Derek Dooley knows SEC football. And if there's one constant in SEC football, it's this: the team that wins the line of scrimmage will almost always win on the scoreboard. Losing Marlon Walls for the season only further emphasizes the importance of finding SEC-quality defensive tackles for this staff. So what better time to assess where we are and where we're going at the defensive tackle position?
A look at the current roster is pretty telling of the state we're in. Players mentioned as potential contributors this year have been highlighted in big orange. Typically, coaches would like to have six players that could be relied upon in the DT rotation. When your top six include two underweight defensive ends, a guy who hasn't played in four years, and a journeyman tackle-center-tackle, it kind of makes you take a deep breath.
I keep waiting to hear a bugle call and see the cavalry on the horizon. In terms of recruiting, however, we do seem to be on the upswing. This staff has already gotten a couple of solid commitments this summer in Allan Carson and Trevarris Saulsberry.
Carson seems to have the bulk and the strength to compete for playing time sooner rather than later. He plays with good pad level (how could he not at 6-0?) and shows good instincts, but needs to work on his explosiveness if he's going to be a factor next year. Saulsberry has the frame tailor-made for a 3-4 defensive end. He seems taller than 6-4 with long arms and should be able to play in the 280-290 lb range by the time Bennie Wylie is done with him. Quickness will be a focus for his conditioning as he gets by on brute strength much of the time.
These two commitments are interesting given all the speculation of moving towards a 3-4 alignment at some point in the future, as they could project at nose tackle and defensive end, respectively. Regardless, you can never have too many hosses in the trenches. Here are some worth keeping tabs on:
A good reason to be optimistic is that Coach Chuck Smith's reputation as an NFL pass rush consultant should weigh heavily with recruits. I believe Gabe Wright is our best shot to land a top-flight prospect. He's a north Georgia guy with a big motor and an SEC-ready body. Mickey Johnson is going to be a pass rushing machine on the next level, but pulling him out of Louisiana is a tall order. Also look for us to make a push for one or both of the Juco guys we've offered. Shaq Love and Jakari Kinnie are two fairly local players who haven't been offered yet but are probably D-1 prospects.
Look for Coach Dooley and staff to sign four to five defensive tackles in this class, and perhaps another DE/DT tweener or two, like Lonnie Gosha. While the commitment dominoes starting to fall, there's still quite a few quality players left on the board. And lest we forget, last year's last minute pickups of Rogers and Hunter, the UT coaches served notice around the league that no commitment is safe (I'm looking at you, Les Miles ;-).