Leaders emerging on defensive line as Vols continue spring ball

Published 3:36 pm Tuesday, March 29, 2022

CONTRIBUTED BY UT ATHLETICS
KNOXVILLE – As the Volunteers enter their second week of spring ball, student-athletes on the defensive line have made strides in their on-field progression and their leadership. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner, as well as redshirt-junior defensive lineman Elijah Simmons and junior defensive lineman/linebacker Tyler Baron talked with the media Monday afternoon following Tennessee’s fourth spring practice.

Defensive Line Coach Rodney Garner

On Elijah Simmons being in better shape and what that means for him…
“I think Elijah definitely has done a good job losing some weight that he had gained. I think he’s probably down 20 pounds, 25 pounds. Now we have to get his motor to mirror the weight loss. The motor is still running at that same weight. So, that’s the next thing is to get him to move like he’s lighter than what he was and what he was doing before.  It is good to see that he did have the discipline to do what they’ve asked him to do in the training room, weight room, conditioning, nutritionist, and all that.  Now we just have to keep moving the needle in the right direction.”
On how familiarity with returning players has helped so far…
“All of us have to reassess everything we’re doing. Our expectations, I think maybe we exceeded some expectations last year, but it’s still not the expectations we want, that we came to the University of Tennessee for. We’ve got to raise the bar and we’ve got to continue to raise the bar. I don’t think any of those young men, when they signed to come Tennessee, signed to come and be a part of a 7-6 program. Right? They said they wanted to come and compete for championships, SEC championships, national championships. I know that’s what I want. I know that’s what Tennessee wants. I know that’s what the expectation is. So, we’ve got to continue to reassess everything we’re doing and make sure we are continuing to move the needle in the right direction.”
On if he’s seen anything different from Tyler Baron this spring…
“I wouldn’t single out just Tyler. I think there were times when all of us weren’t consistent enough to be on the field, including him but not just him. I have been pleased with Tyler thus far this spring. He’s been more in line with what we want to do. He’s practicing harder. He’s been competing. I think he’s trying; he’s straining, just like all the guys. We just have to continue to raise our standards and we have to expect more from each other. They have to expect more from me and I’ve got to expect more from them.”
On what he’s seen from Omari Thomas and future expectations for him …
“I think Big O is a tremendous leader. It’s like I told him in the meeting room the other day, he’s been crowned one of the faces of the program, I guess. If you’re going to be that – to whom much is given, much is required. So, he has to make sure that everything he does meets those types of expectation. Every play that he makes, it’s going to be scrutinized. So, he’s got to make sure he’s on top of his game and he’s improving his game to where he can help himself become more of an elite level, championship level, defensive lineman in this league.”
On what he has seen from the younger defensive linemen…
“I’m glad that they came in January. It gives them an opportunity to get acclimated to what college football is all about, the expectations. I think both young men (Jordan Phillips and Tyre West) have talent, have ability. I think they have the want-to. Now, they just have to learn how to do it and how to do it the Tennessee way, and the standards that we expect, and the effort that it’s going to take to go out and compete and play at a championship level. I’ve been pleased with both young men. I think they’re smart. I think they’re grasping the system. So, obviously, them coming in and when we get to fall camp, they’ll be more seasoned veterans where they can hopefully have an opportunity to have some type of an impact on our team.”
On expectations and if anyone is meeting them…
“You know I want to make sure I am clear on this; all the guys are working hard. We have to grow, and we have to get better and that is what is expected. Time waits for no one. So, we have to go out there every day and our goal is that when we hit that field, we want to be better today than we were yesterday.  We then need to go look at the film to see if we met that standard that day, or did we not. I do know this; we are too talented not to get better every day because our opponents are getting better. We are not going to stay the same. So, we have to get better, and we have to strain and get comfortable being uncomfortable so we can be comfortable later. And that is the standard, that is the expectation. I am not saying that guys are not working at it, but this is going to be the ongoing case and I don’t think there will ever be satisfaction.”

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