It was well documented that Tennessee Football had a lot of questions to answer coming into this season. The biggest, perhaps, was how they would replace Darrell Taylor and his pass rush ability. Taylor, who was a second-round draft choice of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2020 NFL Draft, was a common presence in the opponent’s backfield during his time in Knoxville. He recorded 16.5 sacks in his last two seasons alone, finishing second in the SEC in sacks with 8.5 in his final season. Needless to say, finding a replacement(s) was a top priority during the offseason and this past recruiting cycle.
Tennessee had a few options already within the program and a few coming in as part of the 2020 recruiting class. One of the more notable options already on campus was Senior Outside Linebacker Deandre Johnson. Johnson was a three star recruit out of high school, according to the 247 Sports Composite Rankings, and a guy who we have been anticipating to perform at a high level since he arrived on campus. Like most guys his career started off slow as he recorded only 4 total tackles his freshman year, including one sack. However, since Jeremy Pruitt arrived in 2018 Johnson’s numbers have steadily increased. In 2018 Johnson recorded 13 total tackles, which included 2 sacks. In 2019 he yet again recorded 13 total tackles but the sack numbers rose to 2.5.
Now to this season. As stated before, finding a replacement for Darrell Taylor and his production was a top priority from the moment the Gator Bowl ended back on January 2nd. Most thought the majority of the pass rush wouldn’t come from a single person like we were used to with Taylor, so the expectation was that it would be an effort by committee. Going into the South Carolina game the question about the pass rush still loomed large but after the game we started to see an answer forming before our eyes. Deandre Johnson recorded 2 sacks in the week one win against USCjr (South Carolina), already almost matching his sack production from all of last season. Okay, so he had a good first week. Now it had to be asked; can he do it again? The answer to that question was a big, fat yes. All he did was record 1.5 sacks in the week two game against Missouri. As it stands today, even after missing most of the Georgia game due to a targeting ejection, Johnson still leads the SEC in sacks. Honestly, who saw this coming? Can he keep it up? Is this going to be Johnson’s breakout season? A lot of questions still remain but so far it seems that Tennessee has found the replacement for Darrell Taylor and a vocal point for its pass rush.