With two defensive linemen suffering what may well be season-ending Achilles injuries before they even strap on the pads, is Derek Dooley worried about the depth of the defensive line?
No, he's "terrified."
Just how do two guys suffer the same injury almost back to back? Right now, the coaching staff is chalking it up to coincidence:
"They weren’t doing anything. Basically, they were walking over a pad," Dooley said. "It happens. ACLs happen like that sometimes. I don’t know. The first thing I said was, ‘Did we do anything to contribute to it?’ I don’t know. I think a lot of times, in Ben’s case, sometimes when you’re fighting a lot of injuries, more things creep up elsewhere. Your body’s always compensating. You think your back’s a problem, but it’s something else.
"Now, I don’t know that. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a coach."
I bet they'll be looking at the summer conditioning program, though, although I'm not really even suspicious that it's anything other than just a freak occurrence.
The real question is what they're going to do about the line. Senior center Victor Thomas has moved back to defensive tackle already. Rae Sykes becomes an even more important piece to the puzzle than he was before, and he's apparently up to 275 from 260, so that's progress.
Still, even with the injury to Ben Martin, the defensive end position is in better shape than the tackle position, so they may move an end to the middle. USC transfer Malik Jackson is the heaviest end at 265 pounds, and he's cool with the move if it helps him get more and earlier playing time.
Whatever the case, the coaching staff is going to have to get creative. Don't expect a move to the 3-4, though, because although that front requires fewer bodies along the line at any given time, it actually requires more big bodies:
"You really need three big guys in a 3-4," he said. "In a 4-3, you need two big guys. You can get away with some lighter ends in a 4-3. If you go to a 3-4, you say, ‘There’s one less defensive lineman.’ But you’re adding one more big guy, because you’re reducing them down.
So the answer is apparently just to make do with what we have. In any event, the continued adversity hasn't deprived coach Dooley of his sense of humor:
"We’re looking at going into a 2-5, maybe a 1-6. We’re going to be the first team ever to employ a 1-6. The 1 better be a big guy; really big."
So has the defensive line now overtaken the offensive line as the biggest concern for Tennessee?