Vols coaches plan to cross-train linebackers

Tennessee linebacker Colton Jumper, left, and defensive lineman Darrell Taylor celebrate after a turnover during an NCAA football game against Southern Mississippi at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn.

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles previewing Tennessee football before spring practices begin March 20.

Position breakdown

LinebackersWho’s gone: Cortez McDowell, Elliott Berry, Colton JumperWho’s new: JJ Peterson and Jordan Allen are expected to join the program this summer.

photo New Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt speaks to the audience before the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Calvin Mattheis)
photo Tennessee defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo (1) pumps the crowd up against South Carolina at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn.

KNOXVILLE - Tennessee's new football coaching staff prefers linebackers who can line up in all four linebacker positions within a 3-4 defensive scheme.

That's the long-term vision under defensive-minded first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

"You've got guys that maybe their best position is outside linebacker but maybe you lose four inside linebackers," Pruitt said. "If you have guys that can do both, you've got a chance to move him inside and you can kind of keep rolling a bit. When we have guys like that, we want to cross-train them, and we'll do that in the spring and fall camp.

In the short term, Tennessee's roster is not stocked with that sort of versatility. But Pruitt and his staff will use spring practice to re-teach the position to a group of returning players and also tinker with some potential hybrid options as Pruitt tries to piecemeal together a formidable defensive front.

Darrell Taylor and Jonathan Kongbo could be among the players previously listed as defensive ends who get a chance to try the jack linebacker position, which combines elements of defensive end and linebacker play. Ryan Thaxton and TJ Minnifee are returning reserves who also appear likely to get practice repetitions at the jack position because of their relatively slender builds as defensive ends.

The Volunteers are likely to be without Darrin Kirkland Jr. in spring practice as the middle linebacker continues rehabbing from a knee injury that forced him to miss the 2017 season. That leaves Daniel Bituli and Quart'e Sapp as the key returners who will go through spring drills in the traditional linebacker slots.

Rising sophomores Solon Page, Will Ignont and Shanon Reid also will have opportunities to make impressions on the new staff after playing sparingly in 2017.

Vols land transfer RB

Michigan State graduate transfer running back Madre London committed to Tennessee over the weekend. London ran for 924 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons with the Spartans. He will fill a void on the depth chart left by the recent news that Carlin Fils-aime is moving from running back to cornerback.

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.