McKenzie talks weight transition, more

Tennessee football returned to Haslam Field Tuesday for the second day of spring practice.

Kahlil McKenzie is listed at 6-foot-3, 344 pounds on Tennessee's online depth chart. The rising sophomore, however, looks more chiseled after strenuous offseason workouts and losing what he called "baby fat." 

"Being able to go through winter workouts and going through the season definitely helps," McKenzie said. "You start to get more defined." 

McKenzie doesn't know exactly how much he weighs now compared to when he first joined Tennessee last season, but he feels sleeker heading into a new year. 

"It's a lot better than what it used to be," McKenzie said. "My body feels better, being able to move a lot better and get through practice a lot easier. It was one of my goals for the spring to get my weight down and be able to move better." 

The former Scout No. 1-ranked recruit will need to be in the best shape possible as he sees his repititions increase in spring ball with his counterpart Shy Tuttle and four other defensive linemen out for spring practice. McKenzie played in all 13 games last season, finishing with 14 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and a tackle for loss.

"It's just an opportunity to work my craft every day," McKenzie said. "Coming out here getting extra reps, getting able to get my conditioning better, steps, reps, all that kind of stuff." 

McKenzie and Tuttle have formed a solid relationship as they worked the interior defensive line together before the latter went down with a broken foot that ended his season and forced him to undergo two surgeries. The injury hasn't dampered Tuttle's spirits, however, as he works to get back to rejoin his teammate. 

"Shy's a happy guy," McKenzie said. "Shy doesn't let too many things get him down. Working with Shy all the time, he's always still out here. He doesn't miss meetings or anything like that ... Shy is always around us, he just can't be on the field right now. That's all it is. He's in good spirits." 

With a year under his belt and another offseason of learning and development, McKenzie thinks big things are in store for him — just not his weight. 

"I'm just looking forward to not being out there for the first time, but being out there for the second time," McKenzie. "I'll just have a new set of eyes on everything. I'm looking forward to that."

Croom Cruises To TE

This spring has an air of familiarity about it as Tennessee returns a veteran-laden team, but at least one player is starting out anew. Former wide receiver Jason Croom spent his second day working with the tight ends on Tuesday as he gets acclimated to a position he's never played before until now.

"It's been going pretty smooth," Croom said. "I'm just studying every day, learning new stuff at tight end. It's different than receiver." 

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound redshirt senior already has the large frame to block linebackers and defensive ends while retaining his speed. Croom flirted with switching to tight end his freshman season before being sidelined with a shoulder injury and played two years at wide receiver, sitting out last season after suffering a knee injury and undergoing arthroscopic surgery.

"It's just being more physical," he said. "Now I have to work on my technique and footsteps. Technique matters a lot down on the line now ... "It's going to take repitition, but it's been going pretty smooth because I've been working on it all offseason, all winter."

It was Croom who initiated the potential switch to Butch Jones after the season, and his request was obliged by the fourth-year head coach.

"It's always been put in my ear being a bigger receiver most of my life," Croom said. "I just came up to coach Jones and said how about me going to tight end next fall? He said let's try it out this spring, so here we are experimenting with it." 

Kirkland's Killer Instinct 

You could say Darrin Kirkland has some lofty goals this spring. While most people are hoping to lose five pounds for their spring break body or quit smoking, Kirkland plans to grasp the entire system defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is installing at Tennessee. 

"(I want) just to completely master the defense this spring, so when I get to the fall, every troubleshooting problem that I have, I can correct it myself and not really rely on the coaches or anything," Kirkland said. "Really just do everything myself, own my technique and be the leader of the defense." 

What's the biggest difference between Year One and Year Two? 

"Really just overall my confidence in my abilities, knowing I can play this game at this level, my mental capacity overall and just learning the defense, knowing the defense. I know how to correct my mistakes before they happen, so I'm really excited about that." 

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