2012 Tennessee Preview – Defense
Tennessee LB Curt Maggitt
Tennessee LB Curt Maggitt
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 13, 2012


CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Tennessee Volunteer Defense


Tennessee Volunteers

Preview 2012 - Defense


- 2012 Tennessee Preview | 2012 Tennessee Offense
- 2012 Tennessee Defense | 2012 Tennessee Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: A few adjustments were made from the Monte Kiffin Tampa-2 defense, and for the most part, the D did a good job. Yes, Oregon ran wild in Knoxville and UAB bombed away, but the production was a bit better than the overall stats might indicate. More of a pass rush is a must from the ends, the linebacking corps needs to find two new, reliable starters, and the secondary could use a more playmakers, but overall the potential is there for a better year. It all starts up front with former USC Trojan Malik Jackson manning the starting defensive tackle spot, and there’s size across the line to help him out. Prentiss Waggner is a rising star safety who’ll lead a veteran group of defensive backs that have to tighten up after giving up 200 passing yards or more to just about everyone. Linebacker is the question mark where a few true freshmen might have to upgrade the talent level for what should be a decent, but unspectacular group.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: A.J. Johnson, 80
Sacks: Willie Bohannon, Maurice Couch, 1.5
Interceptions: Prentiss Waggner, 2

Star of the defense: Sophomore LB A.J. Johnson
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Maurice Couch
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Justin Coleman
Best pro prospect: Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) CB Prentiss Waggner, 3) LB Curt Maggitt
Strength of the defense: Experience, Depth
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Interceptions

Defensive Line

Junior Jacques Smith started most of last season making 35 tackles with a sack and eight tackles for loss. Now he has to be the team’s top pass rusher and has to start being more of a presence. At 6-2 and 242 pounds the former superstar recruit has hybrid size and the quickness to become a whale of a playmaker. With his experience it’s his time to start shining, while 6-5, 255-pound sophomore Jordan Williams adds more size and good athleticism to the equation. The Gainesville native got away from Florida, and now he has to start shining after making just four tackles with a sack in his limited time.

Junior Marlon Walls started four times last year but now he’ll take over a full-time end job after making 22 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss. At 6-2 and 283 pounds he’s more like a 3-4 defensive end and isn’t a true pass rusher, but he’s a big, versatile option who’s now fully back after missing all of 2010 with an Achilles tendon injury. The former high school sprinter has the athleticism, but he’ll be stronger against the run. 6-3, 288-pound Trevarris Saulsberry, who, like Jordan Williams, is from Gainesville, is a defensive tackle who’ll work on the end. While he won’t hit the quarterback, he has the quickness to get behind the line.

It’ll take a combination of three players to rotate on the inside at one tackle spot. The pressure is on 6-2, 295-pound junior Maurice Crouch who needs to come up with a big year after making 37 tackles with two sacks and nine tackles for loss in his first season after transferring over from Garden City CC. A terrific interior playmaker who made 110 stops with 13 sacks in his senior year of high school, he’s big, strong and quick. He’ll work with 6-4, 293-pound junior Daniel Hood, an Academic All-SEC performer who saw a little time on the O line but is better on the defensive side making eight tackles with a sack. He has to get over a shoulder injury to be more effective, while 6-2, 318-pound sophomore Gregory Clark will bring tremendous size to stuff things up.

6-5, 254-pound senior Steven Fowlkes is an undersized defensive tackle who has yet to do much of anything making three stops in 2009 and one in 2010. He has the speed and quickness for the interior, but he lacks the bulk of 6-3, 288-pound junior Darrington Sentimore, a JUCO transfer from Gulf Coast CC in Mississippi with good toughness and strength in the interior. He made 39 tackles and with seven sacks at the lower level.

On the way is Daniel McCullers, a massive, MASSIVE JUCO transfer out of North Carolina with 6-6, 380-pound size and surprising athleticism. He’s not just a block of granite for the interior; he can move just enough to collapse the pocket. The junior is too big, but he’ll get a long look for playing time right away.

