In February, it works like this: you pickup a former Alabama end who was on the team that won the National Championship, then you add a 6'6" 380 lbs tackle, and so then of course you're going to take your one proven returning lineman who was a 4-3 tackle and make him a 3-4 end. Because UT's starting lineup on the defensive line will be Maurice Couch, Daniel McCullers, and Darrington Sentimore, and it's just obvious. And it's awesome...in February.
In mid-July, it works like this: McCullers is still the gathering storm, the yin to Cordarrelle Patterson's junior college yang. But until that storm materializes, Couch is still at tackle. And Sentimore remains behind on the depth chart, leaving the Vols with familiar names like Marlon Walls, Corey Miller, Steven Fowlkes, and Willie Bohannon, who like many on UT's defense are more familiar for longevity than production. It's the same story at tackle, where Daniel Hood and Joseph Ayers fill in the gaps. Factor in another crop of unproven names - Jordan Williams, Greg Clark, Trevarris Saulsberry, Allan Carson, Trent Taylor, and Danny O'Brien - and we've got roughly the same body count we're working with in the secondary, but with even less experience. We might even add one more in Dante Phillips, who would no doubt create even more unfounded expectations.
Even if the realistic best case scenario is pretty good - a strong second year from Couch and instant domination/occupation in the middle from McCullers - history teaches us that we shouldn't raise our expectations too high for juco products or defensive lines in general in the first year of a 3-4 defense. And if anyone is familiar with under-performance on the defensive line, it's us.
Here are the starters on the most recent UT defensive lines:
- 2011: Jacques Smith, Maurice Couch, Malik Jackson, Marlon Walls
- 2010: Chris Walker, Malik Jackson, Victor Thomas, Gerald Williams
- 2009: Chris Walker, Dan Williams, Wes Brown, Ben Martin
- 2008: Robert Ayers, Demonte Bolden, Dan Williams, Wes Brown
- 2007: Xavier Mitchell, Demonte Bolden, Dan Williams, Antonio Reynolds
- 2006: Xavier Mitchell, Turk McBride, Matt McGlothlin, Antonio Reynolds
- 2005: Parys Haralson, Justin Harrell, Jesse Mahelona, Jason Hall