Tennessee's commitment to becoming a bigger football team was best characterized by defensive lineman Marlon Walls earlier this spring when he said he wanted to be a "healthy 300 pounds."
A college-age Shaquille O'Neal came to mind. I couldn't think of anyone else.
Walls has been gaining weight ever since he left high school, where he played as a 225-pound linebacker. But at 281 pounds, he's still a work in progress.
UT's new 3-4 defense is best manned by bigger linemen and preferably anchored by a nose tackle who is a couple of average human beings wide. This spring, the Vols will get by with 305-pound Maurice Couch at the position. Not until junior college transfer Daniel McCullers arrives this fall will the team fully appreciate the weight of the position.
McCullers was listed at 380 pounds when he signed with the Vols in February. So he's already about 75 pounds up on his competition when it comes to meeting the position requirements.
A nose tackle in a 3-4 alignment is expected to occupy space and blockers. If he blocks a pass once
a month or sacks a quarterback during the regular season, that's a bonus.
The expectations for the position are intriguing, especially when compared to other positions. Quarterback requires a vast array of skills. Speed matters almost everywhere. And no one under 6 feet will get a free ride through college as a pass-rush end or an offensive lineman.
But almost anyone can put on pounds. Put on enough of them and maybe you could play for the Vols.
The possibility is terrifying for the youth of the Big Orange Nation.
About mid-July, an astute set of parents might notice that their 10-year-old son has withdrawn from all organized sports and spent his savings on a small refrigerator for his room. They also might notice that he weighs more than the family pet. And the family pet is a St. Bernard.
"We thought your goal was to play for the Vols," they tell him. "Well, I bet Peyton Manning didn't spend his summers sitting around, eating."
"I don't want to be Peyton Manning," he says. "I want to be a Tennessee nose tackle."
Chilling, isn't it?
Tennessee ranked in the top 10 nationally in child obesity before the Vols switched to a 3-4. Is No. 1 now within reach?
Let's hope not. Instead, let's hope that someone in the athletic department is able to look beyond the line of scrimmage and see the potential health threat.
I'm not condemning the Vols' move to the 3-4. It might be better suited to their defensive personnel. But it's incumbent on UT to educate its young fans about the new defense.
Kids need to know they can't just eat their way into the starting lineup.
Nose tackles aren't carted on and off the field. They're required to run through the "T" like everyone else.
And they aren't confined to their own little corner of the field like kickers and punters. They actually have to practice with their teammates.
Most importantly, aspiring UT nose tackles should understand it's not enough to weigh 380 pounds. It needs to be a healthy 380 pounds.