2010 Tennessee Preview – Defense
Tennessee DE Chris Walker
Tennessee DE Chris Walker
Posted Jun 21, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Tennessee Volunteer Defense

Tennessee Volunteers

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 Tennessee Preview | 2010 Tennessee Offense
- 2010 Tennessee Defense | 2010 Tennessee Depth Chart
- Tennessee Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: Gone is the Monte Kiffin Tampa-2 defense, but that doesn't mean new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox won't be aggressive and won't rely on his safeties to be stars. The Vol defense was phenomenal against the pass and struggled against the run, and that might be the same issue again with a try-hard group of banged up linebackers and a shaky tackle situation. The ends, Chris Walker and Ben Martin, are among the best in the SEC, and the emergence of safeties Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles will ease the loss of Eric Berry, but there are a lot of cracks to fill in around them. The defense will have its moments, but it'll be inconsistent and will likely have one or two meltdown games.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Herman Lathers, 52
Sacks: Chris Walker, 6
Interceptions: Chris Walker, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE Chris Walker
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DT Marlon Walls
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Janzen Jackson
Best pro prospect: Walker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Walker, 2) DE Ben Martin, 3) Jackson
Strength of the defense: End, Secondary
Weakness of the defense: Tackle, Linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Former linebacker Chris Walker had the task of stepping in for first-round draft pick Robert Ayers and did a solid job. The 6-3, 245-pound senior wasn't the same pass rusher, but he led the team with six sacks with 8.5 tackles for loss to go along with 42 tackles. Active, he also came up with two interceptions and forced a fumble. Extremely quick off the ball, he didn't lose any of his athleticism even after bulking up a bit, and now, with his talent, his tools, and his motor, he should be an even bigger playmaker.

Working on the other side of Walker will once again be Ben Martin , a 6-3, 251-pound senior who started ten games and came up with a decent year as a nice pass rusher making 38 tackles with 3.5 sacks. He added more than ten pounds over the last year to be more of a true end than an outside linebacker, and with the prototype look, quickness, and size for a collegiate outside pass rusher, he could be in for a huge year.

6-4, 305-pound sophomore Montori Hughes is the team's most talented interior presence, and he has to play like it right away. As a true freshman, he came up with a good year as the main backup in the rotation coming up with 20 tackles with two tackles for loss, and now he has to be an anchor. The star recruit of last season is a big, athletic inside presence who'll get into the backfield now and then, and for the line to shine, he needs to get to an All-SEC level as soon as possible on the nose.

As part of a rotation, 6-3, 278-pound sophomore Marlon Walls will get the first chance at the starting tackle job, and he has to play big. He got his feet wet as a true freshman making two tackles, and he'll be expected to grow into a top interior pass rusher after making 24 sacks in his final two years of high school. He bulked up big-time over the last two years and he has to show he can handle himself at an SEC level against the bigger blockers. The talent and athleticism are there, he was a high school sprinter, and now he has to be a factor against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: Backing up Marlon Walls will be junior Rae Sykes , a 6-4, 270-pound veteran who came in from Coffeyville CC and saw a little bit of garbage time duty and didn't register a stat. He has good size, but he needs time after missing both years in the JUCO ranks hurt and not doing much last year. Even so, he's being given every shot at the starting spot at tackle and needs to be active early on.

Needing to find a role as a backup behind Montori Hughes on the nose, 6-3, 291-pound senior Chase Nelson will need to find a role in his final year or he'll quickly be pushed aside. He got on the field in two games, but he didn't do anything. Redshirt freshman Arthur Jeffery is the far more promising option with 6-3, 294-pound size and plenty of skill as an interior pass rusher. Over the knee injury that kept him down late in his high school career, he has had the time to heal up to now become a part of the rotation.

6-3, 250-pound senior Gerald Williams made 15 tackles, and while he didn't come up with a sack, he generated good pressure into the backfield with five pressures. An active defender when he gets his chances, he'll rotate with Ben Martin on the outside and should be dangerous in bursts. He moves extremely well, and now the former linebacker has to start coming up with some big plays.

Sophomore Willie Bohannon
got one start last season and was a good reserve the rest of the way on the end making 14 tackles with a sacks and two tackles for loss. The 6-3, 238-pounder isn't all that big against the run, but he's quick off the ball and looked strong at times this spring. He's good enough to start if needed and he'll be groomed to be the main man next year when Chris Walker is done.

