We move to the defensive side of the ball in our month-long quest to name Tennessee's all-decade football team. The Vols had superstars on the defensive line at tackle this decade, most notably John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth. But the Vols also had some very good defensive ends, spanning the entire decade. We've selected the best four as nominees, and present them to you for voting. As with wide receiver, the top two vote getters will make our all-decade team, and as always, breakdown after the jump:
Overstreet saw action as a freshman in Tennessee's 1998 National Championship run, and immediately made noise in 1999, helping the Vols to a school record 13 sacks against Wyoming in the season opener. Taking his place as a definitive starter in 2000, Overstreet earned All-SEC honors in each of his final two seasons in Knoxville. In 2001, Overstreet played on what I still believe to be the best defensive line in Tennessee history, with Henderson and Haynesworth causing plenty of trouble on the inside and Overstreet getting it done from end. He played big in big games, helping make Rex Grossman's life difficult in the epic 2001 Tennessee-Florida game. The "QB Pressure" stat has been kept since 1995, and Overstreet is Tennessee's all-time leader with 49. A third round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2002, his NFL career was cut short by injury.
Haralson was asked to contribute immediately, and earned Freshman All-SEC honors in 2002. He was a constant presence throughout his Tennessee career, and was named second team All-SEC in 2004 and 2005. He had a fumble recovery for a touchdown on Alabama's opening possession in the Vols' 2004 win over the Tide, and has more sacks (21) than any other player this decade, a total that places him fifth all-time at Tennessee. A fifth round pick of the 49ers in 2006, Haralson has become a very solid NFL player, recording 8 sacks last season and another 4.5 so far this year.
Ayers' inclusion on this list is as much for his story as his play on the field, one of the few second-chance guys who actually makes good. He showed up late in the 2007 as one of the keys in slowing down Darren McFadden in a crucial Vol win over Arkansas. As a starter in 2008, his performance was overshadowed by the downward spiral of the season, but Ayers still finished with 15.5 TFLs and 3 sacks, good enough to be named All-SEC despite playing for a 5-7 team. His stock continued to improve, and Ayers was taken in the first round of this year's NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos.
In his first year as a starter, Walker wasn't always healthy...but when he was, the "unblockable" tag he picked up in spring practice was about right. Walker picked up 6.5 TFLs and 4 sacks this season, as well as a forced fumble and two interceptions, including one pick six. If you saw Walker play this season, he showed us something we felt like we hadn't seen in a long time: an end who can dominate, when healthy, and who's given us reason to look forward to his performance again next year.