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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee fifth-year defensive lineman Matthew Butler is thrilled to have Rodney Garner as his latest position coach.

Updated with more information at 7:55 p.m. on Aug. 5, 2021.

No player reflects the instability of Tennessee football in recent seasons more than Matthew Butler, and it's no fault of the fifth-year senior defensive lineman.

The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder from Raleigh, North Carolina, simply chose to sign with the Volunteers in 2017.

Butler was recruited to Tennessee throughout 2016 by defensive line coach Steve Stripling, but Stripling stepped aside just before signing day in 2017 and was replaced by Brady Hoke, who lasted less than a year once the Butch Jones era went down in flames. Tracy Rocker was Butler's defensive line coach the longest — covering the 2018-19 seasons — while last year provided the chaos of Jimmy Brumbaugh as his position coach for the first four games and head coach Jeremy Pruitt for the final six.

When Pruitt was terminated this past January and Josh Heupel tabbed as his successor, Huepel named Rodney Garner as defensive line coach.

"I've played for six guys, basically, and that impacts things," Butler said this week in a news conference, "but it all comes down to playing physical, tough football and running through people. Now that we have the best coach in the country with us, what else can you really ask for?"

It's hard to ask much more from Butler given the continuing turbulence around him.

Having played in 40 career games with 14 starts, Butler has amassed 105 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. His performance off the field has been nothing short of superb; he graduated last December in political science with a 3.63 GPA and is a four-time Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll selection.

Butler opted to use the NCAA's extra year of eligibility that resulted from the coronavirus outbreak, and he feels rewarded by having Garner, who is the longest-serving active SEC assistant in terms of consecutive seasons. Garner has been an SEC assistant since serving as Auburn's tight ends coach in 1993.

"He's a fiery guy, and he's going to be that way," Butler said, "but behind closed doors, he loves us and we love him. We can talk. He can be fiery, like you've seen him, but he can calm down and be a very well-rounded dude.

"He's going to shoot straight with you."

Garner has developed 32 NFL draft picks through the years, including the lofty likes of Marcus Stroud and Richard Seymour at Georgia and Derrick Brown at Auburn, but his second stint at Tennessee is expected to be more challenging than his successful run in 1996-97 given the roster attrition through the NCAA transfer portal.

Butler believes the defensive front has improved drastically since Garner's arrival.

"I'm not going to tell you what we've done," Butler said. "We're just going to go out and show you. We've made leaps and bounds since the spring, and we're going to continue to take leaps and bounds.

"That's the goal of ours, and we're dead set on proving that — forget talking about it."

 

Early promise

Only two practices are in the books, but Tennessee quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle gave a promising update on the four-man competition Thursday in a news conference.

"It's been very positive," Halzle said. "For starters, everyone is going out there and competing their butts off and not getting a bunch of misses as far as calling protections and calling runs as fast as we go. Our eye discipline has been really good, and we've had zero turnovers in camp so far.

"With those first couple of days in camp, you have a tendency to be sloppy, especially with a new offense, but our guys are doing a great job of getting their eyes in the right place, getting their bodies in the right place and taking care of the football."

 

Receiver commits

Tennessee picked up its 14th commitment for the 2022 signing cycle Thursday night, landing a nonbinding pledge from three-star receiver Chas Nimrod of Bentonville, Arkansas. The 6-2, 181-pound Nimrod is the nation's No. 70 receiver and No. 547 prospect overall in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.

The Vols moved up from 30th to 27th in the 247Sports team rankings.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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