Adams: Defensive line now No. 1 concern

John Adams

Tennessee's offensive line is officially off the hook. It's no longer the Vols' area of greatest concern.

And don't even think about putting "quarterbacks" at the top of your worry list, either. They're all still standing, aren't they?

That's more than you can say for the middle of the defensive line. The hole there is now cavernous.

And all it took was the loss of one player, which underscores how flimsy the position was to begin with. When starting tackle Marlon Walls went down with an Achilles tendon injury Saturday, a concern became a crisis.

How crucial was the loss?

UT is so concerned about the position that it moved offensive lineman Victor Thomas to defense. He didn't need directions. This spring, when the offensive line was so lacking in able bodies, Thomas moved from defensive tackle to take a crack at the starting center position, eventually won by Cody Pope.

Thomas played sparingly in 12 games at defensive tackle the last two years. Compared to the rest of the tackles behind starter Montori Hughes, that makes him a hardened veteran.

Rae Sykes has played in one college game. At 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, he's also undersized for an SEC defensive tackle. Arthur Jeffery has the size (6-3, 294) but hasn't played football since 2007. He missed his senior season in high school with a knee injury and was redshirted last year.

Steven Fowlkes is listed as the third tackle behind Walls. A converted defensive end, he's about 20 pounds lighter than Sykes, according to the UT media guide.

At the end of spring practice, coach Derek Dooley bemoaned the lack of size at defensive tackle. It's not just that he had bigger guys in the middle of his defense at Louisiana Tech. As a former assistant coach at LSU, he also knows how such a vulnerability can be exploited in the SEC.

The vulnerability could be exacerbated by UT's schedule. Its first four SEC games are against Florida, LSU, Georgia and Alabama. All four have the means to capitalize on the Vols' defensive weakness.

Florida might run a spread offense, but its team strength is an offensive line which includes four returning starters and is anchored by preseason All-America center Mike Pouncey.

LSU renewed its commitment to the running game in the spring, and coach Les Miles seemed pleased with the results. The Tigers might lack experience at running back, but there's depth and potential with 235-pound tailback Stevan Ridley; Richard Murphy, more of a breakaway threat; and redshirt freshman Michael Ford, who bench presses 420 pounds.

A week later, UT will face Georgia, which has the SEC's most experienced offensive line, led by All-America candidate Clint Boling. The Bulldogs' top two running backs, Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, who finished strong last season, also return.

Then comes Alabama with Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mark Ingram; backup Trent Richardson, who also made All-SEC first team this preseason; and another stout offensive line.

All four of those teams might as well put their offensive game plan for UT on the Internet. It will be about as subtle and deceptive as a jackhammer.

You can imagine the challenge facing Hughes, who has All-SEC potential. He will become a magnet for blockers. The loss of Walls will cause problems for UT's linebackers as well since they rely on the defensive front as a protective shield of sorts. A weaker front means the safeties will have to take on more blockers, too.

It also means if you're still worried most about the offensive line, you're behind the times.

John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 91

UT4ever writes:

Adams #1 concern - get a real job!! HOHOHOHHOOO!!!

OldNumber7 writes:

I say we just give up now - cancel the season.

UTByrd writes:

Necessity is the mother of invention. CDD needs to bone up on Thomas Edison and, with Wilcox, invent some hard to understand defensive schemes...for the opposing offences. I believe they can do it.
Believe!
Go VOLS!!!!!

tree_em_smokey writes:

It's a good thing CDD wants to use a two tight end set so we can have more blockers.........on one side of the ball anyway. GBO!!!!!

orangecountyvols writes:

Surprising Adams did not give us the entire LSU roster, their favorite movies, what they like to eat, where to go on weekends in Louisiana etc.

Would love to see the Vol staff find a way to make things happen.............then people like Adams would be asking the question........"how did they do it? Didn't think they could."

llong32#214484 writes:

Maybe now Dooley will become interested in defensive lineman or end that left LSU. Bodies are a priority at this stage of the game.

