The Tennessee Volunteers enter their week three matchup with Florida holding the 28th ranked defense in the FBS. The Vols are holding opponents to just 270 yards a game and 3.88 yards per play.
Gator Country provides five players to look out for on Tennessee’s defense when they take on Florida on Saturday night.
EDGE TYLER BARON #9
Senior edge rusher Tyler Baron enters week three with a team high three sacks and two QB hurries in 68 snaps.
Through the first three years of his Tennessee career, Baron was a productive reserve player, totaling 7.5 sacks in just eight starts. In career 38 games, Baron’s posted 79 career tackles with 20.0 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, two passes defended and one forced fumble.
Baron earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his two sack (career high) and 2.5 tackles for loss performance against Virginia in week one.
The 6-5, 260-pound edge grades out well across all of Pro Football Focus’ categories, holding a defensive grade of 81.7, the third highest on the Volunteers’ defense.
The 2023 Preseason All-SEC Third Team selection is a player to watch on Saturday night.
LB AARON BEASLEY #6
The fifth-year senior returned to Knoxville after a productive 2022 season, where he recorded a team highs in both tackles (76) and tackles for loss (13). To end the season, Beasley earned Orange Bowl Defensive MVP after recording ten tackles in a win over Clemson.
Beasley has played in career 45 games and made 23 starts, tallying 181 career tackles (87 solo), 27 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks for a loss of 51 yards. He’s also forced one fumble and owns three fumble recoveries as well as 15 quarterback hurries and five PBUs.
In 2023, Beasley has totaled 12 tackles (9 solo), two sacks, and two pass deflections, including a career high five TFLs against Austin Peay in week two.
The Preseason All-SEC Second Team selection (Lindy’s) is a veteran presence in the locker room and is considered one of Tennessee’s best defensive players.
CB KAMAL HADDEN #5
The Volunteers’ starting cornerback has been dominant to start the 2023 season, allowing just five receptions on 16 targets, totaling five pass break ups and an interception through two games.
Hadden’s defensive grade of 82.9 ranks second on Tennessee’s defense, while his coverage grade of 86.9 ranks first, according to PFF.
The JUCO transfer is in his last year of eligibility and has seemingly locked down a prominent role on the Volunteers’ defense, logging 70 snaps through two games, the second most among Tennessee cornerbacks.
It’s important to note that Tennessee will rotate a number of players in at cornerback, but Hadden is by far the most targeted, while allowing the 2nd lowest completion percentage on the team, making him a must-watch player on Saturday night.
DL OMARR NORMAN-LOTT #55
The 6-3, 301-pound defensive tackle will play a critical role in trying to stop Florida’s rushing attack on Saturday night. Prior to joining Tennessee, Norman-Lott played in 23 career games with four starts at Arizona State, totaling 45 tackles, four sacks, and two pass deflections.
Norman-Lott earned his first start as a Vol in their home opener vs. Austin Peay (9/9) and finished the game with three total tackles. He made his Tennessee debut in the season opener vs. Virginia (9/2) and logged four total tackles. Norman-Lott has also been credited with two QB hurries through two games.
The California native holds the teams highest run defense grade through two games, posting a grade of 86.8 in 20 run defense snaps.
EDGE JAMES PEARCE JR. #27
The true sophomore had a promising freshman campaign for the Vols, playing in all 13 games, accumulating five tackles, two tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in 2022.
Through two games in 2023, Pearce Jr has three sacks, six QB hurries (team high), and one QB hit.
Pearce Jr. will play a major role along the defensive line, rotating in with senior Roman Harrison.
The 6-5, 242-pound edge rusher has been a spark plug for the Volunteers and I expect him to accumulate plenty of playing time on Saturday night as he’s logged 53 snaps through two games.
Pearce Jr. is the highest rated defensive player on Tennessee and holds an impressive 90.6 pressure grade, which is also a team high, according to PFF.