What you need to know ...
For all the problems the team had last year, the defense
couldn't be blamed finishing sixth in the nation
allowing fewer than 300 yards per game and second against the
run allowing 82 yards per outing. Now the hope has to be for all
the top recruiting classes to pay off in a big way with six of
the starters on the front seven needing to be replaced including
the entire linebacking corps. Five players with starting
experience return to the secondary, but it's just an
above-average group. The real overall concern, along with the
new starters up front, is with size. This isn't a big defense by
Tennessee standards, but it's very fast and full of talented
Jonathan Hefney, 65
Justin Harrell, Turk McBride, 2.5
Interceptions: Jonathan Hefney, 3
Star of the defense:
Junior DT Justin Harrell
Player that has to step up and become a star: The entire
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Xavier Mitchell
Best pro prospect: Harrell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Harrell, 2) FS Jonathan
Hefney, 3) DT Turk McBride
Strength of the defense: Secondary, speed
Weakness of the defense:
The line was a rock last year and now it's
without Jesse Mahelona, Parys Haralson and Jason Hall. Tackle Justin
Harrell is the lone returning starter, but the cupboard is hardly bare
with Turk McBride ready to play a bigger role at one tackle spot and
Xavier Mitchell about to explode at one of the ends if he can return
healthy from a shoulder problem. There's good depth
considering three starters need to be replaced with J.T. Mapu the big
boost to come this fall when the star-to-be tackle returns from a church
The key to the unit: Replacing all the superstars.
The phenomenal recruiting classes of the last few years have to start
Defensive Line Rating: 8
- DE Robert Ayers, Soph. - 5 tackles, 1 sack
Ayers saw a little bit of action last year, and now he's expected to
rotate with Wes Brown on the right side. He's a good-sized end at
6-3 and 251 pounds, and is really, really fast. He needs to grow into
a top pass rusher right off the bat.
- DT Turk McBride, Jr. - 16 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL
McBride has the speed of an end, but he's slightly undersized as a
274-pound tackle. He's been a terrific spot starter and an invaluable
reserve, but he has to prove he can stay healthy with the increased
workload and he has to show he can hold up against the run for a 12+
game season. Don't be shocked if he ends up moving to the outside for a
- DT Justin Harrell, Jr. - 39 tackle, 2.5 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2
interceptions, 8 quarterback hurries
The third-year starter will have to be the new start of the line with
his combination of quickness and size at 306 pounds. The MVP of the 2005
Cotton Bowl has to have another All-SEC season and has to be the anchor
of the line from day one. If he progresses just a little bit, he'll take
over the All-America honors left by Jesse Mahelona.
- DE Antonio Reynolds, Jr. - 12 tackles
Reynolds saw a little bit of time in every game last year and has the
potential to make a big impact as a full-time starter. He's a strong 245
pounds and has the quickness of a linebacker. His ability to provide a
consistent pass rush on the left side could be one of the keys to the
- DE Xavier Mitchell, Jr. - 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 6
If Mitchell is 100% healthy after shoulder surgery and the motor is
running full blast like it
does as a part-time player, he'll quickly grow into one of the SEC's best ends. He's a great athlete with a nose for getting to the
quarterback, and he should flourish if the rest of the line quickly
develops. He's big, fast, and quick off the ball.
- DT J.T. Mapu, Jr.
Back from the church mission that kept him out of action all of last
year, the 275-pound Mapu provides some much-needed talent and experience
on the inside. He can play end if needed, but his future is in the
middle where he should grow into an unstoppable interior pass rusher
once he gets back in the mix.
- DE Walter Fisher, Soph.
The star of the 2005 recruiting class was in camp this spring and showed
good flash at times. He's a tremendous athlete and will eventually be
one of the team's star pass rushers, but he still needs work and is
hardly a finished product needing more work on his run defense.
- DT Demonte Bolden, Soph.
The star prospect of the 2004 class needs to start paying dividends. He
struggled way too much this spring and has yet to look anything close to
the talent the coaching staff thought it was getting. He has the size at
6-6 and 285 pounds and has the athleticism, but he has to learn how
to play tackle at a D-I level.
- DE Jared Hostetter, Jr.
Can he ever get healthy? If so, Hostetter is a fantastic all-around
prospect. A high school
sprinter, he came to Tennessee as a linebacker. He bulked up when he
moved to the defensive line and now is up to 290 pounds.
As expected from Tennessee, there's plenty of
speed and quickness, but there's almost no experience. The strength of
last year's team will be a major question mark early on, and things
could be downright disastrous of all the injury problems don't heal.
Rico McCoy is a sure-thing prospect on the weakside who's getting
over a foot injury. Marvin Mitchell in the middle, the only linebacker
with any appreciable size, has had knee problems, and projected strongside starter Jerod Mayo is also coming off a knee injury. The
depth should quickly develop with several players seeing meaningful reps
this spring in place of injured starters.
The key to the unit: Staying healthy and hoping the
top prospects turn into strong, consistent starters.
