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Texans sign free agent safety Mathieu, claim WR Vols’ defense

The Associated Press teed when the league year offi-
cially began and Arizona saved
Mathieu became a star in the
Arizona secondary after being
His big 2015 season was cut
short when he tore the ACL in
getting a new
look under
HOUSTON — The “Honey nearly $5 million in cap space selected in the third round of the the other knee.
Badger” is headed to Houston. by cutting him. 2013 draft following a troubled His absence was sorely felt as
The Houston Texans said Mon- He has 11 career interceptions, college career at LSU. the team that went 13-3 before
day they had signed unrestricted four sacks, 41 passes defensed A finalist for the Heisman Tro- being routed by Carolina in the
free agent safety Tyrann Mathieu
and claimed wide receiver Sam-
mie Coates off waivers from
and 303 total tackles in 66 NFL
games during a career plagued
by injuries.
phy as a sophomore, he got into
trouble with marijuana and even-
tually was kicked out of school.
NFC championship game.
Despite the injury, the Cardi-
nals rewarded him with a five-
coach Pruitt
Cleveland. Only last season did Mathieu Mathieu spent an entire season year, $62.5 million contract, with
Mathieu was released last week appear in all 16 games and he out of football and slid to the $15.5 million guaranteed. BY AUSTIN BORNHEIM
by Arizona after five seasons finished with two interceptions third round before the Cardinals Off the field, he was a model
when the two sides couldn’t along with 74 tackles. He was took a chance on him. His rookie citizen and with his fierce style
rework his contract. The 25-year- an All-Pro in 2015, when he had season ended prematurely when and natural charisma, was among KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s
old safety was due for $18.75 mil- five interceptions and 17 passes he tore the LCL and ACL in his the most popular players on the defense will look very different
lion of his contract to be guaran- defensed. left knee. squad. in a couple weeks, and that’s what
Jeremy Pruitt is hoping.
The Vols are changing from the

KELLY: McKenzie 4-3 base defense they ran under

Butch Jones to a 3-4 scheme under
Pruitt. With that brings changing

worked on O-line roles and new positions to work

out over the spring.
No group will look more differ-

drills Monday ent than Tennessee’s front sev-

en. Shy Tuttle will get a look at
nose tackle and coaches will see
if Jonathan Kongbo can fulfill his
FROM 1B promise as an end in the new look.
Other likely moves include Dar-
Hurd exiting the program. Kelly rell Taylor, Ryan Thaxton, Austin
ran for 831 yards and nine touch- Smith and others also transition-
downs, and was just as impact- ing to hybrid outside linebackers.
ful as a receiver. The Michigan The one position Tennessee
native’s 37 receptions were tied for does come into the spring hav-
team best and he turned them into ing some depth is in linebackers,
299 yards. “I feel like the work- and the battles at linebacker stand
out is the easy part,” Kelly said. to be among the fiercest at any
“But when they turn on that film, I spot on the roster.
think that’ll be the football player Darrin Kirkland Jr. returns to the
they want to see. field after missing large chunks of
“A lot of teams compare me to the past two seasons due to injury
AK as far as what we can do for and seems like a good fit at one of
an offense. But I definitively feel the two inside linebacker spots.
like I was able to develop in this Taylor, JUCO newcomer Jordan
offense being at Tennessee, being Allen, Daniel Bituli, Quart’e Sapp
able to go out and catch the ball a and Will Ignont are also candi-
little more. Now in the NFL, it’s dates for serious playing time.
a lot of running backs that have Not every question or spot will
to catch the ball, and you’ve got be answered by the Orange and
to give an easy target to the quar- White game, but Pruitt and his
terback.” slew of defensive gurus should
He has met with a number of get a good idea of which players
teams already and has a couple can and can’t help come the fall.
more interviews lined up before And it’s imperative the defense
the NFL Draft. During the process, gets sorted out, if the Vols want
Kelly said he’s faced a number of to make noise this season.
character questions, largely stem- Tennessee’s run defense has
ming from his arrest in January been disastrous the last two sea-
stemming from a misdemeanor sons — among the worst of all
drug possession charge. Power 5 teams, ranking No. 104
“I mean, a lot of guys wanted in 2016 and No. 126 last season.
to see what kind of guy I was in The pass defense ranked third
terms of locker room and every- nationally last season, but it was
thing,” he said. “I feel like once largely fools gold.
I get the chance to meet these JOY KIMBROUGH | THE DAILY TIMES Tennessee’s pass defense was
people, they’ve got a good idea of TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS QUARTERBACK JARRETT Guarantano (2) throws the ball upfield during the Vols’ 30-10 loss ranked so highly because it wasn’t
who I am and what I’m bringing to LSU Nov. 18 in Knoxville. challenged in large part due to
to the team. the inability to stop the run. The