Watch Out For … Hughes. A good player last year, he has the potential to be a great one with a little more time on the nose. He might not have sure-thing NFL skills at the moment, but he's growing into a next-level prospect who could get to a high level if he gets a little help from the other tackle spot.
Strength: End. This might be the team's strongest area. Martin and Walker will have careers at the next level as 3-4 outside linebackers, or pure pass rushing ends, while Williams and Bohannon are promising reserves who can produce whenever they're in mix.
Weakness: Tackle. At the moment it's Hughes and a prayer. The talent level is as low as it has been in years, and while Hughes is a good one and Walls is promising, the depth is sorely lacking.
Outlook: After a mediocre 2009, the line should be great on the outside and rough in the middle. Martin and Walker have to generate even more of a pass rush after the Vols finished ninth in the SEC in sacks and tenth in tackles for loss, but if the tackles aren't great right away, the run defense that struggled so much up the middle at times last year will have a nightmare of a time against the more physical teams.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: The one big question mark in the linebacking corps is at weakside linebacker where leading tackler Rico McCoy is gone. Sophomore Herman Lathers should be ready to shine after starting five games last year when injuries hit the linebackers finishing with 52 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. The 6-0, 217-pounder has tremendous quickness and great pass rushing potential, even though he didn't get into the backfield all that much. He's very quick, very tough, and very versatile, able to move around wherever needed.

Senior Nick Reveiz is the man in the middle as long as he can quickly heal up from a torn ACL suffered early last year. In just four games of work he made 27 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss as he was playing like the leader and possible All-SEC star inside, and he's also a strong leader. While he's not all that big at 5-10 and 224 pounds, the former walk-on is feisty and has a motor that's always going 100 miles per hour.

Senior LaMarcus Thompson was mostly a key special teamer, but he became a starter last year making 35 tackles with a sack and seven tackles for loss despite missing time throughout the year with an ankle injury. The 6-1, 228-pound veteran is extremely fast and appears to be shot out of a cannon when he's sent into the backfield, but he has to stay healthy and show he can hold up on the strongside.

Projected Top Reserves: While Reveiz is expected to be healthy, 6-2, 231-pound junior Austin Johnson has to be on high alert. A star high school tackler who was originally supposed to be a fullback, but he'll be a tough tackler when needed adding more size and strength on the inside. He's athletic enough to make plays all over the field.

Senior Savion Frazier was a special teams star and a nice backup, but he suffered an ACL injury midway through last year. He made 38 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss in his action, and he showed off the speed and athleticism to play either outside spot, but now he needs time to heal up to be ready to be a factor on the weakside in a rotation with Herman Lathers.

In a combination to work with LaMarcus Thompson on the strongside, junior Daryl Vereen and sophomore Greg King, and they bring different skills. The 5-11, 221-pound Vereen is more of a run stopper, even though he only made one tackle in his ten appearances, while the 6-1, 220-pound King is a strong pass defender making a pick with three broken up passes along with 24 tackles. They'll both see plenty of action.

Watch Out For … Johnson. Lathers was productive when used and should get an early look at the starting job, but Johnson was a natural this offseason moving full time to the defensive side. He's an instinctive tackler who could be too good to not push hard for a starting spot.
Strength: Depth. A problem last year, now there are several decent backups and options to play around with. This is a young enough group that the new coaching staff can tinker to find the right combination to put in place or the next few years.
Weakness: Health. With the knees of Reveiz and Frazier and Thompson's ankle sure to be an ongoing concern, it might be hard to come up with any reliable consistency. This wasn't the linebacking corps it was supposed to be, and even though there's depth to count on this year, cohesion could once again be an issue.
Outlook: This isn't the most talented group of Tennessee linebackers, but it's plucky with several try-hard types who'll put up good numbers simply by outhustling everyone else. That will only go so far in the SEC, but if everyone can stay healthy, this will be a good, sound corps that gets all over the field.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: While there's no replacing Eric Berry, sophomore Janzen Jackson appears to be on the verge of becoming the team's new star defensive back. The 6-0, 187-pound free safety started nine games and was suspended for the other three, but in his time he was a big-time hitter who came up with 37 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes. A top recruit, he's a terrific playmaker in the open field with limitless range. He'll be an all-star who'll be one of the team's top three tacklers.

Stepping into the open strong safety spot will be sophomore Darren Myles , a nice prospect who'll put up big numbers after making just seven stops in seven games last year. He wasn't used all that often, but he has been terrific in practices and looks the part of a major-league producer. He'll be a key run stopper who could be one of the team's breakthrough defenders.

Redshirt freshman Eric Gordon was one of the nation's top corner recruits last season and he should be a fixture on the right side for the next four years. At 5-10 and 186 pounds he has the decent size and can cut on a dime. He's a good all-around athlete who might struggle with his consistency early on, but he should turn out to be a good one with a little bit of time and seasoning.