Watch Out For … Couch. The line needs a start to build around and Couch is the closest thing to becoming one. The upside is undeniable, and he has just enough talent around him to come up with a huge year.
Strength: Options. The Vols have decent depth and a good second team to rotate in with the projected stars. The defensive tackles should all stay fresh with several different players ready to go to work. Instant help from the JUCO ranks will make a big difference.
Weakness: Production. The pass rush was awful and there weren’t nearly enough plays in the backfield, and top producer Malik Jackson is gone. A pass rusher has to emerge from somewhere.
Outlook: There’s enough talent and enough live bodies to hope for more against the run, but can anyone get to the quarterback? The 16 sacks were way too light and now the line needs to find a killer to make offensive coordinators worry. It will be a functional, serviceable line, but it won’t be among the elite like it might need to be in SEC play.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Linebackers

Sophomore A.J. Johnson stepped in right away and became one of the team’s best all-around defenders finishing second on the team with 80 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss with two recovered fumbles. The 6-3, 244-pounder led all SEC freshmen in stops showing good quickness and toughness time and again, and now he’ll use his size and range to be the star to work around on the weakside. A pure tackler, he finished up his high school career making 173 tackles last year and with 464 stops in three years.

6-0, 225-pound senior Herman Lathers started out on the weakside but he’ll be the main man in the middle after missing all of last year with a broken ankle. He was poised and ready for big season coming off a 75-stop, three sack 2010, and while he’s still try to get healthy he should be ready to go by the start of the season and he should be one of the team’s leading tacklers. He’s not huge, but he’s tough as nails and he can move. Until he’s 100%, 6-2, 238-pound redshirt freshman Christian Harris and 6-0, 225-pound junior John Propst will combine forces in the reserve. Propst has good range and nice hitting ability making 14 tackles as a true freshman before coming up with just four tackles as a special teamer. Harris was supposed to play a role right away as a true freshman but suffered a torn ACL and missed the entire season. Fortunately he has had an entire year to heal up.

6-3, 227-pound sophomore Curt Maggitt turned in a terrific true freshman season finishing third on the team with 56 tackles with a sack, eight tackles for loss and a forced fumble. A rising star on the strongside, he has great range and can be used as a pass rusher as well as a run stopper. A part-time high school wide receiver, he’s a good athlete with a limitless upside. He’ll be backed up by 6-2, 250-pound senior Willie Bohannon, who came up with 27 tackles with four tackles for loss and two sacks. A spot starter, he has been around long enough to know what he’s doing and he can step in at any of the three linebacker spots.

Watch Out For … the true sophomores. There was hope for the freshmen to come through right away, and Johnson, after being re-recruited by USC after the coaching change turned into a star. Maggitt also stepped up and became a terrific factor to build around. Harris is a redshirt freshman after getting hurt, but he has the potential to be a top tackler once he’s healthy.
Strength: Upside. With Johnson, Maggitt and Harris, the Vols have a great trio to get excited about for the next few years. Lathers is also going to provide a nice upgrade in the middle after coming back from his ankle problem.
Weakness: Great running teams. LSU was able to pound away on the Vol linebackers, and South Carolina and Arkansas were able to run well, too. This should be a good group of run defenders as time goes on, but it has to prove itself against the blasters.
Outlook: Give it one more season. The linebackers were fine, but the corps had to rely on a slew of freshmen and didn’t have Lathers to rely on. The overall consistency should be better and with better play from the line the production should be stronger. There’s tremendous upside and lots and lots of potential. The needle is pointing up.
Unit Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

The Tennessee secondary came up with a nice year, but that was mostly because it didn’t face too many teams that could throw the ball. Even so, senior Prentiss Waggner had a strong season making 48 tackles with two sacks and two picks with seven broken up passes. It wasn’t the five interception season of 2010, but the 6-2, 180-pound corner did enough to earn all-star honors. He’ll find a starting job somewhere in the secondary, but 6-1, 188-pound junior Izauea Lanier will also be in the mix for the starting corner spot on the right side. The star JUCO transfer made 48 tackles with four broken up passes last year as a nine-game starter showing off good speed and great hitting ability.

