Vols' Sykes hoping for breakthrough

Former Alcoa star could prove key defensive line asset

UT's Rae Sykes during practice at Haslam Field on Saturday, March 27, 2010.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

UT's Rae Sykes during practice at Haslam Field on Saturday, March 27, 2010.

Rae Sykes played the patient newcomer in 2009. Now, he's ready to live up to his nickname.

Sykes, who some teammates call "Big Play" Rae, didn't make any plays last year - not even a single tackle.

No matter. Sykes, a former Alcoa High School star, said he was just easing into the flow after transferring from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.

"I didn't really sweat it too much because I was a juco transfer and up there in Kansas I didn't play," Sykes said. "I was just getting back into it. But I felt like I could have played."

Sykes, a junior, was practicing at defensive end last season. He's now at defensive tackle because of the Vols' need at that position.

Sykes said his quick hands have helped him make the transition, but he's still struggling with the near-constant double teams he's facing inside.

Yet, Sykes said his forte hasn't changed.

"Pass rushing," he said. "That's my specialty. It's been that since I've been in high school and it will be until I'm finished in football."

That consistent theme in his game may prove valuable if he's moved back to end, which according to defensive line coach Chuck Smith is still a real possibility.

"I give Rae a lot of credit," Smith said. "Rae Sykes is a defensive end. He got thrust into having to help us at defensive tackle.

"Not to say that one day he might not be an end again, but right now he has an opportunity to help us at tackle. He's a guy that's working really hard. When you go from positions it's really different, especially at this level. He's really focused and he's putting in the work I think it takes to help us on the defensive line."

Sykes seems to be growing into the role, literally. He's up to 270 pounds and hopes to weigh 285 by this fall.

Sykes is the lone remaining scholarship player on UT's roster from Blount County. Others have steadily fallen by the wayside.

Former Maryville stars Aaron Douglas and Tyler Maples decided to transfer and former Alcoa standout Brandon Warren was dismissed last fall.

Sykes said playing close to home has its challenges.

"I would say it can go either way because everywhere I go (in Knoxville) I'm from 15 minutes down the road and people always ask me when I'm going to get on the field," Sykes said. "I always just tell them my time will come. You can't rush it. It will come sooner or later."

If Sykes can continue to improve and eventually establish himself at defensive tackle, he could prove to be a valuable contributor for the Vols, who need to build depth up front. UT lost its top two tackles from last season: Dan Williams and Wes Brown.

To adequately replace those two, "Big Play" Rae will finally need to live up to his nickname.

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Comments » 26

TheDudeAbides writes:

I hope Ray all the best, we're gonna need him...but this is a real 'vanderbilt problem', trying to grow DE's into DT's. A little sad.

NoSirRee writes:

I'm not liking the looks of our run defense at all, but sometimes these guys surprise. We're so far in the hole talent wise though, we're gonna have to ride it out for a few years then either get better or fire Dooley and start all again. Rebuilding is chitty.

joshvols writes:

you act like a fast, pass-rushing d-tackle is a bad thing. ever heard of a guy named warren sapp? i appreciate someone putting the team ahead of their own preferences. i think he can help immediately on passing downs. when the giants won the super bowl, they consistently moved Justin Tuck down to d-tackle in passing situations to get more pass rushers on the field.

tnsportsman writes:

You Go Ray, keep it up man! The VOLS need you!

Cldvols1 writes:

Best of luck Rae, you're hard work will pay off! GBO

VOLinDAWGland writes:

It's not that unusual for safeties to grow into LBs, LBs into DEs and DEs into DTs going from high school to college.

UCFgradVOLatHEART writes:

I am very excited about seeing the discipline this team is going to play with. We may be young, but I don't think we will be beat by not playing with good fundamentals. I think our youth will hurt us in some games. I am really starting to drink the koolaid. I will be the first to admit it. I guess I just LOVE my VOLS. Btw I am moving to Ga. soon we have to win that game so all my neighbors do not have bragging rights. LOL!!!!

nocleats writes:

in response to jrod:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

He was not retained. Dooley took the high road to keep from embarressing him.

orangecountyvols writes:

Nosirree,

Post isn't complete without the comment about firing a coach. Part of the posting game plan........if all is not well, let's fire the coach.

Some things never change..............
Death and taxes, plus firing a coach

NoSirRee writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

Nosirree,

Post isn't complete without the comment about firing a coach. Part of the posting game plan........if all is not well, let's fire the coach.