Eligible receivers
“Going through this process, Vols were playing from behind
you’ve just got to be completely so often, throwing the ball wasn’t
honest. If they don’t know the necessary for opponents.
answer, they can easily find it.” The backend has a chance to
GIVING IT A SHOT: Kahlil McKenzie improve, though. Starting safety
spent his entire career at Ten- Nigel Warrior and Micah Abber-
nessee on the defensive line, and nathy return this season, but the
the former Vol participated in corner spots are up for grabs
only defensive drills at the NFL with Rashaan Gaulden, Emman-
The slimmed down McKenzie
decided to try something new
Vols’ offense enters spring with questions uel Moseley and Justin Martin
all gone.
Pruitt, Charles Kelly and Terry
Monday, however, and took his Fair — all three coaches who hang
turn on offensive line drill work, BY AUSTIN BORNHEIM appearances to his credit. Mar- Keller Chryst arrives on campus their hats on being quality defen-
and also ran some shuttle drills cus Tatum and Ryan Johnson saw this summer. sive back coaches — will try and
with the linebackers. action last season once injuries Last year, Tennessee had one find the right mix this spring to
He worked along side Brett Ken- KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s began to pile up, but not until the of the worst passing offenses in help make the backend of Ten-
drick, Jashon Robertson and Cole- football program has a new coach- back half of the schedule. the country — No. 109 nation- nessee’s defense more dynamic.
man Thomas during the offen- ing staff but many of the same It’s a complete reverse of last sea- ally and 13th out of 14 in the SEC. Aside from Gaulden, the Vols
sive line drills that, at first, only problems entering spring practice. son, when the question was how Guarantano took over the starting struggled to make impact plays
included agility work. But later, The Vols were seemingly never would the coaching staff manage job midway through the year and in the secondary. Tennessee had
McKenzie was drive-blocking a healthy during the spring under the snaps of so many lineman to struggled, going 1-5 as a starter. an SEC-low five interceptions
blocking pad held by one of his Butch Jones, and first-year coach make sure everyone was happy. But with a new staff on campus, last year.
former teammates and back-ped- Jeremy Pruitt has the same prob- Redshirt freshman K’Rojhn Cal- he has the chance to prove he’s A pair of position changes bring
aling like he was dropping to pass- lem when practice opens today. bert, Nathan Niehaus, redshirt developed. depth to the group as Tyler Byrd
block while jabbing a blocking pad And the offense is depleted as ever. sophomore and convert tight end His supporting cast around him and Carlin Fils-aime switch to the
with his hands. Inexperience at key positions Devante Brooks, and Riley Lock- has talent but is either unproven defensive side of the ball. Byrd
“A couple of coaches asked me and a banged up front will make lear are all returners back this or failed to live up to expectations. was a dynamic defensive back
if I’d be willing to do the drills,” Pruitt’s first spring practice as spring. Freshman Ollie Lane and Tennessee’s struggles passing recruit out of high school — he
McKenzie said, “and I told them coach an interesting one. Jerome Carvin also join the mix. weren’t all on the quarterbacks, played corner at the Army All-
it’s good with me, so I just went Tennessee has only 11 scholar- A bare-bones offensive line is the receivers were underwhelm- American Game — but the for-
out there and did some of the ship offensive linemen to begin something that quarterback Jar- ing as well. A handful have moved mer Tennessee coaching staff
O-line drills. with — Pruitt would ideally like rett Guarantano is unfortunately on, but the majority of the group moved him to receiver due to
“That’s the first time I’ve been that number around 15 or 16 — used to. The redshirt sophomore is back, including the Vols’ top depth issues.
asked to do an offensive line type and only around seven of them spent most of last season running two receivers from last season in Shawn Shamburger flashed at
of stuff. (NFL Scouting) Combine, come in at or close to 100 percent. from defenses behind a patchwork Brandon Johnson and Marquez times last season and could be
I did strictly D-line things. I get Omitted from that group are two front, and it will be the same this Callaway. an impact player, and Marquill
questions all the time sometimes of the most key and experienced spring. Injured and then suspended Osborne and Baylen Buchanan
about offensive line stuff, but you members — Chance Hall and Trey The one positive for Guaran- receiver Jauan Jennings is back are also back in the secondary.
know, you just kind of focus on Smith, who won’t take a snap this tano this spring is he gets a shot on the team, but will not be a part At safety, Theo Jackson will
what you’re getting asked to do.” spring. all to himself to prove to Pruitt of spring practice. compete for time and the status
Redshirt junior Drew Richmond and offensive coordinator Tyson of Todd Kelly Jr. is still a ques-
VISIT THEDAILYTIMES.COM for an enters the spring as the only avail- Helton that he is the guy under VISIT THEDAILYTIMES.COM for an tion entering spring, though it is
expanded story. able lineman with double-digit center before graduate transfer expanded story. unlikely that he will participate.

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