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Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks optimistically said 340-pounder Elijah Simmons is on his way to having six-pack abs.

But defensive line coach Rodney Garner suggested Simmons, despite his recent weight loss, is still running on a sluggish dump truck engine in a Ferrari frame.

It’s two sides of the same coin in dealing with a player’s body transformation – a frequent and sometimes exhausting topic in spring practice. It can point to significant progress or invite coaches to push harder.

But the potential of Simmons — a big, athletic defensive lineman who could dunk a basketball when he was in high school at Pearl-Cohn — is worth rehashing the conversation.

“Go find me someone who’s (6-foot-2) and 340 pounds and have them do the things that he does,” defensive end Tyler Baron said. “Then you’ll see how athletic he is.”

PORTAL TRANSFER:Tennessee is targeting three key transfers. Here’s why they would choose the Vols

FIRST IMPRESSION:These freshmen are turning heads on offense in Vols spring practice

Why Vols need Simmons in good shape

The narrative of players transforming their bodies in the offseason can get old.

Overweight players lose a few pounds. Weaker players gain muscle and therefore weight. They are the two obvious outcomes from winter workouts for college football players.

And when rosters are updated for spring practice, weight changes suddenly get as much attention as regular-season stats like yards, tackles and touchdowns.

Some improvements point to breakout seasons. Others yield nothing and are quickly forgotten.

Tennessee defensive lineman Elijah Simmons (51) celebrates after making a play during a game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.  on Thursday, Sept.  2, 2021.

Simmons is just the latest test case in determining if an offseason diet leads to a greater impact on gamedays. But the Vols really need this one to work out.

Last season, UT ranked No. 7 nationally in tackles-for-loss per game. But it must replace Matthew Butler, the most durable defensive lineman in the SEC.

Simmons showed glimpses of being a dominant defensive lineman in four starts. But injuries and inconsistency watered down his overall impact from him to 11 tackles and useful gap-filling in seven games.

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