Some things never change..............
Death and taxes, plus firing a coach

Well, it is a real possibility. The vast majority of college football coaches aren't highly successful which is what is required here in Knoxville

always_vol (Inactive) writes:

Got to have the 'nobody beats me' attitude to play D-tackle. A lot of men have the physical tools, not many have the attitude.

Billy Ratliff had no knees left, and made one of the biggest plays of the 1998 season because he refused to be beat.

off_the_porch writes:

Why didn't he play at Kansas?

Bkvols88 writes:

went to alcoa with rae...hes a great guy!

lomas98 writes:

Turk McBride was one of the best converted DE's to DT we have had. His quickness helped him overcome the size difference. Hopefully Sykes can have the same impact. I thought Wes Brown played pretty well at tackle last year too and he couldn't walk.

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to lomas98:

Turk McBride was one of the best converted DE's to DT we have had. His quickness helped him overcome the size difference. Hopefully Sykes can have the same impact. I thought Wes Brown played pretty well at tackle last year too and he couldn't walk.

Lomas,

You are right about Wes Brown. The guy played hurt so much, but what a way to go out with that end of the game int against Vandy, dragging the guy into the endzone.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

I threw out my score card for the Dline long ago..We have lot's of talent at DE so it only makes sense to shift guys to the middle..Hughes is the anchor at nose guard and I like the idea of multiple defense (3--4) which can only work with a dominate nose guard..I like the way Hughes and sykes have bulk up..Miller may be a nice surprise and freshman Jeffery has potential..If we can't stop the run than teams will have their way with us..IE ole Miss..At least we won't have to rebuild this line again next year..Does anybody know the status of JUCOs Brown and TE Rivera

seaplane#216536 writes:

What's the status of John Brown; the defensive tackle with all the credentials?

Volunatic writes:

I like Rae Sykes' attitude. The Vols may be thin at DT right now, but the guys they have seem willing to do what it takes to make their team competitive.
GO VOLS!!!

givehim6 writes:

Let the game come to you young man.

VOLFAN78 writes:

in response to seaplane#216536:

What's the status of John Brown; the defensive tackle with all the credentials?

I believe he is still at a JUCO college. Will be here by fall camp.
Sykes I'll be rooting for you and expect you to be a killer when the season get going. GBO!

Brillovol writes:

in response to Biggunzz44:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You're showing your ignorance once again. Pro scouts don't care what position you played in college. They only care about what you do in the combine and on pro days. I guess you would say the same thing about the other 100+ former JUCO players in the NFL?

Bkvols88 writes:

in response to wallandhiker:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

he hurt his knee and never recovered from it while he was there.

AtLeastMyTeamHasPerfectSeasons writes:

I remember when Sykes came to play in orange he was highly regarded as a future STUD. Hasn't had the chance yet to shine, hope that comes at the DT position since it's thin there!

IndyVolFan writes:

Speaking of DTs, why hasn't UT gotten off the fence with Joel Hale up here in Indy? He's only a 3 star right now but check out his offer list:

Schools of Interest:
School Interest Level Offer?
Cincinnati Med Interest Yes
Florida Med Interest No
Georgia Tech Med Interest Yes
Indiana Med Interest Yes
Iowa State Med Interest Yes
Kentucky Med Interest Yes
Michigan Med Interest Yes
Michigan State Med Interest Yes
Ohio State Med Interest Yes
Purdue Med Interest Yes
Tennessee Med Interest No
Wisconsin Med Interest Yes

How many more offers does he need for us to give him more than an email? His little brother plays on my baseball team so I'm very familiar with the family. Picture Wes Brown with more talent and less no injury. Same amount of heart.

Tressel has been to see him a couple of times and they were in Florida week before last. He got to meet Meyer and Harvin. I know his parents really like UT and would like him outside the Big 10.

If anyone knows someone in the UT office, please light the fire!

Dave Burton - '90

Mtnbiker writes:

To H3LL with all of you naysayers. Rae will be bringing it this Fall and you all can kiss it.

SEAL_9821 writes:

This stuff happens all the time at all major colleges. Those of you who think this is a disaster for us just because we're having to move some guys around, need to start learning the game a little more. Some of the best defensive players we have ever had come thru Tennessee played a position different from what they were recruited for.

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