5-11, 180-pound sophomore Justin Coleman is a rising star who’s being given ever shot at the starting left corner job. A good recruit for the program last year, he ended up starting four games and made ten tackles with two broken up passes. Very, very fast, he has the wheels to stay with anyone in the SEC. Backing him up will be senior Marsalis Teague, a 5-10, 183-pound veteran who made 46 tackles in 2010 with eight broken up passes, but came up with 27 stops with two broken up passes last year. He’ll fill in when needed adding some solid veteran leadership.

6-0, 191-pound sophomore Brian Randolph stepped in as a true freshman and finished fifth on the team with 55 tackles with two broken up passes. Now the starting free safety job is all his for the next three years after showing off a world of upside. Athletic and with great tackling skills, he didn’t miss a play in the open field. He’ll be backed up by veteran Rob Wilks, a 6-0, 217-pound senior who came up with 26 tackles and three tackles for loss as a key reserve. He can play either safety spot.

6-1, 217-pound junior Brent Brewer and 6-1, 196-pound junior Byron Moore will combine forces at strong safety. Brewer made 24 tackles last year and is the starter if healthy, but he suffered a knee injury late last year and still has to prove he’s 100%. A mature player who spent four years in the Milwaukee Brewer farm system, he doesn’t get rattled. Until he’s back to form, Moore will play a big role after making six tackles with a forced fumble after coming in from Los Angeles Harbor CC. More often than not he’ll be used as a nickel defender.

Watch Out For … Johnson. Wagner and Lanier are veteran corners who can each start and might end up getting the nod. However, Johnson is too fast, too good and too promising to keep off the field. He’s making a push for a starting gig.
Strength: Veterans. If Brewer is back and healthy, Tennessee not only has a veteran starting foursome, but it has experienced backups who can step in and produce in a rotation. The coaching staff has several options to play around with, but …
Weakness: The interceptions have to come. The lack of a pass rush didn’t help the cause, but the secondary didn’t come up with enough big plays when it had its chances. Linebacker Austin Johnson came up with four picks and the defensive backs only came up with five.
Outlook: There’s a nice blend of veterans and young talent to form a solid group that should keep on growing. There might not be a star standout other than possibly Waggner, but there are enough good talents at all four spots to hope for another good season. Can the experience translate into more big plays? If the Vols can allow just 178 passing yards per game, the defensive backs will be doing their job.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

Junior Michael Palardy was a star recruit a few years ago and has been expected to grow into the kicking job, but he only nailed 9-of-14 field goal attempts last season. Two of the kicks were blocked, and he nailed a 52-yarder, but he hasn’t been consistent enough from long range.

Palardy will get a few chances as the punter after averaging 36.8 yards per try forcing six fair catches, but it’s Matt Darr’s job. The sophomore struggled a bit averaging just 38.1 yards per kick while putting just ten inside the 20. However, the former USC recruit and top prospect forced 16 fair catches out of his 40 attempts. He has a big leg and could crank out bigger blasts on a regular basis.

Running back Devrin Young is a speedster who took over the kickoff return job as a freshman averaging a solid 23.3 yards per try. He has great straight-line speed and can get up the field in a hurry, but he’s also shifty enough to average 11.8 yards per punt return. Fellow running back Marlin Lane will be the No. 2 option at both spots after averaging 5.1 yards per punt return and 20.4 yards per kickoff return.

Watch Out For … more from Darr. He was a superstar punter recruit with the leg and the ability to start cranking out 50 yarders on a regular basis. He needs help from his coverage team, but he has the ability and the potential to do far more.
Strength: Veterans. Everyone is back. Young is a good all-around returner, and Palardy is a good talent at kicker with the upside and potential to do more. The special teams should go from okay to above-average with a little more time.
Weakness: Punt coverage. Darr tried to do his part with plenty of fair catches, but opponents averaged 10.2 yards per try with a touchdown. The coverage team wasn’t quite tight enough.
Outlook: The special teams were awful for several years but started to take a big positive step forward last year. There’s undeniable talent at kicker and punter, and Young is a good young option to make big plays as a returner, but everyone has to be better. Tennessee can’t afford to not win the special teams battles.
Unit Rating: 6.5

- 2012 Tennessee Preview | 2012 Tennessee Offense
- 2012 Tennessee Defense | 2012 Tennessee Depth Chart