Colliervol writes:

Knock Adams if you like on most things. In this article, he's just stating facts. Since we have a bunch of LB's and DE's, it might be time to go to a 3-4 with Hughes at nose tackle with Brown (if eligible) backing him up. Maybe with the USC transfer, Sykes or Gerald Williams at DE and Chris Walker moving to one of the outside backers for his pass rushing capabilities? That would still be a smallish defense but what else are we going to do except rely on the speed that we have?

If you go to a 3-4, you have to have some size at DE and I don't think Walker is big enough in that scheme to be a DE.

govols7462 writes:

ok, we are officially going 4-8 this year. amazing, this looks like the first 8-loss season in UT football's 109 year history. not many major programs can say that.

TNPilgrim writes:

It wasn't that long ago that the KNS was spouting off about the Vols' preseason ranking at #2 in the nation and a possible national championship. The Sears trophy was on display and the Big Orange was entering the season loaded for bear. They proceeded to have a losing season in spite of all the best efforts of veteran coach Phil Fulmer and his staff minus David Cutcliff. Now John Adams prepares us for a long season so it's not unreasonable that we should hope for something better. However, it should be evident to anybody that follows SEC football that this could be the worst team UT has put on the field since the leather helmet era. We have no proven offensive players and the defensive line is weakened by injury before the season even starts. The coach is a blank slate with a losing record from a small school; his only claim to fame is that his dad was a successful coach (sound familiar?). Let's hope that he works out better than Mike Hamilton's last stab in the dark. However, the Big Orange Faithful had better prepare themselves for some hard times to be faced for the next two or three football seasons. As much as we hate to hear it, Adams is preparing us for reality.

whistlinwingman writes:

Thanks John for letting me know I'm behind the times. I can see you arrogantly smiling while writing this. And the "All four have the means to capitalize on the Vols' defensive weakness" is well thought out. I had no idea Florida, LSU, Georia, and Alabama had the means to do such a thing. Matter of fact any team has the means to capitalize on a weakness. That is why it's called a weakness.

I can see you and Les Miles now, sucking down a few diet cokes, laughing at how UT's "crisis" is now "cavernous", Les stating how he wished you could get a job and move back home, but at the same time he knows it's not gonna happen, The "chief" even chimes in on how he will exploit the Vols unexperience O-Line and qb's...oh wait I'm behind the times if I am worried about them.

Orangeblood13 writes:

dont under estimate wilcox folks

whistlinwingman writes:

Yes Adams is preparing us for reality. It just stinks cause right now we should be pumped about football but I am depressed. Tommorow we will read about how Simms and Bray just completed one pass between them in practice this morning and it was an interception. Oh well, I have always thought UT played better in an underdog role but I have never seen them being this much of an underdog.

Orangeblood13 writes:

in response to TNPilgrim:

It wasn't that long ago that the KNS was spouting off about the Vols' preseason ranking at #2 in the nation and a possible national championship. The Sears trophy was on display and the Big Orange was entering the season loaded for bear. They proceeded to have a losing season in spite of all the best efforts of veteran coach Phil Fulmer and his staff minus David Cutcliff. Now John Adams prepares us for a long season so it's not unreasonable that we should hope for something better. However, it should be evident to anybody that follows SEC football that this could be the worst team UT has put on the field since the leather helmet era. We have no proven offensive players and the defensive line is weakened by injury before the season even starts. The coach is a blank slate with a losing record from a small school; his only claim to fame is that his dad was a successful coach (sound familiar?). Let's hope that he works out better than Mike Hamilton's last stab in the dark. However, the Big Orange Faithful had better prepare themselves for some hard times to be faced for the next two or three football seasons. As much as we hate to hear it, Adams is preparing us for reality.

john adams just printed and laminated your post

now go back to your hole

nocleats writes:

Those who are familiar with my posts will know that I have been most concerned with Tennessee's Defensive line for 5 years now.. Every year Tenn signed less and less Defensive tackles and also had some bad luck with 4 or 5 as well. I remember on CBS college recruiting show in Feb, CBS let Coach Fulmer Interview Coach Dooley. Coach Fulmers very first comment/question was about Tenns lack of signing any def tackles. Yes I agree the shortage is somewhat Coach Fulmers but it is what it is.. Tenn Needs to sign at least 4 Def TACKLES this year and 4 more in 2012.

