Thunder in the huddle

Imagine you're Montana's center, stepping over the football for the initial snap of the 2011 opener against Tennessee. Glancing at the Vols' nose guard, you realize he looks vaguely familiar ...

It's Thor.

Not really, but Tennessee nose guard Daniel Hood certainly bears a striking resemblance to Chris Hemsworth, the actor who played the title role in the summer blockbuster about the god of thunder and lightning. Hood, a 6-4, 300-pound sophomore, has the same shoulder-length blond hair as the movie hero and the same scraggly beard, plus similar facial features.

"It's kind of funny," he said this week.

Having a Thor look-alike at nose guard could unnerve opposing centers this fall but Hood's scruffy persona will be gone well before the Vols' opening game.

"Coach (Derek) Dooley expects us to look better (clean-shaven) for the Tennessee fans in the fall, so I won't be able to keep it much longer," Hood said. "But, for now, it's fun."

Like his scraggly beard, Hood's hold on the first-team nose guard job was supposed to be temporary. He won the job in the spring but was projected to lose it to Junior College All-American Maurice Couch a few days into preseason camp. So far, though, Hood's hold on the position seems pretty solid.

"I just want to help our team get victories," he said. "Whether it's me playing 10 to 15 snaps or 40 to 50 snaps, it doesn't really matter to me. Mo's got a lot of potential, and I've seen him progress. If he's the better player, then it's his position. I'd rather see us get 10 wins with me getting no snaps than us get five wins with me getting 40."

The widespread skepticism regarding Hood is understandable. He signed with Tennessee as a 250-pound offensive lineman, redshirted in 2009 and scarcely left the bench in 2010. He asked to play defense last March, however, and quickly proved to be the most pleasant surprise of spring practice - claiming the first-team nose guard job just two weeks after changing huddles. To keep it, however, he must continue to hold off Couch, a 6-2, 305-pounder with glowing credentials.

"That's the great thing about Coach Dooley," Hood said. "Since he's been here, he's brought in more and better competition. That makes us better and keeps you wanting to get better because you've got people behind you pushing you to get better every day, so you never get satisfied with where you're at."

Hood certainly isn't satisfied with where he's at this preseason.

"I've still got a long way to go but I've seen some improvement from where I was at in the spring," he said. "There's still a lot of room for improvement but I think we can get there."

Given Tennessee's lack of heft on the interior, getting Hood and Couch in the lineup at once might be an option worth considering. That would mean playing one of the 300-pounders at nose guard and the other at tackle.

"If they need me to play the 3," Hood said, referring to the tackle spot, "I'll learn the techniques better and play the 3."

Playing tackle is a dirty job but it's a glamor position compared to nose guard ... unless you enjoy having a center and an offensive guard slamming into you on every single play. Hood admits that playing nose guard is not for everyone.

"I think the biggest challenge at nose guard is being able to affect the quarterback in the passing game," he said. "In run, it's pretty simple: Get your head in there, get beat up a little bit, take on the double-team, hold your gap so your linebackers can come through. Going against the pass is a lot harder because you're not on the end where you can make your moves. Really, it's just brute force, trying to face up the quarterback."

Brute force. What else would you expect from a guy who looks like Thor?


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