Junior Art Evans started last year and came up with an underappreciated season. He didn't pick off a pass and only broke up three, but he made 39 tackles and was a nice lockdown corner able to keep up with the best targets in the SEC. At 6-0 and 187 pounds he has good size and he's physical, but he has to get healthy after having a shoulder problem this offseason.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 181-pound sophomore Prentiss Waggner could turn into a whale of a nickel and dime defender when he's not working at free safety. A big ball-hawker, he moves all over the field with great tracking skills. However, he has to be stronger against the run and has to prove he can be more physical after making six tackles last year.

Sophomore Rod Wilks is the team's biggest safety option at 6-0 and 211 pounds, and he hits like it. Getting a little bit of time in his first year, he made two tackles, but now he'll be used more in a rotation at strong safety to help out against the run. He's not going to do much against the pass, but he'll provide some pop.

Redshirt freshman Nyshier Oliver saw a ton of action this offseason as Art Evans was coming off a shoulder injury. The 5-11, 183-pound Oliver was originally considered a top safety prospect, and he could still be used as one, but he'll start out the year as a dangerous corner with great quickness and deep speed.

6-0, 185-pound junior Anthony Anderson has to be one of the team's more reliable reserves as one of the few backup defensive backs with any experience. He saw time in every game making nine tackles with three broken up passes, and he has the size and speed to step in and play in a variety of ways, as well as in a rotation with Eric Gordon on the right side.

Watch Out For … Gordon. Evans is a good corner on the other side and will be the No. 1 man, but Gordon has terrific upside and could become a major factor. He'll be pushed hard by Anderson, but the skills are there to be great.
Strength: The safeties. Yeah, losing (arguably) the best defensive back in the history of a school that's known for cranking out next-level pass defenders is tough, but things should be fine if Jackson and Myles are as good as they showed this offseason. The two will be all over the field and each has fringe all-star potential.
Weakness: Eric Berry. Yeah, the secondary will be fine and the safeties are becoming great, but Berry was an all-timer of a talent. The Thorpe Award winner was named the nation's best defensive back even though he had a down year (for him) making 87 tackles with two interceptions. His leadership and presence will be missed.
Outlook: The secondary was one of the team's biggest strengths finishing 12th in the nation in both pass defense and pass efficiency defense allowing just five touchdowns passes and one over the final five games. Losing Berry is tough, but the safeties will be great, Evans and Gordon will emerge as stars on the outside, and there's good depth to rely on.
Unit Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Daniel Lincoln had better be far better in a big hurry with Michael Palardy , the nation's top kicking recruit, coming in. Lincoln was great as a freshman, hitting 21-of-29 attempts, was inconsistent as a sophomore, hitting 10-of-18 shots, and sputtered last year making 10-of-16 field goals and missing five attempts from beyond 40 yards. To be fair, three of his kicks were blocked, but now he has to be better. He has the leg and he has the experience to finish strong.

Senior Chad Cunningham was fine, averaging 42.1 yards per kick, and put 12 kicks inside the 20. He doesn't have a huge leg, but it's just good enough to get by and he's a veteran who's reliable enough to be a counted on unless Palardy becomes the main man right away.

RB David Oku came up with a special year as the main kickoff returner averaging a whopping 26.2 yards per try. With great straight line speed and decisive cutting ability, he's dangerous whenever he has the ball in his hands in the open field.

With the top punt returners gone, sophomore Janzen Jackson , the team's burgeoning star free safety, will get the first look. Nu'Keese Richardson and Dennis Rogan combined to average just 9.3 yards per try, and now more will be expected of Jackson, a lightning quick athlete who needs to be a weapon.

Watch Out For … Palardy. The coaching staff is planning on the true freshman to come in and become the real deal as both a placekicker and a punter. Considered to be one of the nation's top all-around kicking prospects, the left-footed Fort Lauderdale native has a massive leg averaging 47 yards per punt as a senior while bombing 43 kickoffs for touchbacks.
Strength: Oku. While he wasn't the SEC's top kickoff returner, he's a weapon who helped lead the way to the league's third ranked kickoff return unit. The offense needs as much help as it gets, and Oku should provide the field position.
Weakness: Field goals. Lincoln has the experience and the ability to be solid, but he needs to be far better to hold off Palardy. Tennessee was last in the SEC in field goal percentage, and Lincoln didn't help connecting on just 62.5% of his shots.
Outlook: The special teams haven't been good enough, and for a team that needs help in several areas, a big improvement is a must. The coverage teams need to be better, the field goal kicking has to be more consistent, and the punt return game has to show more pop. Special teams coach Eric Russell is a good one, and there will be some improvement, but things could get very interesting if Palardy ends up taking over at least one of the kicking jobs.
Unit Rating: 6.5

- 2010 Tennessee Preview | 2010 Tennessee Offense
- 2010 Tennessee Defense | 2010 Tennessee Depth Chart
- Tennessee Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006