Tennessee third-year football coach Jeremy Pruitt wants his defensive line to be more than the "B & B Show," but he realizes that's a good place to start.
Pruitt has been critical of his experienced defensive front on occasion this preseason, singling out the senior duo of LaTrell Bumphus and Matthew Butler as the exceptions. Bumphus was a tight end during his first two seasons with the Volunteers before flourishing last season on defense, while Butler led all Tennessee defensive linemen last season with 45 tackles.
"We've got guys who can play winning football, but we've got to play with more toughness up there and more awareness, and we've got to be more consistent," Pruitt said during a recent Zoom call when asked about the position group. "One guy who I feel like has had some really good practices every single day is LaTrell Bumphus. The guy continues to come to work every single day, and he's trying to be at his best.
"Matt Butler is another guy, but we need to get the other guys to raise their level of play at that position, and that's a choice."
The Vols are being guided up front defensively by new position coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, who replaced Tracy Rocker. He is now at South Carolina, which hosts Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams on Sept. 26.
"That will be high intensity," Bumphus said, "but we've got to treat it like another game."
Bumphus is an unlikely leader of a defensive front that includes JaQuain Blakely, Greg Emerson, Kurott Garland, Darel Middleton and Aubrey Solomon. A 6-foot-3, 290-pounder from Savannah, Tennessee, Bumphus was halfway through his college experience when Pruitt pulled him aside and said it would be better for his career to shift to defense.
No resistance was offered.
"I just trusted him and have been there ever since," Bumphus said.
Bumphus made six starts last season and compiled 23 tackles and six tackles for loss. His lost-yardage stops ranked second on the team behind the 10 racked up by former linebacker Darrell Taylor.
Butler, a 6-4, 219-pounder from Raleigh, North Carolina, made four starts last season and has been recognized throughout his time in Knoxville for his academic accomplishments as well. Being a dedicated student of the game this year means knowing the assignments that Brumbaugh has provided since his arrival in late February.
"Even before spring practice started, Coach Brumbaugh was very meticulous about the details," Butler said. "He knows his stuff and has coached plenty of good football players. His second day here, after he had introduced himself, he pulled up the Georgia game from last year and showed us things that we could have done differently — things that were overlooked but could have impacted and changed the game.
"It showed us he watched the game and went through it with a fine comb. It was pretty impressive from our standpoint."
The Bumphus-Butler tandem has high aspirations for this season, which will be 10 league games against the varied offensive likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M.
"As a D-line, I would like for us to be in the top five in the whole NCAA and No. 1 in the SEC," Bumphus said.
High aspirations indeed.