99gator writes:

i love it when people pick on adams for no reason.

it doesn't matter what he writes anymore.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

Don't kill the messenger, folks. It is what it is. The big boys will beat us but we can still pull out 6-6. The injuries just mean we most likely will not win the games that we felt were "toss-ups". This yr. was a wash anyway, so lets just get the boys healthy for next yr. and do what we can this yr.

Did anyone really feel 8-4 was achievable?

NeylandWest writes:

If any Vol fans honestly believed that our O-Line and D-Line were rock solid then I have plenty of beach front property in Utah to sell them.

Maybe I'm just saying this to psyche myself, but let's be real for a minute guys, TN is gonna have a tough season.

Win or lose, I'm pulling for them and will be in Y6 raising all sorts of h3ll when they come firing out of the tunnel. They need our support more than ever!

Go Vols!

My name is NeylandWest and I approve this message.

redskinvol1 writes:

8 and 4 is still possible.True fans believe.Go Vols!!

nola_vol writes:

My guess is we will play UT-Martin straight up, mano-a-mano... then scheme heavily against Florida, with mixed results.

After that, there'll be no place to hide. Schemes will be neutralized, and we will live or die with the size and skills we have available.

I fear our DEs may not have a chance to display what they've learned from Coach Chuck Smith about pass rushing before November!

This may not be a good Fall for producing wins... but it'll be a great Fall for producing men.

hcjournals#206623 writes:

Still can believe we're playing UT Martin....

DannyVol writes:

in response to whistlinwingman:

Yes Adams is preparing us for reality. It just stinks cause right now we should be pumped about football but I am depressed. Tommorow we will read about how Simms and Bray just completed one pass between them in practice this morning and it was an interception. Oh well, I have always thought UT played better in an underdog role but I have never seen them being this much of an underdog.

Yeah, I'm sure Adams is so very concerned about Volunteer fans being disappointed. That's exactly who he is.

GatorHatin2010 writes:

look im not sure how much of a fan all of you are? I come into every season hoping to win every game and thats the same attitude the players should have as well and if they do have an bad taste in their mouths like half the FANS on these posts then we will lose everygame. Look we might have a depleated roster and a new coach and all of that but this is Tennessee football and you win by playing w/ your heart and giving a 100% and I guarantee you our players will be doing just that on saturdays. I hope they dont read these post or they will be sitting on the sidelines crying like half of you!

CroKev writes:

Barring further injuries from starters, I think we turn in a lackluster performance against UT-Martin (we win by a couple of touchdowns), we upset Oregon (with special teams play) and then get hammered by Florida (come on, playing Oregon and Florida back-to-back, something's gotta give! Although UF does play USF the week before us and we will be their first road-game...).

murrayvol writes:

in response to 99gator:

i love it when people pick on adams for no reason.

it doesn't matter what he writes anymore.

Don't be misled 99. Most of us like him.....I think.

DannyVol writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Don't be misled 99. Most of us like him.....I think.

I hope you are very wrong. How can any true Volunteer fan like a columnist who writes love letters to our rivals and every one of his articles about UT with a poison pen? As sports editor he does real damage to the program...i.e. the super-negative columns on game days when scores of recruits and their families are in town. Being a fan of John Adams and UT football is like being a fan of Al Jazeera and the United States.

DannyVol writes:

in response to 99gator:

i love it when people pick on adams for no reason.

it doesn't matter what he writes anymore.

Try having the lead columnist in Gainesville insult your program at every given opportunity. No one expects a cheerleader in the hometown paper, but this dude soured on the Vols long ago...and it shows up in almost every column.

coalvol writes:

in response to DannyVol:

Try having the lead columnist in Gainesville insult your program at every given opportunity. No one expects a cheerleader in the hometown paper, but this dude soured on the Vols long ago...and it shows up in almost every column.

