Tennessee redshirt junior defensive tackle Omarr Norman-Lott and life in the Deep South are proving to be quite the productive partnership.
The transfer from Arizona State had a successful debut for the Volunteers in last Saturday's 49-13 throttling of Virginia in Nashville, compiling four tackles on a unit that limited the Cavaliers to 201 total yards. The Vols kept the Cavaliers out of the end zone until three minutes remained in the third quarter of a 35-3 game.
"Omarr adds a ton of athleticism, and he's a really, really twitchy guy," Tennessee senior defensive end Tyler Baron said this week. "He's also a really, really smart player, and that's something he might not get enough credit for. He understands the game, and he understands protections.
"He's been a good addition, honestly, and I'm really glad he's here."
The Vols, ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press poll, will seek a 2-0 start Saturday afternoon (5 on ESPN+ and SEC Network+) when they face Austin Peay (0-1) in their Neyland Stadium opener.
Norman-Lott was a four-star prospect in the 2020 recruiting cycle out of North Highlands, California, which is a suburb of Sacramento. After playing in one game with the Sun Devils as a freshman during the COVID-altered season, he amassed 30 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2021.
Pro Football Focus rated Norman-Lott among the five most efficient interior defensive linemen in the Pac-12 two years ago, and he added another 14 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks last season, when he missed three games with a lower-body injury. While competing for the 3-9 Sun Devils and working through last September's firing of head coach Herm Edwards, Norman-Lott also was considering the possibility of transferring.
In January, he decided that Tennessee and playing under defensive line coach Rodney Garner was the most appealing scenario.
"I honestly didn't know much about this place," Omarr-Lott said, "but I loved the community surrounding Tennessee and just the opportunity to play in the SEC and get a new look on life. I had never ever been in the South, being from California and a West Coast kid, so it was a new opportunity."
Norman-Lott went through spring practice and credited senior defensive tackle Omari Thomas for being a huge help, and if last Saturday's inaugural performance was any indication, he could wind up stating his case as Tennessee's premier defensive portal acquisition in Josh Heupel's first three seasons.
"I was just out there getting some of the jitters off with it being my first game," Norman-Lott said. "I think I was pretty productive, but I can do better."
The loss of sixth-year senior middle linebacker Keenan Pili to an upper-body injury against the Cavaliers will result in a potential plethora of youngsters filling that void. Sophomore Elijah Herring and freshman Arion Carter are expected to get most of the work in Pili's absence, with sophomore Kalib Perry and freshman Jeremiah Telander in that picture as well.
"You're going to see those guys play a bunch of football," Heupel said Thursday during his final news conference of the week. "You're going to see us rotate a bunch there. To be honest, I haven't seen a whole lot different this week other than who they've been, and that's a compliment to them.
"I expect whoever is in to play at a really high level."
Heupel said on Wednesday night's "Vol Calls" radio show that Pili may not be available until the middle part of the season. He added that senior center Cooper Mays would miss a second consecutive contest but could be back for next week's trip to Florida.
Odds and ends
Tennessee sophomore tailback Dylan Sampson is in a three-way tie for the national lead in scoring with 24.0 points per game. ... The Vols have averaged 7.67 tackles for loss in their 27 games under Heupel and defensive coordinator Tim Banks, a figure that leads the SEC during that time.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].