Spring shocker

The most pleasant surprise on Tennessee's defense wasn't even a member of Tennessee's defense until a month ago.

Sophomore Daniel Hood, who was granted a switch from offensive line to defensive line shortly before spring practice began, has been so impressive as a run-clogging defender that he is running first-team at nose guard through nine spring workouts.

Signed as a 245-pound offensive line prospect out of Knoxville's Catholic High School two years ago, Hood redshirted in 2009 and saw mostly mop-up duty as a reserve offensive tackle in 2010. Even after bulking up to 300 pounds this spring, he didn't project to be a significant contributor in 2011 ... until he moved to defense and began working with line coach Lance Thompson.

"I like developing guys that people don't think can play," Thompson said following Wednesday's practice, "and Danny Hood is having an outstanding spring. He's the surprise of spring. He's our starting nose guard right now.

"He's done a heck of a job. He's a tough guy. He's not the most physically talented guy in the world but, at nose guard, if you just do what you're asked to do, play hard and keep a good pad level, you can get by."

Hood relished playing defense in high school and still exhibits a feisty defensive temperament. Most players hate the thought of facing double-team blocks from a 335-pound guard and a 305-pound center each day in practice. Hood seems to thrive on it.

Thompson summed up the plight of a nose guard in these terms: "You look at those big (O-line) guys as they walk by, and you say 'Hey, these two guys are going to roll you off the ball.' That ain't natural. You've got to enjoy that kind of stuff."

It's possible that Hood's presence with the first-team is a motivational tactic aimed at lighting a fire under junior Montori Hughes, a 6-4, 305-pounder who has been a career underachiever to date. Still, Hood's progress this spring is undeniable.

"For him to come over for nine practices and do what he's doing has been impressive to me," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "I think Daniel's a guy that's going to help us. We don't know how much but we really like the direction he's going.

"He's a big body. He's got quick hands. He's very conscientious. He wants to do right, wants to help the team, and he plays tough. That's what we need at that position. We're excited that he's with us, and we expect him to get better and better."

Because he hasn't played defense since high school, Hood should become more instinctive and productive with each practice performance.

"When you change sides of the ball, things aren't going to be that natural for you right off the bat," Wilcox said. "As you do it over and over, you pick up the tricks of the trade. Lance has done an unbelievable job just getting him to this point in nine practices."

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