Healthy Shy Tuttle may be top candidate for Vols' nose tackle

Tennessee junior defensive lineman Shy Tuttle has twice worked through difficult rehabilitation to return from injuries.

Defensive line

Who’s new: Freshmen Kingston Harris and Greg Emerson enrolled early and are expected to participate in spring practices. Brant Lawless, Emmit Gooden, John Mincey and Kurrot Garland are expected to join the team this summer.Who’s gone: Kendal Vickers, Kahlil McKenzie

photo Darrell Taylor (19) is playing with a injured right hand. The Indiana State Sycamores visited the University of Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium in NCAA football action of Sept. 9, 2017.
photo Tennessee defensive end Kyle Phillips (5) will represent the Volunteers next week at SEC Media Days, along with receiver Marquez Callaway and tight end Eli Wolf.

Editor's note: This is the third in a series previewing Tennessee football before spring practices begin next Tuesday.

KNOXVILLE - After missing spring practices the last two seasons while rehabilitating serious injuries, Tennessee rising senior defensive tackle Shy Tuttle should be healthy enough to participate when the Volunteers open the 2018 spring session next week.

That's good news for first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, who will be looking for a nose tackle in the 3-4 defensive scheme he plans to install.

Tuttle fits the profile physically and should be the front-runner at the position in the wake of Kahlil McKenzie's unexpected departure for the NFL draft.

Kyle Phillips, Darrell Taylor and Jonathan Kongbo return at defensive end after some combination of the trio played most of the snaps at the two end positions in 2017. Taylor and Kongbo could be candidates to play the hybrid "jack" linebacker position for the Vols during spring practice as Pruitt and his defensive coaches get a feel for what positions the players they inherited are best suited.

"I think it's important that you play the best personnel that you have," Pruitt said during his introductory news conference in December. "If for instance offensively you have three good tight ends, it's pretty foolish to put two of them on the bench. It's the same thing when you're playing defensive football. If you've got two really good linebackers and five really good defensive linemen, then we probably need to be playing those five defensive linemen and those two really good linebackers."

Spring practices will give the staff an opportunity to experiment and provide a fresh chance for defensive linemen such as rising sophomores Matthew Butler, Kivon Bennett and Eric Crosby to prove themselves.

Crosby, who is listed as the heaviest player on the Tennessee roster at 336 pounds, was shown squatting 535 pounds recently on a video released by the program. He was a reserve in 2017 but could challenge for playing time at nose tackle behind Tuttle.

Replacing Kendal Vickers, who was a fifth-year senior, starter and vocal leader on the 2017 team, will be a tough task for the Vols. Keeping Tuttle healthy and productive certainly would help.

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