He's trying to be the Finebaum of Knoxville......

ric1958 writes:

in response to govols7462:

ok, we are officially going 4-8 this year. amazing, this looks like the first 8-loss season in UT football's 109 year history. not many major programs can say that.

Sorry....still will not happen.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

No DTs = really getting the Dee Tees by the middle of the 3rd Quarter.

At least there's no ale strike at Killian's Red.

Adams is just trying to be the biggest gull sitting on the carcass.

TLepage writes:

they're gone.... nothing we can do now... Hopefully somebody will step up...

gnm53108 writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Don't be misled 99. Most of us like him.....I think.

Nope.

gnm53108 writes:

in response to pdhuff#552644:

No DTs = really getting the Dee Tees by the middle of the 3rd Quarter.

At least there's no ale strike at Killian's Red.

Adams is just trying to be the biggest gull sitting on the carcass.

Ale strike!...shudder.

You're right,adams would love nothing better than to feed on a Vol carcass....Really gonna love disapointing him.

TLepage writes:

in response to Colliervol:

Knock Adams if you like on most things. In this article, he's just stating facts. Since we have a bunch of LB's and DE's, it might be time to go to a 3-4 with Hughes at nose tackle with Brown (if eligible) backing him up. Maybe with the USC transfer, Sykes or Gerald Williams at DE and Chris Walker moving to one of the outside backers for his pass rushing capabilities? That would still be a smallish defense but what else are we going to do except rely on the speed that we have?

If you go to a 3-4, you have to have some size at DE and I don't think Walker is big enough in that scheme to be a DE.

exactly.... We don't have the personnel for a 3-4.... You need three large bodies up front.... All of our ends are undersized and Montori Hughes a little shy of 300 lbs.... We will be running a 4-3.... We just need somebody to step up.... Historically we have always had guys fill voids nicely on D, hopefully that will be the case this year...

TLepage writes:

the one way we can neutralize our lack of size and depth on the D front is by playing a ball control game.... If we can sustain long drives on offense and keep our D off the field it will benefit us greatly... I know that i easier said then done with a new QB and 5 new starters on OL.... Simms better be ready to bring it and not make that many mistakes...

TLepage writes:

in response to govols7462:

ok, we are officially going 4-8 this year. amazing, this looks like the first 8-loss season in UT football's 109 year history. not many major programs can say that.

i'm pretty sure that was Michigan's record last year....

Tennfan4075 writes:

in response to TNPilgrim:

It wasn't that long ago that the KNS was spouting off about the Vols' preseason ranking at #2 in the nation and a possible national championship. The Sears trophy was on display and the Big Orange was entering the season loaded for bear. They proceeded to have a losing season in spite of all the best efforts of veteran coach Phil Fulmer and his staff minus David Cutcliff. Now John Adams prepares us for a long season so it's not unreasonable that we should hope for something better. However, it should be evident to anybody that follows SEC football that this could be the worst team UT has put on the field since the leather helmet era. We have no proven offensive players and the defensive line is weakened by injury before the season even starts. The coach is a blank slate with a losing record from a small school; his only claim to fame is that his dad was a successful coach (sound familiar?). Let's hope that he works out better than Mike Hamilton's last stab in the dark. However, the Big Orange Faithful had better prepare themselves for some hard times to be faced for the next two or three football seasons. As much as we hate to hear it, Adams is preparing us for reality.

Finally a comment from someone not viewing the Vols through rose colored glasses. This will be a rough season and if the injury bug doesn't go away it could get really ugly. While I am not sure DD is the answer he must have a chance. Good luck Vols.

whistlinwingman writes:

in response to Tennfan4075:

Finally a comment from someone not viewing the Vols through rose colored glasses. This will be a rough season and if the injury bug doesn't go away it could get really ugly. While I am not sure DD is the answer he must have a chance. Good luck Vols.

Good post!

TNVol72 writes:

If Adams is wrong about all this, we shall all refer to him from now on as "Richard Noggin."

gnm53108 writes:

in response to TNVol72:

If Adams is wrong about all this, we shall all refer to him from now on as "Richard Noggin."

