Doug Mathews’ Chalk Talk: Defense For 2015

After a big win in Columbia the Vols now have an open week to prepare for a three game SEC east stretch of games that provides the opportunity to show real tangible improvement in the program. Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt….wins would give Tennessee an overall 7-5 and 4-4 in the SEC in CBJ’s second year, clear improvement.

We were in the same position last year, same record at this point in the season and the same three opponents remaining. So, have we improved?

Today, Chalk Talk looks at three areas of the football program: Depth chart for next season (those players who will be back for 2015), recruiting for 2015 and where they will be on the depth chart for 2015 and lastly evaluating position by position by SEC standards.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear on the remainder of this Chalk Talk. The positioning and opinions of the players comes from my evaluation and coaching experience. While I have watched many practices and evaluated play in all of our nine games there surely will be some players who will mature and improve as their career continues. This will be my best evaluation as to what next season should bring to the Big Orange faithful. Additionally I have watched either in person or on tape all of our current 2015 commitments and most of future commitments we should get.

A look at the seniors who will be leaving after this season reinforces the fact that this 2014 team was extremely young. In reality only six seniors played significant roles…..Worley, Lane and Gilliam on the offensive side and Coleman, J. Williams and AJ Johnson on the defense. Darr was the senior punter. That leaves a lot of experience returning for 2015.

Here is Chalk Talk’s best guess at where players will be positioned next fall. This depth chart lists those young men who have committed to the Volunteers for next season, some will not be signed and others will. Following each player will be what year in eligibility they are in…a R indicates they have been redshirted.

Because of length I will do defense in this Chalk Talk and offense and kicking in the next Chalk Talk the first of next week.

END – Maggitt (R-SR) and Barnett (SO) are proven SEC defensive ends and have really come on as quality pass rushers. Barnett has a very high ceiling. Vereen (JR) is a quality player and Hendrix (SO) shows promise and could slide inside to tackle where his quickness would be an asset. Lewis (R-JR) is a solid back that should be recruited over.
Commitments for 2015 – Ford, Jackson, Butcher and Taylor are all capable of being in the rotation next fall. With only one senior for the 2015 season defensive end should be very food for the future.

TACKLE – Two solid returnees: Williams (R-SR) and O’Brien (R-JR). Mixon (SO) should improve with age and Vickers (R-FR) is questionable. Sawyers’ (SO) has off the field issues and is shaky right now.
Commitments for 2015 – McKenzie and Tuttle are potential big time players. Picou should be a solid player at the least. If McKenzie and Tuttle are what they are touted to be, this should be a very solid area next fall.

MIDDLE LINEBACKER – the biggest question mark on defense with A. J. graduating. Whoever plays this position will be young and inexperienced. Bates (SO) has the skills to be a top player here but is coming off surgery. He also could receive a medical redshirt which would give him four years eligibility remaining. Johnson (SO) and Bryant (R-FR) are young but both have excellent talent and upsides. All three of these young men are capable of playing other positions and I will be very surprised if all are not very good players in future years.
Commitments for 2015 – Cherry, currently the only commitment, can run and will hit you. Due to the youth at this position I doubt if another MLB will be signed.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER – Reeves-Mabin (JR) is a proven SEC player. Weatherd (SR), a pass rush specialist this year, will benefit from a spring practice. Elliot Berry (SO) and McDowell (SO) are Reeves-Mabin clones and have proven on kick coverage teams they are comers on the defensive side of the ball. In fact all four of these young men have been stalwarts on kick teams all year. Another plus with all but Weatherd, they can move out and play the nickel back position.
Commitments for 2015 – Smith is a fast, athletic player and another commitment is possible.

SAFETY AND NICKLE CORNER – Randolph (R-SR) and McNeil (SR) are solid players with a lot of SEC experience. Swafford (JR) is a contributor. Kelly, Jr (SO), Evan Berry (SO) and Gauldin (SO) are very talented and will push for starting jobs. All are kicking game standouts. Major improvement in these three positions is expected. Note…..Kelly, Jr, Berry and Gauldin will be hard to keep out of the starting line-up and I believe are future Vol stars.
Commitments for 2015 – Griffin should add depth. I don’t know a lot about him.

CORNERS – Sutton (JR) is a quality SEC corner with a lot of experience. Williams (R-SR) and Moseley (SO) have shown flashes of being good corners and Moseley has a very high upside. Payne (SO) is a prospect right now. Look for 2015 signees to be in the rotation next fall.
Commitments for 2015 – Abernathy and Miller will be joined by at least two other commitments by next fall.

OVERALL IMPRESSION……. Defensive end, defensive tackle, outside linebacker, safety and nickel corner (eight total positions) should be SEC quality. Middle linebacker has the talent to get there. As a defensive coordinator the corner positions, while good, would be the area of most concern. All in all this should be a more athletic, experienced and deeper group than this year. If this current defensive coaching staff stays together Chalk Talk envisions a SEC quality defense for 2015, the first in many years.