By Alex Norman
It is cliché, but there is still truth to the old adage that championships are won in football on the front lines. Tennessee’s defensive line has the potential to be dominant, but right now it isn’t anywhere near full strength. Key contributors like Derek Barnett, Shy Tuttle and Kyle Phillips missed all of spring practice due to injuries. Tuttle and Phillips particularly are a concern.
However, the lighter than normal roster opened the door for sophomore tackle Kahlil McKenzie to get in extra reps.
“I’m trying to improve on leverage, developing a push rush,” said McKenzie. “Being more disruptive, more violent with my hands… things like that. That’s what I’m trying to work on.”
“From year one to year two his body has changed a lot,” said teammate Darrin Kirkland Jr., the Vols starting middle linebacker. “He lost some weight and gained some muscle, and was explosive this spring which helped his game and helped our defensive line with the more reps he got this spring.”
Kahlil is staying motivated, despite the fact that the first game against Appalachian State doesn’t come around until September 1st.
“(That’s) part of the mental toughness aspect of it,” said McKenzie. “Getting out there and using these opportunities to make yourself a better football player.”
McKenzie is a former five-star recruit that got better as his freshman season year went on. In 2015 he finished with 24 tackles. That development, along with less weight and more muscle, could mean big things for McKenzie, and this Tennessee defense in 2016.
“Just improvement, that’s all we are trying to do… just trying to become a better defense any way we can, that’s what Coach (Defensive Coordinator Bob) Shoop is preaching,” said McKenzie. “Championship defense, we are all just trying to be the best defensive players we can be, and trying to win a national championship. That’s all we are thinking about, doing what we can do to make our team better to go out there and win games and win a national championship.”
Kahlil McKenzie is the son of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie… and if Kahlil continues to progress, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kahlil join his father in the NFL in the years to come.