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HomeSportsTennessee Football's Rodney Garner Emphasizes Veteran Leadership One Week Into Preseason Camp

Tennessee Football’s Rodney Garner Emphasizes Veteran Leadership One Week Into Preseason Camp

Tennessee Volunteers - UT VolsKnoxville, TN – One week into preseason practice and one day out from its first scrimmage of fall camp, the Tennessee football team took Haslam Field Monday morning as anticipation continues to build for the 2022 season opener on September 1st.
Entering his second year on Josh Heupel‘s staff and fourth overall at Tennessee, defensive line coach Rodney Garner met with members of the media to discuss his unit’s production through the first seven days of preseason camp.

Known within the program as ‘D-Rock,’ Garner’s group of linemen were key in the Volunteer defense finishing top 10 in the nation in tackles for loss last season, but the 32-year SEC coaching veteran knows his line can take another step in 2022.
“Well, that was good for last year’s team, but that was last year’s team,” Garner said. “What are we going to do this year? I mean, we have to take a step forward. I think we exceeded the expectations for everybody, except for the guys in the room and probably the coaching staff, but nobody came to Tennessee, I think, to say they want to be 7-6. That is not the standard. We’re moving in the right direction, but everybody, when they look in the mirror, they can see where we can get better.
“We all have to be truthful with ourselves and understand that we have to continue to strain every day to get better. And if we want to become great, we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and that’s what it takes.”
With a week of preseason practice in the books, Garner is looking to his veteran players to step up as leaders within the defensive line room. The upperclassmen have a big presence to fill after the departure of VFL Matthew Butler, who made his pro debut for the Las Vegas Raiders Thursday night at the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
“I’m going to be honest with you, that’s been a big void,” Garner said. “Matt, I guess we probably took it for granted how valuable he was. I don’t know that we’ve filled that role yet. I think we just have to keep pushing the guys, to keep straining them and see who’s going to rise to the top. For some of them, it’s easy to lead when things are easy. When we’re faced with that adversity, who’s going to be that guy who’s still going to stand in there and be the guy to say, ‘You can count on me. Get behind me. I’m going to show you the way.’ We really don’t have that yet.
“I think B.Y. (Byron Young) is trying, but B.Y. is a different type of leader than that. B.Y. is much quieter. He just really takes care of B.Y. We need him to come on and be a more aggressive guy and take the bull by the horns, per se. Big O (Omari Thomas) needs to get better so he can become a better leader too. That comes with also doing it on the field and not just being a verbal guy. You have to also do it by your actions too.”

A junior defensive tackle out of Memphis, Thomas also took the podium Monday afternoon to update the media on his third time going through preseason camp. After a productive sophomore campaign last fall, Thomas has taken a detail-oriented approach to perfect his craft before the season begins.
“I’ve been able to lock in on the little things,” Thomas said. “Just be able to always play vertical and when I take my first step, I’m bringing my hands with me and being able to follow my feet, follow my hands. I’m just focusing on the details more, knowing where the back of line is. It’s been a lot of the small details from Coach G that he’s been putting on us, and showing us how important it is to be able to focus on those small details.”
Those small details will undoubtedly help ‘D-Rock’ to generate pressure in the backfield and cause nightmares for opposing quarterbacks this fall. Disrupting the pocket more frequently has been a point of emphasis for Garner’s linemen this offseason.
“We have to be able to affect the quarterback just with the front, and not have to bring blitzes down in order to affect the quarterback,” Thomas said. “That’s something that Coach G has taken pride in, as well as the defensive line room. We want to be able to affect the quarterback without Coach Tim Banks having to send pressures. That’s something that we work on every day in pass rush. It’s been a big thing that we looked at this offseason and this fall camp.”
 As far as making a difference inside the room, Thomas spoke to his and Byron Young’s ability to step out of their comfort zones and emerge as vocal leaders for the Tennessee defensive line.

“I’m pushing myself to be more of a vocal leader, because I’ve always been a person who did the right thing and brought people along on the side,” Thomas said. “Right now, I need to be able to step up and be more vocal as a leader, rather than just doing the right things on and off the field. I need to do what Coach G wants me to do. One thing that Byron Young and I have been able to just be better about ourselves is being more vocal.”


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