The off season has been a tumultuous one for the Tennessee football program. The Vols have weathered speculation around an NCAA investigation, the status of Jeremy Pruitt, and a multitude of players entering the transfer portal to depart the program. Amidst all of this, Tennessee did hire one of the premier defensive assistants in the SEC this week, bringing back Tennessee alumnus Kevin Steele to Knoxville. The return of Steele has already made an impact for the Vols, as he and Shelton Felton have helped to get the Vols some good news from the transfer portal, as Tennessee lands Auburn graduate transfer Big Kat Bryant.
Bryant is a 6’5” 250-pound defensive linemen that was one of the most disruptive players in the SEC in 2020. Bryant is a player that can do it all on the defensive front. He has outstanding power, able to work inside and to drive offensive tackles back. He has the speed to shoot gaps on a rip when he gets skinny, or he can beat a tackle cleanly around the corner when he commits to attacking with a speed rush. Bryant also has outstanding technique in the trenches, allowing him to make the most of his impressive athletic ability. One of the most impressive traits about Bryant is his determination and ferocity on the field. He has a high motor and works offensive linemen mercilessly throughout the game and to the whistle. The pressure that Bryant applies to an offense in the running and passing game means that he is a player that opposing offenses have to build a game plan around. While Bryant may not always make the tackle, he can single handedly blow plays up left and right, allowing his fellow defenders to mop up the debris left in his wake.
Make no mistake, Bryant is an All-SEC caliber player on the defensive line. Bryant was initially headed to the NFL, but changed his mind and decided to return to school. The firing of His Malzahn on the Plains paved the way for Bryant to transfer to Rocky Top for his final year of eligibility. Bryant is returning to school with the goal of improving his already solid draft stock. Being anything less than an impact player for the Tennessee defense and one of the best defensive linemen in the SEC will be a disappointment for Bryant. He brings the Vols a unique talent up front with a relentless motor. His leadership should also prove valuable for the entire Tennessee defense, but especially for some of the highly touted, younger defensive linemen Tennessee has recruited. Bryant’s ability to disrupt any play they the offense runs should create opportunities for his teammates on defense, not just to clean up behind him, but to make one-on-one plays in their own right. Bryant is a player opposing SEC lines must double team. Even then he can take games over, so single blocking him is flirting with disaster. That type of play creates one-on-one chances for Tennessee linemen that struggled in 2020, as well as for young players stepping up into larger roles on the unit moving forward.
It has been some time since the Tennessee football program had some positive news, however adding Big Kat Bryant is certainly outstanding news. The Vols have plugged in a proven All-SEC talent to a position group that struggled in 2020. Bryant is a day one starter for the Vols that the Tennessee coaches can build a front around, and that opposing coaches have to build game plans around containing every week. Bryant can change the face of the Tennessee defense, and if the young Volunteer linemen are able to step up, a group that was a weakness in 2020 could be difficult for teams to deal with in 2021.