Haha

Good one 72.

writer#358485 writes:

We still get to play all the games. No one--absolutely no one--can predict how they will come out in mid-August. Adams and all his ilk have to fill up a certain amount of space on a certain deadline. They don't know any more about how a particular game will come out that anyone else. It may be a rough year, or some good coaches with some guys that are very determined may turn in a very good year. I'll just be glad when all this writing nonsense is done and we can see what happens. Self-appointed experts are just that, self-appointed. Let the games begin! Go Vols!

CrankE writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Don't be misled 99. Most of us like him.....I think.

Saying one likes Adams is like saying one likes toilet paper. Having toilet paper certainly beats the alternative. The end results for an Adams column and the toilet paper are about the same too.

cloudodust writes:

Injury and youth are but two components of any program but to underestimate the heart of this squad won't come from me unless individuals lay down and quit. GBO

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to TLepage:

the one way we can neutralize our lack of size and depth on the D front is by playing a ball control game.... If we can sustain long drives on offense and keep our D off the field it will benefit us greatly... I know that i easier said then done with a new QB and 5 new starters on OL.... Simms better be ready to bring it and not make that many mistakes...

Hit the nail on the head..The problem will be made 10 times worse if this defense is on the field the entire second half getting pounded by 7 yard runs..With some decent blocking;play calling and consistent QB play; By midseason this offense could really come together and put up points; Look no further than Oregon as an example!!Last 5 games they gave up almost 34 ppg but still won and reached the rose bowl..

TommyJack writes:

in response to DannyVol:

Try having the lead columnist in Gainesville insult your program at every given opportunity. No one expects a cheerleader in the hometown paper, but this dude soured on the Vols long ago...and it shows up in almost every column.

Fair points, Dan. But you're assuming 99 is a real gator. Doubtful.

Lizardgrad89 writes:

What happens with Oregon then?

hikerdude writes:

in response to Orangeblood13:

dont under estimate wilcox folks

I agree. If this season is to be better than awful, Justin Wilcox will be the one who saves it.

DooleysOrangePants writes:

in response to whistlinwingman:

Thanks John for letting me know I'm behind the times. I can see you arrogantly smiling while writing this. And the "All four have the means to capitalize on the Vols' defensive weakness" is well thought out. I had no idea Florida, LSU, Georia, and Alabama had the means to do such a thing. Matter of fact any team has the means to capitalize on a weakness. That is why it's called a weakness.

I can see you and Les Miles now, sucking down a few diet cokes, laughing at how UT's "crisis" is now "cavernous", Les stating how he wished you could get a job and move back home, but at the same time he knows it's not gonna happen, The "chief" even chimes in on how he will exploit the Vols unexperience O-Line and qb's...oh wait I'm behind the times if I am worried about them.

The "chief" even chimes in on how he will exploit the Vols unexperience O-Line and qb's

as long as we stay in 3rd and long we'll be fine.

bkgunter writes:

Yeah...Yeah, Chicken Little, the sky is falling. Could there be anything more insulting to the young defensive linemen @ UT than to have this pencil-neck, Adams, refer to them as flimsy ? Depth comes and goes, young players step up and get coached up, etc. What would Tennessee do without its unoffical Risk Manager/Character Officer, Adams ?

PHAT_VOL writes:

The truth can be a hard thing to accept. However sometime the darkest hour is just before the dawn. I remember an undersized nose guard, Jimmy Noonan, five ten and about 225 lbs. He came to play every play and his heart and quickness made up for his size. His mental toughness, and the love he had for the University of Tennessee was not mesureable. He was also all conference! Never say die and remember why we play the game.
GO VOLS.

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

in response to govols7462:

ok, we are officially going 4-8 this year. amazing, this looks like the first 8-loss season in UT football's 109 year history. not many major programs can say that.

OFFICIALLY??? Do u have crystal ball or something and can foresee the future??

When we the Vols prove you wrong, I'll remember people like you make these asinine predictions.

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