THE DIRECTOR: First-year Vols assistant John Palermo wasn't the first name to pop off a lot of tongues, but he is a 37-year veteran who has coached defensive linemen and other positions on virtually every level of football.
Most recently, Palermo was at Middle Tennessee State, and before that, he was the defensive line coach of the Washington Redskins. If that doesn't give you an idea of the diversity of his coaching resume, I don't know what else does. He is a graduate of Florida State and a no-nonsense coach who is loved and revered by former players. Though his recruiting prowess isn't known, Palermo is by all accounts a terrific Xs and Os coach who brings a wealth of experience to a unit that may be surprisingly salty for the Vols.
THE CAST: [Note: For these purposes, the "Jack" will be included in the linebackers breakdown; though it's a hybrid position] 6-2, 305 Jr. Maurice Couch; 6-2, 281 Jr. Marlon Walls; 6-3, 280 Jr. Joseph Ayres; 6-2, 325 So. Allan Carson; 6-4, 295 Jr. Daniel Hood; 6-4, 293; So. Jordan Williams; 6-3, 273 Jr. Darrington Sentimore; 6-2, 322 So. Greg Clark; 6-5, 280 Fr. Trevarris Saulsberry; 6-3, 270 Fr. Trent Taylor.
For the first time in a long time, the Vols have bodies up front -- big bodies. And with the monstrous addition of former Alabama player Darrington Sentimore onto that front line, the loss of Malik Jackson to the NFL doesn't seem nearly as daunting an issue. Sure, it'll be tough replacing him, but Tennessee has some talent. Whether or not the Vols will be dominant up front won't be the question. For once, it'll just be nice to be able to rotate in fresh bodies and no longer be behind the 8-ball when it comes to muscle on the line.
The Vols lost NFL draft pick Malik Jackson off the defensive line, and it's unclear whether Corey Miller -- who is not currently working out with the team -- will make the grades to be a member of the Vols. That's why he wasn't included. As for the "Jack" position, it's possible that Williams will find his way out there. Jacques Smith, Willie Bohannon and Stephen Fowlkes have been mentioned as candidates to move out there, so they aren't included with the defensive linemen.
Coming soon: Monster JUCO DT Daniel McCullers and four-star high school prospect Danny O'Brien are scheduled to arrive in August and find themselves in the mix.
OFFSEASON BUZZ: Perhaps nobody has been lauded for his weight room work moreso than Sentimore, who has not only proven to be one of the strongest Vols but also a leader. That's very refreshing considering how aloof he was at times in Tuscaloosa and the "baggage" he brought with him. So far, Sentimore seems ready to work, get better and make himself into the NFL prospect he's certainly capable of being. Another three names that have emerged as move-makers are Taylor -- who is a mid-term enrollee listed at 245 who already has gotten to a solid, sturdy 270 -- and the Gainesville duo of Williams and Saulsberry. It's going to be interesting to see where everybody fits and who emerges in a wide-open battle for starting spots.
THE PLOT THICKENS [THREE SPRING STORYLINES]:
- What Is This 3-4 Group Going To Look Like? Are the Vols going to completely transform into a 3-4 base from the standard 4-3 they're used to? That is going to be an interesting development this spring as Sal Sunseri gets his hands dirty and sees what his personnel fits are. UT already is equipped with a bunch of "tweener" type hybrids who could play in several places. It's going to be interesting to see where Saulsberry, Taylor, Sentimore, Couch, all those guys fit. Also, it's going to be intriguing to see who keeps his hand down and who moves out to the Jack. This spring is going to be a lot of fun in that regard.
- Who Takes Malik's Place? Jackson never played above 275 at UT, but the big, athletic defensive tackle was disruptive enough to garner All-SEC honors twice. Now that he's gone, the Vols desperately need a playmaker on the front. Sentimore looks the part, but he hasn't played SEC ball in two years. Will he be the guy to fill those big shoes? Couch showed flashes last year and also has an NFL body. There also are other candidates, but those two look like the potential stars. The Vols certainly would be happy for both to shine.
- Discerning Depth. There has been some talk that massive Allan "Tugboat" Carson has re-distributed some weight and had a good offseason in workouts. Saulsberry is massive at 6-5, 280. Walls was gushed over by Ed Orgeron, and he's never really made much noise since. Same thing with Willie Bohannon. These Vols have some potential on the line, but the biggest question is behind staples like Sentimore, Couch and Hood, who is going to fill out the rotation? McCullers will almost certainly secure a spot if he gets into school, but he isn't here yet. It's a big spring for a bunch of guys, and I'll be curious to see how Carson, Williams and Saulsberry especially look with the pads on.
CLOSING CREDITS: There is a ton of potential and there are tons of questions. If everything goes well with McCullers finishing school, and he gets here, that UT line will sure enough look a lot healthier than in years past. But the depth and quality of that depth will be built over the next few weeks. Also, the Vols should have an idea during that time whether Sentimore and Couch have all-conference potential. UT needs Miller to get things straight in the classroom, and if he doesn't, there's another position in the rotation up for grabs. Competition is healthy for all involved, and we should see a lot of that really soon.
Missed the other installments? Catch up here.
- March 22: Offensive line
- March 21: Wide receivers/tight ends
- March 20: Running backs
- March 19: Quarterbacks