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Vols' defensive line remains an issue

John Moorehouse • Feb 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM

The identity of Tennessee’s next defensive line coach has yet to be determined. Chances are, the man who fills the lone vacancy on Derek Dooley’s staff will be in charge of that position group.

Whoever gets the job has some serious work on his hands.

Defensive tackle — or, rather, the lack of manpower at that position — is a major cause for concern heading into Dooley’s first season on Rocky Top, and the recruiting class did little to address depth issues at that position.

“Certainly, there’s no question that next year’s class better be heavy with some linemen,” Dooley acknowledged on Wednesday night.

As it is, the Vols are mighty lean on the line of scrimmage.

Of the 25 signees in the 2010 recruiting class, only one — junior-college transfer John Brown — is expected to play on the defensive interior. Tennessee signed three total defensive linemen, but the other two are ends Corey Miller and Jacques Smith. Smith’s long-term future could lie at outside linebacker.

The paucity of defensive tackles in a Tennessee recruiting class is nothing new. Examine the Vols’ past four collections of prospects, and “Where’s the Beef?” would be an apt, if culturally dated, question.

Lane Kiffin signed three defensive tackles in 2009 — Montori Hughes, who originally inked with the Vols in 2008 but failed to qualify academically; Rae Sykes, a natural end who bulked up to play inside and rarely saw the field; and Arthur Jeffery, who redshirted coming off a serious knee injury.

Hughes was the lone D-tackle in the 2008 class.

The 2007 contingent included three defensive tackles. William Brimfield is the only one still on the team, and he now plays on the offensive line where the manpower issue is almost as dire.

True, Dooley did sign four offensive linemen in the 2010 class. However, that represents exactly half of Tennessee’s total contingent of true offensive linemen signed in the previous three recruiting classes. Two of them are no longer on the team, and all three in the 2009 class redshirted last season.

Offensive linemen and defensive tackles might not get the notoriety of the skill position players. But they’re vital in building winning programs and contending for championships.

Tennessee lost four starters from last year’s offensive line and both of their starting defensive tackles. Hughes is the lone returnee on the defensive interior with significant playing experience. Tackle Aaron Douglas is the lone returning starter on UT’s offensive front, and he was recruited to the Vols as a tight end and didn’t play his current position until last spring.

The Vols might have gotten a boost from J.C. Copeland, but he signed with LSU. Even if UT had held onto Copeland, it’s difficult to count on a newcomer to make an immediate impact playing on either side of scrimmage. That includes Brown, who signed with Florida coming out of high school in 2007 but departed Gainesville without playing a down of Division I football.

For what it’s worth, Dooley said Wednesday that new defensive coordinator Chris Wilcox will stick with a 40 defense — though it will be multiple — as the Vols’ base scheme.

Sticking with four down linemen in a base defense means guys have to step up for Tennessee in a hurry. Either that, or some of UT’s defensive ends better start having second helpings at dinner. Maybe thirds.

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