Linebacker Rating: 7.5
- Jerod Mayo, Soph. - 13 tackles
Mayo has the speed to play on the weakside and the strength and
toughness to play on the strongside. He got knocked out with a knee
injury last year but is expected to make a full recovery and take over a
starting role by the time the season starts. He's a big, sure tackler
who has to prove he can handle the
- Marvin Mitchell, Sr. - 22 tackles, 3 TFL
Knee injuries have kept Mitchell's career from taking off, but now he's
healthy and has to be the main man in the middle using his 6-3,
253-pound size and senior leadership to be one of the team's key
defenders. He has a little bit of starting experience and was a top
backup last season.
- Rico McCoy, RFr.
McCoy missed all of last year with a foot injury, but the superstar
recruit of a few years ago appears to be more than just fine. When he's right, he's a fast, active defender and a sure
tackler. Now the coaching staff needs to see what he can do in live
action on the weakside.
- Ryan Karl, Jr. - 13 tackles
At 6-0 and 210 pounds, Karl is undersized for a strongside linebacker.
On the plus side, he's tough and quick with enough experience to push
Jared Mayo for time on the outside as well as on special teams.
- Ellix Wilson, Soph.
Small but fast, the 5-10, 211-pound Wilson will use his speed on the
weakside mix the year. He's been a strong special teamer, but he has
to prepare himself to be the starter if Rico McCoy isn't as effective as
he's expected to be. He's the brother of former star Tennessee receiver
This isn't a special secondary even though there's
experience thanks to all the work in the corner rotation after star
Jason Allen got hurt five games into the season. Speed isn't an issue
with the top five defensive backs forming one of the fastest corps in
the nation, but they're not all that big and they only picked off seven
passes last year. The overall athleticism is enough to overwhelm most
pedestrian passing games.
The key to the unit: Establishing a true shutdown
corner early on and hoping for the big backups to make a big impact.
Secondary Rating: 8
Jonathan Wade, Sr. - 32 tackles, 2
interceptions, 5 broken up passes
If Wade isn't the starting left corner this fall, he's starter 1A behind Roshaun
Fellows. The former receiver isn't a work in progress anymore and
certainly doesn't have a problem matching up with anyone in the SEC at
6-0 and 185 pounds with world-class speed. He's a top sprinter for the
Tennessee track team and now has to be more physical and a strong
- FS Jonathan Hefney, Jr. - 65 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 broken
up passes, 3.5 TFL
Hefney is tiny at 5-8 and 174 pounds, but he's tough as nails, has two
years of starting experience, and is lightning fast. He might be built
like a corner, and he certainly has the speed and quickness to play on
the outside, but he's far better and far more effective at safety. He
has a good knack for finding the ball and showed he's ready for a huge
year after being one of the stars of spring ball.
- SS Antwan Stewart, Sr. - 47 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 broken up passes
One of the team's fastest players, Stewart showed no ill effects of a
knee injury that cost him all of 2004. He has good size and speed isn't
a problem, and now the hope is that he takes a big leap up in overall
production now that he's a year removed from the reconstructed knee.
- CB Inquoris Johnson, Jr. - 30 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL, 8
broken up passes
"Inky" stepped into the starting role after Jason Allen went down for
the year with a hip injury, and he played well despite being tested by
every opposing passing game. He's not all that big at 5-9 and 167
pounds, but he's phenomenally quick and isn't afraid to get in on the
Roshun Fellows, Jr. - 21 tackles, 3 broken up passes
If Fellows doesn't own the spot at left corner, he'll at least be a top
player in the rotation or could end up at safety. He's 6-0 and 184
pounds with good speed and hitting ability. A good ball-hawk, he needs
to start to make more big plays.
- SS Demetrice Morley, Soph. - 15 tackles, 1 interception
Morley is a fantastic all-around athlete who needs to find his way into
more playing time. He's not huge barely hitting 6-0 and 180 pounds, but
his speed and skills make him a big-time prospect that Vol fans are
waiting to explode.
- CB Antonio Gaines, Jr. - 1 tackle
Gaines has yet to make the impact he was expected to a few years ago.
The former running back has the quickness to handle himself on the right
side once he gets more experience.
The kicking game will be fantastic if James Wilhoit hits
field goals like he did over the second half of last season and if
punter Britton Colquitt turns into the All-American he has the potential
of becoming. The return units should be decent with Jonathan Hefney
getting the full-time gig after averaging an impressive 11.5 yards per
return last year. Lucas Taylor struggled on punt returns, but he
averaged 22.5 yards on kickoff returns.
The key to the unit: Get better coverage on punt
returns and hope for PK James Wilhoit to stay consistent.
Special teams rating: 8.5
- PK James Wilhoit, Sr. - 14-19 FGs, 21-21 extra points
Wilhoit is a decent kicker with plenty of experience and a good leg, and
he got better over the second half of the season hitting ten of 11 field
goals over the final six games. His only miss under 40 yards was a
37-yarder against Florida.
- P Britton Colquitt, Soph. - 59 punts, 2,431 yds, 41.2 average,
19 inside the 20
Colquitt is one of the best young punters in
America doing his family proud as he follows in the footsteps of his
All-America brother, Dustin, to average 41.2 yards per kick with an
impressive 19 kicks inside the 20 and 16 fair catches.