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New Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop believes the Vols were headed in the right direction on defense before he was hired in January, and he wants to help them keep moving on that path.
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New Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, right, is confident the Vols have lots of good options in their secondary, including Stephen Griffin, center left.

Gaddy brothers pick Tennessee

Tennessee added some serious beef to its 2017 recruiting class Tuesday when brothers Breyon and Brandon Gaddy committed to the Volunteers out of Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach, Va.

Breyon, a 6-foot-5, 335-pound defensive tackle, picked Tennessee over finalists Clemson, Georgia, Florida State and Southern California, and he’s in a similar mold to current Vols defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie from a size and athletic standpoint. At 6-5 and around 280 pounds, Brandon is a little bit smaller yet more versatile, as the three-star prospect has played multiple positions for his high school team and could play on either line in college.

After signing only two junior college transfers in 2016, Tennessee has made the defensive line a big priority in the 2017 class, and the Gaddy brothers, assuming they end up playing there, give the Vols six projected defensive linemen. The Vols already have a strong duo of tackles committed in four-star prospects Eric Crosby and Kivon Bennett. Defensive end Tre Lawson and jumbo athletes LaTrell Bumphus and Marquez Bembry are the other projected defensive linemen.

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KNOXVILLE — Bob Shoop's debut game as Tennessee's defensive coordinator remains another six weeks away, but the Volunteers continue to forecast it in the same terms they did during spring practice a few months ago.

The two defensive players Tennessee took to SEC media days last week touted Shoop's impact this offseason and spoke glowingly of the coach tasked with turning a solid defense into a championship one.

"He's not really just building around himself, but what's comfortable for the overall team and the overall defense," cornerback Cameron Sutton said last week. "It was great that we were able to keep a lot of the things the same and still be productive installing new things as well as what we've done before and building off that to make the defense better."

With so much pressure this season on the Vols to win — and for the defense to redeem itself after last season's crunch-time collapses — the plan under Shoop is to crank up the pressure.

"It's just that in-your-face mentality and that style of football. It's getting after offenses and attacking offenses and just trying to cause havoc on the field," Sutton said.

The early reviews for a new defensive coordinator were similar in 2012, when Sal Sunseri took over for what essentially was his first crack at calling a defense at the top level of college football and began the process of switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 set.

That defense turned out to be a disaster, but Tennessee's 2016 defense has too much talent to flop so miserably.

It also has a very sharp coach.

"He's a Yale guy," linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said. "You can tell he has the mental capabilities to handle a lot. He definitely throws a lot at us (with) statistics, ideas and philosophies. It's fun to learn from him. It's fun to see how he sees things and how we interpret things and how he interprets things. He's definitely bright."

Reeves-Maybin's relationship with his new coordinator dates back to his days at Clarksville's Northeast High School, when Shoop was on James Franklin's staff at Vanderbilt.

The two maintained contact throughout the past few years until their reunion in January.

"We had a great relationship from the start," Reeves-Maybin recalled. "As soon as I met him, he knew and both of us could tell we were about football. It wasn't about the flashing lights and cameras and the campus and things like that. We were football guys, and that's what I love about him and that's what I respect so much.

"Every day we can talk about football, but we can talk about life, also. He asks us how we're doing. He checks on me, asks about my family and things like that. We've always had a great relationship, and I think he's also like that with other guys on the team as well."

The Vols ranked 36th nationally in total defense in 2015 but were middle of the road relative to the SEC. Within the league Tennessee ranked seventh in points allowed, eighth in yards allowed, eighth against the run and 11th against the pass. The Vols forced only 19 turnovers, totaled only 26 sacks and allowed 15 conversions on 21 fourth downs.

Those areas need improvement for the Vols to reach elite status, and the university got one of the game's most well-regarded defensive coordinators and paid him a seven-figure salary to guide them through that next step.

"We're always in the film room with each other," Reeves-Maybin said. "Just seeing how we view things different and what we call things and how we handle things and what we think makes players good we just talk about our different ideas and philosophies. Off the field, he always checks in. He's always texting guys. We've got a big group message on the defense.

"He sends us stuff all the time and lets us know he has our back. He's going to prepare 100 percent and help us prepare for each and every game. I know he has a lot of high expectations for us, too."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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