Aptly named Shy Tuttle is a soft-spoken freshman who prefers actions to words. But that’s OK because the other folks in Tennessee’s football program are not at all shy about praising the talented young mauler.
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling discovered as much last winter, when his cell phone exploded with calls about Tuttle, a Scout four-star defensive tackle from Midway, North Carolina, who enrolled at mid-term.
“He has an aura about him,” Stripling told InsideTennessee. “When I was on the road recruiting in January those guys (Vol staffers still on campus) were calling and telling me, ‘Man, I love this Shy Tuttle kid!’”
What’s not to love? Tuttle packs 310 pounds on a rugged 6-foot-3 frame. A four-year starter and three time all-conference pick in high school, he earned a bid to the Under Armour All-America Game and a spot among Scout’s top 100 prospects. Blessed with a rare blend of heft and agility, he soaks up coaching like a sponge and displays an eagerness to improve.
“His best attributes are his willingness to work and his coachability,” defensive coordinator John Jancek said. “Certainly, he’s got some talent and some size. He moves well. If Shy stays focused and keeps working I think he’s got a chance to be a very good player.”
Tuttle’s focus is impressive. He may be a reluctant speaker but he’s a world-class listener.
“He’s pretty consistent,” Jancek said. “On the field or off the field, he doesn’t say a whole lot … at least to me. He just wants to be coached hard, told what to do.”
Stripling also has found Tuttle to be a dedicated student, eager to address his weaknesses.
“He’s got to learn to play harder, play with greater effort,” Stripling said. “You can get away with those things in high school but you don’t in college. He’s got a lot to learn but it’s encouraging that he has the tools and the mindset to do it.”
Tuttle learned a lot during spring practice but, like any freshman, will need considerable time to become comfortable with Tennessee’s scheme and his role in it. Until then, he’ll rely heavily on his skills and his instincts.
“Shy’s really trying hard,” Stripling said. “He has no concept to really do it but Shy is one of those guys that has it. He makes big plays and he’s around the ball. Some guys will be out there for 70 snaps and not be near the football. Other guys will be out there for 20 snaps and they find the ball; he’s one of those guys.”
The offensive linemen who routinely faced Tuttle during spring practice concede that he has all of the tools to be an outstanding college player.
“Shy’s going to be a really good defensive lineman,” said Jashon Robertson, who started all 13 games at right guard as a freshman last fall. “He’s very explosive, has very heavy hands. He just needs some experience under his belt. He’s a big guy that can move, and he’ll definitely help us this season.
“I like his attitude. He’s a pretty energetic guy who is looking forward to his opportunities and cherishing his opportunities. That’s what I like about him most — what he has inside of him.”
Austin Sanders, another sophomore guard, agrees that Tuttle has a bright future.
“Shy Tuttle is going to be a very great player, I can tell you that,” Sanders said. “He’s going to keep working hard, and you’re going to see him on the field this season.”
Although he likes Tuttle’s potential, senior offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson says his technique and stamina need improvement.
“Shy’s a heavy boy. He’s really strong and he gets low when he wants to,” Kerbyson said. “He still needs to work on his conditioning a little bit — he gets tired after a few plays — but I think he can be a real asset for us.”
Basically, Tuttle is a brute when he’s fresh but just another big guy when he’s gassed.
“I’ve had to come down on him a few times, and he’s strong,” Kerbyson conceded. “But it gets a little easier the farther you go into the drive on him. I’m just being real. I want him to hear it and get better because I’m really counting on that guy in the fall. He’s going to be good.”
Stripling agrees that Tuttle must improve his technique, especially when fatigue sets in.
“He’s got to learn to play with good pad level,” the Vol aide said. “He’s a big kid that was able to stand up his whole life and still beat everybody. In our conference you can’t do that. Leverage is the key.”
Even lacking in leverage Tuttle made a splash in his third practice last spring — tipping a pass and hauling in the interception. Head coach Butch Jones was impressed enough to note: “You could see the disruptive quickness. You could see the explosiveness."
Asked for his take on the play, Tuttle responded with typical economy of words: “I just stuck my hand up, hit the ball and then caught it.”
For such a celebrated recruit Tuttle has virtually no ego. He understands that he must elevate his game to be as effective at the college level as he was at the high-school level.
"I’m just working on hands, leverage … the little fine details that help improve your game," he said, adding that he’s grateful to his mentor, junior defensive tackle Danny O’Brien.
“OB is always telling me about keeping my pads down, coming in to watch film, doing extra stuff,” Tuttle said.
Adjusting to the frantic practice pace at Tennessee has been a challenge. Tuttle also struggled with a conditioning program that is much more taxing than anything he encountered in high school.
“It’s harder but you get used to it,” he said, adding that he felt compelled to give good friend and fellow freshman Kahlil McKenzie a heads-up.
|Tennessee freshman defensive tackle Shy Tuttle|
“Yeah,” Tuttle said, “I told him we run a lot.”
All of the running enabled Tuttle to shed a few pounds and finish spring practice at 309. He’ll probably be a little above that when the Vols report next week for the beginning of fall camp.
“In football you always lose weight when you’re practicing,” he explained.
That’s especially true when you’re routinely lining up opposite burly guards like Tennessee’s Robertson.
“The toughest lineman I’ve faced is probably Jashon Robertson,” Tuttle said. “He’s big, good and physical. That’s something I didn’t see in high school, so he pushes you to work harder.”
Freshman defensive linemen rarely possess the strength to compete against SEC-caliber opponents in Year 1. Tuttle hopes to be an exception to that rule in 2015, just as defensive end Derek Barnett was as a Vol rookie in 2014.
“Seeing what Derek did gives me confidence,” Tuttle said, “but it still shows how hard I've got to work. Derek works really hard.”
Barnett is a nice guy who becomes an unholy terror once he steps on the field. Tennessee’s coaches hope Tuttle one day will develop that knack.
“He’s not in the Barnett category because Derek’s personality totally flips,” Stripling said. “Shy has the mentality to be a football player but I have yet to see him juiced up. He’s named Shy for a reason.”
Jancek also hopes to see Shyheim Devonte Tuttle become more like Barnett in terms of flipping the switch when he takes the field.
“Shy hasn’t found the switch just yet,” Jancek quipped, “but you can see glimpses of his ability. Shy’s extremely mature and works extremely hard. It’s too early to tell exactly how good he’s going to be but I’m sure glad he’s here; I can say that.”
Butch Jones is glad, too. He believes spring practice was a godsend for Tuttle.
“Invaluable,” the head man said. “Thank goodness he was here — learning our style of play, learning technique, learning how to fight through mental fatigue and physical fatigue. You can talk about it all you want, but you never know about it until it happens, so the (spring) practices have been very, very big for him.”
Tuttle also thinks so but, typically, expressed it in fewer words.
“I made a big jump,” he said, “from my first practice to now.”