KNOXVILLE — It took three days of preseason practice for Tennessee's defensive linemen to generate palpable excitement from their coaches and teammates.
One day after defensive coordinator Bob Shoop wondered aloud how he was going to get all seven quality ends at his disposal enough snaps, the rave review continued about one of the Volunteers' strongest positions.
"We think we have the best defensive line in the country," quarterback Josh Dobbs said before Thursday's practice.
Tennessee is expecting big things from its defensive line despite some depth concerns at tackle, where the Vols could have just four scholarship players available when the season starts. Head coach Butch Jones said he's been pleased with the performances of the defensive front, particularly in the speed off the edge.
"Speaking from a DB's standpoint, it makes my job a lot easier when we have a lot of pressure up front," cornerback Cameron Sutton said. "We're building that depth. We've got a lot of guys who have got a lot of experience, a lot of game-time experience, and we've been through a lot of those situations before.
"We're able to rotate a lot of guys in or move guys around on our D-line and not have a drop-off. They're already a confident group, but they continue to work each and every day, continue to grind each and every day and it's definitely going to showcase itself on Saturdays. I'm really excited about that group."
Amid all the offseason hype around newcomer Jonathan Kongbo, Kyle Phillips got lost in the mix, but the former five-star recruit is off to an excellent start this week with multiple sacks.
"Getting all those guys back that were injured in the spring, it's been fun to watch them get after the quarterback and see the way they get to the ball," linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said.
"Even beyond the ones, you've got Kyle Phillips, who's not going with the ones, but every day he's out there grinding, he's out there getting sacks and he's out there getting to the ball. I can see them bringing Kongbo along with them.
"The competition down there is great, and in this conference it's great when you have that defensive line depth."
Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle (leg) has been limited to running, rebuilding his conditioning and participating in a few individual drills, which is what what Tennessee expected him to do during the first week of practice.
Freshman wide receiver Latrell Williams (hamstring) is expected to return to practice next week, according to Jones.
Reeves-Maybin continues to progress from shoulder surgery in the spring.
"I feel good," he said. "It's hard to tell. If I was just a normal person, I'm 100 percent, but it's hard to tell your football health until you actually go out there and start hitting.
"I'm progressing like I should be, and I feel comfortable out there. I'm in a no-contact (jersey), but I'm not worried about anything happening to me right now. I feel fine and we're going to keep progressing to it."
Jones confirmed wide receiver Cody Blanc is "moving on" after graduating and won't play his fifth season and suggested former walk-on tight end Joe Stocstill's career is over due to injury.
Former Tennessee punter Tommy Townsend transferred to Florida, where his older brother, Johnny, finished third in the SEC in punting as a sophomore in 2015, and Tommy will sit out this season and have three years of eligibility remaining.
Former Tennessee safety Deon Grant will visit with the Vols this weekend.
Grant starred on Tennessee's 1998 national championship team and earned All-America and All-SEC honors in 1999.
"I think it's important that we bring back former players that have lived this program and played at a high level, and have them be around our players," Jones said.
Inky Johnson is scheduled to visit the Vols later this month.
The open-viewing period of Thursday's practice included a team period in which the defense was in control.
After Jason Croom's nice gain after catching a pass in the flat, Emmanuel Moseley intercepted a back-shoulder throw intended for Preston Williams down the sideline. With the second-team defense, freshman cornerback Baylen Buchanan had a couple of nice plays and Kongbo made his presence felt.
Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano each got a series at quarterback, but the passing game was off the mark save for a short completion to Tyler Byrd.
Drew Richmond took the first-team reps at left tackle while Cortez McDowell paired with Darrin Kirkland Jr. at linebacker in Reeves-Maybin's absence.
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