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Spring Seven Countdown: No. 4

We're taking a look at the top seven offensive and defensive players on Tennessee's roster who made a leap this spring. Here are the three installments we've gone through so far:

Now, let's take a look at the offensive and defensive players who come in at No. 4 on our "best of the spring" list.

NO. 4


He wasn't the most talked about, and he still could find himself third on the depth chart at tight end, but the Bristol, Tenn., native was impressive this spring. Not only does he look the part at 6-foot-5, 251 pounds, but Downs also delivered a powerful punch this spring and also made an impact catching the ball. He was so impressive in blocking and delivering blows that he was given the "Big Lick" award for his hitting ability. He was also a reliable target for the victorious Orange team in the spring finale, catching four passes for 51 yards.

Last season, Downs earned playing time at the beginning of the season over classmate Cameron Clear and had three catches for 34 yards in eight games. Though he was ahead at the beginning of the season, Downs was surpassed by the physical specimen Clear and still may be lagging a little behind. But Downs looks like he is going to be a very good player for the Vols, perhaps as soon as this season. Derek Dooley noted after the spring that nobody may talk about Downs, but he is big and fast and physical. It would not be shocking to see Downs on the field a lot this fall as much as Dooley loves tight ends and as much as UT needs physical players on the perimeter to help block for a hopefully improved run game.


It seems back when the Vols were pretty good, they'd always have a player or two step up in the front seven every season who nobody had really heard of. That guy would either provide depth, or in some cases, become a star player.

It's been far too long since that happened.

While nobody is suggesting Clark is a star by any means, a new defensive coordinator in Sal Sunseri, the move to a 3-4 defense and injuries up front led to the Warner Robins, Ga., native getting plenty of snaps this spring. He capitalized on it by finding himself firmly in the rotation at nose tackle and even earning starts over Maurice Couch -- who was battling injuries -- in scrimmage settings.

Nobody expects Clark to unseat Couch, but if the redshirt sophomore can provide some quality snaps, he will have done his job. Clark is 6-2, 315 pounds and difficult to move in the middle. He has the ideal frame for a run-clogger in the middle. Though he doesn't move terrifically laterally, if he can hold his own inside, he will serve a purpose. He was a late addition to Dooley's 2010 recruiting class after qualifying late. Though he looked like a space-filler only early in the process, he is really right on track if he contributes here in his third year. Clark earned praise from teammates and battled for a spot in the two-deep rotation, and another few months of conditioning can only help him. He is a big, needed surprise this spring.