Breakout Vols: defensive line

InsideTennessee continues its series on potential "breakout" players for the 2012 Vol football team. Today's installment focuses on the defensive line.

Defensive football is a simple game: If you can stop the run with three men that's what you do. If you need four men to stop the run that's what you do. If you need five, six, seven or eight that's what you do.

Alabama's defense managed to stop the run in 2011 with three men, four men and sometimes five men. With the rest of the lineup free to defend the pass, the Crimson Tide last fall led the NCAA in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense, rush defense, pass-efficiency defense and third-down defense.

Conversely, Tennessee had to commit six, seven and sometimes eight men to stopping the run in 2011. Result: The Vols ranked seventh among the 12 SEC teams in total defense, eighth in rushing defense and ninth in scoring defense. Worse, the Big Orange devoted so much manpower to run support that it finished 10th among SEC teams in pass efficiency defense.

Darrington Sentimore is another JUCO transfer expected to contribute along the Vol defensive front.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Basically, the numbers tell the story: Teams who can defend without selling out to stop the run are way ahead of the game. That's why Daniel McCullers might be Tennessee's most valuable newcomer this fall. At 6-feet-6 and 360 pounds, this massive nose guard prospect has the bulk to tie up two blockers and plug the middle of the line all by himself.

"It always takes two to try to handle him," Bert Williams, McCullers' head coach at Georgia Military College last fall, told InsideTennessee. "If you leave him one on one he's going to penetrate the backfield, whether it's a run or a pass play."

In addition to his awesome size, McCullers has exceptional power.

"He has great upper-body strength," Williams said. "He benches more than 400 pounds, probably 440 or 450. And he squats well over 600 pounds."

If Mount McCullers' size and strength can occupy two blockers this fall, that means Tennessee can devote one less defender to run support in 2012. That's one more defender who can help solidify a pass defense that was shaky last season. So, if McCullers is all he's projected to be, he could upgrade both the run defense and the pass defense.

McCullers isn't the only Vol defensive lineman capable of posting a breakout season in 2012, of course. Maurice Couch finished 2011 on a significant upswing. The 6-foot-2, 295-pounder started four of the last five games last fall and recorded 22 of his 37 tackles during that stretch. After a full year in Tennessee's system, the former junior college transfer should be much more comfortable and productive in 2012.

Another potential breakout lineman is Darrington Sentimore. Following one year at Alabama and another at junior college, this 6-foot-3, 288-pounder may have the physical maturity to step in and contribute immediately in the rugged Southeastern Conference.

Still, the D-lineman most likely to post a breakout season is McCullers. His heft could enable Tennessee to commit one less defender to run support and one more defender to pass defense, and that could make a huge difference in 2012.


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