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Friday Night Files: Bryson Eason

by | Sep 24, 2019

The Tennessee Volunteers are attempting to change the face of their defense with their 2020 recruiting class. This isn’t an indictment of the players on the field in the 2019 class, rather, it speaks to what the are trying to become. The 2019 Vols are still a roster in transition, a transition that is going to take some time. Offensively and defensively, the Vols have made dramatic schematic changes from Butch Jones to Jeremy Pruitt. The ideal types of players recruited for these systems are vastly different. While certain players are capable of playing in any system, due to body type and skill set, they may thrive more in one system versus another. One of those changes that have been made in the heart of the Tennessee defense is at linebacker. Under Jones the Vols recruited smaller, speedier linebackers, often using players that looked more like slightly bulked up safeties. In the 3-4 base defense, Pruitt has installed, the linebackers are much bigger and stronger, as they are called on to handle more direct interaction with opposing offensive linemen. Finding these bigger bodied inside linebackers that can run as well in the SEC isn’t easy, and it means players that fit that bill are a priority. When those players are in-state prospects? They find themselves high on this Tennessee staff’s wish list. That’s one reason the Vols are trying so hard to land four-star, 2020, Whitehaven (Memphis, TN) linebacker Bryson Eason.

Eason is one of the centerpieces for one of the best teams in Tennessee high school football this season. The Whitehaven Tigers are again one of the favorites to contend for a state championship in TSSAA’s highest classification, and their linebacking corps is one of the chief reasons why. Eason and fellow seniors Martavius French and Tamarion McDonald all look to be starters in the SEC in the fall of 2020. McDonald is a high three-star linebacker that plays with speed and looks to be a nice fit as a weak-side linebacker for a 4-3 team. He is currently committed to Mississippi State. French is another four-star prospect that has the combination of size and speed that made him a target for the Vols, though French is currently committed to play for former Tennessee Defensive Coordinator John Chavis at Arkansas, figuring to be a key piece in the Razorbacks’ defensive rebuild. There are precious few teams that can essentially boast an SEC position group in the high school ranks, and Whitehaven’s defense is built around their versatile and intelligent linebackers. The trio has thrived together, and though they lost a heartbreaker on the road at Brentwood Academy (Nashville, TN), they impressed against high-end competition, and none impressed more on that night than Bryson Eason.

Brentwood Academy has some runners with elite speed as track athletes, not just football players. This meant that they were able to challenge the edges of the Whitehaven defense, something that very few teams in Tennessee are able to do consistently. The Tigers looked to be taken a bit by surprise early in the game with the Eagles’ ability to beat their linebackers to the edge, and it led to a promising opening drive. However, down on the goal line, Eason reminded everyone in attendance that there is more to playing defense than just being fast. Eason is currently listed at six foot two and two hundred fifty pounds, and he looks every ounce of it and then some. Eason has added muscle to his already thick frame, and he has done so without sacrificing his speed. Looking at him up close and as he plays the game, this is a young man that is not carrying much bad weight, if any at all. He is broad across the shoulders and time in the gym has packed substantial muscle mass onto his body. That means that when he arrives for a tackle, there is an incredible amount of force behind the blow. Eason punishes ball carriers each time he stops them, and his size came into play as Brentwood Academy attempted to score. Eason came off the runner’s backside and delivered a crushing hit. What looked to be a sure touchdown drive became a forced fumble by Eason that the Tigers recovered in the endzone.

Brentwood Academy challenged the Tigers with their rushing attack, working the inside often and with enough success to keep Whitehaven honest in defending the edges. While the Eagles were able to move the ball with their runs, the punishment from facing such a large, fast group of linebackers eventually began to wear on the Eagles more than the Tigers. By the half, the Eagles had lost their starting running back and quarterback for the rest of the game.

During the second half, Eason brought another promising Eagle drive to an end by forcing another fumble, again caused by a thunderous hit on a ballcarrier. It was the versatility that Eason showed in the second half that stood out, though. The Eagles’ second-string quarterback was much more of a passer, which changed the offensive game plan. This meant Eason was playing less as a sideline to sideline thumper against the run, and he was asked to spend more plays away from the line of scrimmage and in pass coverage. Despite a drastic change in what he was being asked to do, Eason adjusted and showed that even with his thick frame, he possessed good quickness, fluid hips, and a good change of direction in pass coverage. Eason jumped a route on the tight end he was covering in the fourth quarter, tipped the ball, and it very nearly resulted in an interception for the Tigers. This was all while he was being forced to still account for the run from vastly different angles, often making one-on-one tackles in space. Eason is a good form tackler, but not great. He can struggle to wrap up elusive players at times in space but usually manages to get his man to the ground. When he is able to get his hands on a ballcarrier, his strength more often than not ensures he brings his target to the ground. While more elusive players can sometimes elude him in space, if a situation results where he can bring his size and strength to bear, such as when a running back stops to set up blocks for a screen, the hit that results is devastating.

Late in the fourth quarter, with Brentwood Academy driving, attempting to take the lead, Eason flashed another huge play. Coming off the right side of the offensive line, Eason came on a slightly delayed blitz, beat the offensive tackle on his side, and sacked the quarterback to put the Eagles in a desperate down and distance. Eason showed excellent awareness on his blitz, pausing for just long enough before exploding toward the line. The offensive line was not prepared for him to rush, and Eason’s strength meant that he blew through the arms reaching to try and slow him. He arrived at the quarterback and full speed and delivered another jarring hit, so jarring that it was a surprise the quarterback held on to the football. Spurred by Eason’s sack, the Tigers forced a punt and ran down a good portion of the clock. It appeared they would hold on to win until a late run by Brentwood Academy resulted in a long, game-winning touchdown.

Though the Tigers came up just short, Bryson Eason showed everyone (including coaches from several Power Five programs) why he is so highly rated. Against one of the best teams, Whitehaven will play this season, on the road, Eason demonstrated that he can do everything asked of a cornerstone linebacker in the SEC. He was a leader, forced turnovers, made difficult tackles, covered, played multiple slots, changed his game as the situation demanded, and pressured the quarterback. Eason did all this with passion and class during and after the game. The elite linebacker is down to a final two of Tennessee and Arkansas. His performance showed why he is so prized by the Vols, as well as the type of impact he could make immediately there.

Featured Image Courtesy of D1 Highlights (Josh Kelly)

Matt Ray

Matt Ray

Recruiting Analyst

Matt Ray is the managing content editor for VR2. He founded VR2 in November of 2017. He is an FWAA Member and covers Tennessee prospects across the country from the Opening Regional Camp series to Under Armour All-American game and everything in between.

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