KNOXVILLE — In Tennessee's previous defensive scheme, the news that Jonathan Kongbo shared on June 1 would have come as a greater shock.
The rising senior and former heralded prospect posted on Twitter that he is moving to linebacker after spending his first two seasons with the Vols on the defensive line in a 4-3 alignment.
But in the 3-4 set-up being introduced by first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Kongbo's transition to linebacker will require many of the same skills he honed as a defensive end last season.
"From Jonathan playing outside linebacker, really when we're recruiting outside linebackers, we're recruiting pass rushers," Pruitt said on "The Erik Ainge Show" this past week. "We're not worried a whole lot about dropping into coverage. So I don't see our 3-4 outside linebackers any different than a 4-3 defensive end."
One example of how Kongbo may be used in the 2018 season can be found in Alabama's Anfernee Jennings, who was a redshirt sophomore this past season on the Crimson Tide's national championship team for which Pruitt was defensive coordinator.
In Tennessee's loss at Alabama in 2017, the 262-pound Jennings spent several plays in the first half as a standing pass rusher. On others, he planted a hand in the grass like a defensive end and rushed the quarterback.
Occasionally, Jennings was required to defend a tight end in the flat against the Vols.
It's a role that appears to fit Kongbo. Listed at 264 pounds on the 2017 roster, Kongbo appears athletic enough to adapt to the versatility requirements of the position, which is commonly referred to as the "jack" linebacker in 3-4 schemes.
Ultimately, though, Pruitt wants a player who can pressure the quarterback from the position.
"Outside linebackers, those are for pass rushing," Pruitt said. "That's the most important thing. I can teach anybody to play first to the flat."
Pruitt continues to downplay the significance of Tennessee's transition to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3 look, and Tennessee's alignments during the spring game included plenty of sets with four defensive linemen.
"Really, when we talk about 3-4, 4-3, to me there's not much difference," Pruitt said Thursday during an appearance on "Swain Event" in Knoxville. "If you watch us play this year, we'll probably be half and half. There will be some games we'll be all 3-4, there will be some games it'll be mostly a four-down front. You've got to be able to do both, to me, if you're going to be dominant on defense."
Pruitt referred to the 4-3 and 3-4 argument as "overrated."
"If you're playing 3-4, somebody is going to be the fourth rusher, whether it's an outside 'backer or an inside 'backer," he said. "And if you watch us over the years, there's some games we played a lot of 3-4 and there's some games we played mostly four-down front. To me, I think if you're going to be good defensively, you've got to be multiple, which we are."