No Darrell Taylor? Tennessee football hoping to develop and recruit monster pass rushers

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

Shelton Felton knows all about Darrell Taylor.

The Tennessee outside linebackers coach was a defensive quality control analyst in 2018, when Taylor had his breakout season with the Vols. So Felton is well aware the current group doesn’t have a go-to, quarterback-pressuring monster like Taylor. 

“We are led by committee,” Felton said Monday at the Knoxville Quarterback Club. “We are not just one individual. We are a unit. It hurts not having a Darrell Taylor.

“But we are trying to develop a Darrell Taylor and trying to recruit one.”

Tennessee is relying on a pair of upperclassmen and a handful of promising underclassmen this season after Taylor was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

Deandre Johnson and Kivon Bennett have started every game for Tennessee (2-3), which faces Arkansas (2-3) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network). Redshirt freshman Roman Harrison and a trio of freshmen complete the primary playing group.

“Those three guys have been playing really good reps and playing better week by week and day by day,” Felton said.

Tyler Baron, a Knoxville Catholic product, has played the most among the newcomers. He played the most snaps of any Vols outside linebacker against Alabama on Oct. 24, according to PFF.

“Tyler Baron is a very smart kid,” Felton said. “Tyler has the size (at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds). He is able to anchor the edge and is able to rush the passer some. We are very happy with his growth. His reps are picking up game by game. Last game, he played a really good game for a freshman.”

Baron has made 12 tackles, including two tackles for loss in his debut against South Carolina on Sept. 26.

Morven Joseph, who was a four-star recruit like Baron, has played sparingly in four games. He has made two tackles, including a half-tackle for loss.

“He comes in and rushes the passer on third down,” Felton said. “He is a really good pass rusher.”

Bryson Eason is the third of the freshman outside linebackers, but a recent addition to the position. Eason spent the preseason playing at inside linebacker before moving outside in October.

Felton said the Memphis Whitehaven product is “picking up and learning the position.”

Joseph also is working at both inside and outside linebacker, Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said during UT’s open week. Pruitt expressed that such moves normally take place in the summer, but Tennessee didn’t get the chance to work with its players during June and July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During June and July, you can see these guys move around a little bit and get a clearer picture of what position they should play,” Pruitt said. “Then, you get probably 14 really hard days of camp to see it. Some of these guys didn’t get to do it. So after going through the first five weeks of practice here, it’s an opportunity for us to put them into positions so that we can see them for their future.”

Dylan Brooks, one of Tennessee’s top 2021 commitments, projects as an outside linebacker for the Vols. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound edge rusher is the No. 35 prospect in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite.

Felton said he believes outside linebacker is “one of the most difficult positions to recruit.”

“You want a guy with length and size and versatility,” Felton said. “Playing outside linebacker, at times, you can be a defensive end. You can be an inside linebacker and you have to step out and walk in space and cover. We want a guy with versatility that can change direction and has length to play off a tackle, but at the same time can turn the corner and bend and rush the passer. …

“There are so many things you are asked to do and need to be able to do well.”

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.