SEC INSIDER

Vols need Kongbo to deliver at defensive end

Lindyssports.com Staff

July 10, 2017 at 3:29 pm.

Nov 19, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo (1) returns an interception for a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee won 63 to 37. Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 19, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo (1) returns an interception for a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee won 63 to 37. Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

When Tennessee won a hotly contested battle to sign defensive end Jonathan Kongbo, the fan base rejoiced. Kongbo would surely make an immediate impact on an already solid defensive line.

The native of Canada was the No. 1 ranked junior college player in the country. He was a chiseled 6-5, 260-pounder with 4.69 speed and untapped potential. He was a weight room warrior. And he was confident, pumping iron with a sign next to him that read: Beat Bama.

But Kongbo’s first year at Rocky Top was rather … rocky. He had trouble cracking the lineup at defensive end, and when injuries decimated the tackle position, he didn’t buy into the move inside. His production didn’t match his hype.

His one shining moment came when he intercepted a pass against Missouri and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown.

Otherwise, he contributed 11 tackles, one for a loss, and had seven quarterback hurries.

“I let it get to me too much, the pressure and what everyone expected,” Kongbo said. “I feel different coming in this year. I am not really paying attention to all that.”

While Kongbo didn’t embrace the move from end to tackle, he said he “learned a lot” and it helped him become more physical.

Kongbo played just one year of high school football in Surrey, British Columbia. He signed with Wyoming, redshirted, then transferred to Arizona Western Community College, where he blew up as a prospect. But the lack of playing time made life in the SEC that much tougher.

“It was definitely a big learning experience coming in and never playing in the SEC,” Kongbo said. “It will definitely wake you up when you are there as far as going up against better athletes.”

Kongbo has lost weight, going from 285 to 265, and has moved back to his natural position — defensive end. New defensive line coach Brady Hoke likes what he sees.

“He’s making progress every day,” Hoke said. “It’s always hard for junior college guys getting thrown into the mix a long way from home.”

Said Kongbo: “I feel like I am finally at home.”

Head coach Butch Jones is expecting big things from Kongbo this fall after injuries forced the UT coaching staff to shift him inside a year ago. Tennessee desperately needs someone to emerge as a pass rusher along the front wall after the loss of the school’s career sack leader, Derek Barnett, and Kongbo is a prime candidate to help fill the void.

“(Jonathan) Kongbo is an individual that should play defensive end, and then when we had the rash of injuries up front, he was forced to play defensive tackle,” Jones said. “We’ve moved him outside to his natural position.  He’s had as good of an offseason as anybody.  He’s about 265 pounds right now.  He’s one of those individuals who is working out day and night.  So, we’re excited about him.”

Kongbo created chaos last fall when he posted a picture on Twitter of cleats hanging from laces with the caption: “All things must come to an end.”

He was referring to losing a FIFA video game — not quitting UT.

“As far as people’s reaction, it is Tennessee right?” Kongbo said. “Should have known.”