Bigger is better

The old axiom "It isn't the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog, that counts," doesn't always hold true. Derek Dooley discovered as much last fall as head coach of an undersized Tennessee football team.

"We played some games where we were getting hit (by bigger foes) and it looked like it hurt when we got hit," he said during Wednesday's Signing Day news conference.

No wonder. Tennessee competed much of last season with 265-pounders at defensive tackle and 240-pounders at end ... with a 5-9, 225-pounder at middle linebacker, 220-pounders at outside linebacker and 180-pounders at safety. The smaller Vols often wore down as a game progressed, which is why Dooley made adding heft a priority in his 2011 recruiting class.

Tennessee gained considerable heft at defensive tackle by signing 6-2, 325-pound high schooler Allan Carson and 6-2, 305-pound junior college product Maurice Couch. The Vols also added some size at linebacker by signing 6-3, 245-pound A.J. Johnson and 6-2, 235-pound Christian Harris.

"I don't think we had one guy on our team last year even close to that," Dooley said. "The biggest linebacker was 225, and it makes a difference."

Obviously, it's easier to be on the attack when your team has more size than the opponent. Except for the opener vs. UT Martin of the Football Championship Subdivision, the Vols never enjoyed that luxury last fall.

"I'd kind of like to be on the giving end," Dooley said. "If you look at these guys (signees), they're big guys. We measured their hands, their arms, everything. We needed some big guys who can run."

That brings up another recruiting priority - speed. In addition to being short on size, the 2010 Vols were short on quickness.

"We had to increase size and speed at every position," Dooley said. "A good way to sum us up last year was 'little and slow.' We're trying to be big and fast, and I feel like we did that (with this signing class). Whether we're any good, we'll find out."

In terms of positional needs, the Vols' top recruiting priorities were defensive line, offensive line and defensive backfield. Tennessee signed five offensive linemen and five defensive linemen but really went hog-wild by signing seven defensive backs. Dooley says he did so because the secondary's depth issues were painfully obvious from Day One.

"It was something I saw in spring practice but I couldn't fix it right away; we didn't have any guys," he said. "We signed Brent Brewer in the summer time because we just didn't have any guys back there. We knew all along that we were going to need help."

Two of the seven DBs Tennessee signed - Izauea Lanier of East Mississippi Community College and Byron Moore of Los Angeles Harbor Community College - are junior college transfers who project to contribute immediately.

"We felt like we needed some junior college help," Dooley said, "so we got two guys on the back end who are quality football players."

Another area Tennessee desperately needed to upgrade was its return game. The 2010 Vols were so inept at fielding punts that Dooley finally decreed that all punts be fair-caught or allowed to roll dead.

When asked how many of the 2011 signees can field punts, the head man broke into a grin.

"Man, our three-deep probably will be made up of this class at punt returner," Dooley quipped. "I probably shouldn't say that but I hope it is. That was a definite consideration with a lot of these DBs and wideouts. I wanted to see (what they might contribute in) the return game."

The Vols essentially signed 5-8, 165-pound Devrin Young of Knoxville's Bearden High to do nothing but return punts and kickoffs.

"Certainly," Dooley said, "Devrin was very appealing in his ability to do some stuff in space on special teams."

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