnson and Shy Tuttle in the middle. Hoke also acknowledged as the Vols hit the second half of the season, he must play a deeper rotation along the defensive front.
“I think we have been a little bit fortunate, we had a couple of games where we didn't have to play that many defensive snaps,” Hoke said. “Now Georgia Tech was a lot of snaps, but we have been decent that way (in terms of number of defensive snaps). I do think as we move forward that I consciously have to make sure I'm doing a good job getting enough guys through the line up.
“I think we can get 8-9 guys if we can rotate them through as long as we stay healthy.”
Hoke's starting front four has amassed 82 tackles through five games. The rest of the unit has 23 tackles on the year. The starting front four has a total of 4.5 TFL's while the rest of the defensive front has 3.5 TFL's.
Hoke says he sees his unit growing but knows they most be better starting next Saturday against South Carolina.
“Some of the strengths are they come out here and work pretty good and I think that pays off down the line. From that standpoint, I really like how Kyle Phillips has come on. He's a guy who's been two years without the weight room basically. I like what he has done. I like Kendall Vickers and his leadership. DT (Darrell Taylor) has had some shining moments at time. Jon (Jonathan Kongbo) is a guy who's getting better and becoming a well rounded defensive end. I think they are all making improvement. We have a ways to go still. Our finish has to be better. We have to get to the ball with bad intentions and I don't think we do that all the time.
“We have do a better job (with pass rush). We would like to get more push from the inside of our defensive line.”
When the Gamecocks come to town, Hoke's hand will be forced in terms of a rotation at defensive end as Darrell Taylor will be forced to watch the first half after being ejected for fighting in the second half against Georgia. Taylor could miss more time after an altercation on Thursday on the practice field. Head coach Butch Jones hasn't announced what punishment Taylor faces if any.
“Kyle Phillips, DeAndre and Matt Butler,” Hoke said of his rotation. “Kyle will be the go to guy to begin the game with. I think DeAndre is making progress and Matt Butler is doing a better job since he's been out here.”
DO YOUR JOB
For the first six possessions against Georgia, Tennessee's defense was good particularly against the run. But midway through the second quarter the Georgia ground game got going to the tune of over 100 yards in the quarter. Hoke said it wasn't a matter of the defense getting tired. It was poor technique and poor responsibility.
“We got a couple of balls that got outside of us. We were posted where we needed to be and got too nosey inside. You gotta give them credit. I think their backs are as good as we will see all year. We have to do our job,” Hoke offered.