Knoxville, TENN. (WATE) It’s no secret Tennessee’s defense has been the source of frustration around Rocky Top in recent years. As injuries decimated the front seven, the Vols finished near the bottom of the FBS in 2016 and 2017 in rush defense.
After missing all of last season with a meniscus injury and nearly transferring this offseason, Darrin Kirkland Jr. is back — fully healthy (“110%,” he says) and confident the unit he’ll help lead can be better this year than last.
“I feel like we have a lot to prove every year,” Kirkland Jr. said. “We just have to stay consistent and know that if we’re not in the top spot we have a lot to strive for. I feel like everyone is approaching every day like it’s a work day, [and] just trying to improve everyday.”
Kirkland Jr. and the Vols defense will get a massive test in their season opener on September 1st. West Virginia’s spread attack is one of the nation’s more high powered offenses, finishing 22nd in the nation in points scored per game in 2017. They’re headed by Florida transfer quarterback Will Grier, considered a front-runner for the Heisman after throwing for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns last season.
Tennessee will need to be tougher on the defensive side of the ball right out of the gate, and redshirt junior defensive lineman Darrell Taylor thinks they will be.
“I feel like past is the past,” Taylor said. “But I’m pretty confident we’ll be pretty good this year. We’re working to be tough, more mentally and physically on the same page, communication, and things like that.”