Jerrell Powe, a 6-foot-3, 330-pound prize at Wayne County High School, could be as important as any prospect the Vols will chase this year. When it comes to demolishing an offense, he is the wrecking ball that slams against its support elements and causes the structure to fall.
A player with strength and explosiveness off the ball demands double teams and creates cracks in the offensive line as well as confusion in the linemen for a variety of blitzers to breach. With great size and outstanding quickness, he's not only an imposing physical presence, he's a prime example of the law of physics that govern force and inertia i.e., mass plus speed and sinew equal penetration in the middle. Penetrate the middle and the offense is forced to move parallel to the line of scrimmage which plays into the hands of a speed defense like Tennessee puts on the field.
The irony of fielding a successful speed defense is that you must have the 300-plus pound powerhouse in the middle to make it work. In Tennessee's case, it needs two or more such players. When the Vols had John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth and Rashad Moore rotating inside they were virtually impossible to run against. Ditto when they had Darwin Walker, Jeff Coleman and Billy Ratliff up front. Stop the run and the offense becomes one dimensional, falters inside the 20 and becomes prone to turnovers in direct proportion to the pressure on the passer.
In effect, a tackle that draws double teams creates opportunities by enhancing the defense's intrinsic numerical advantage of 11 defenders vs. 10 blockers. If a defense can get push in the middle it can bring pressure from the edge. However if an offense is able to handle the defensive tackles man-on-man, the extra attention is directed toward the flanks and the quarterback has a cozy pocket from which to pick apart a defense.
Powe is a prospect who can become an impact player on the next level in short order. He bench presses 370 pounds, squats 550 and runs a 5.2 time in the 40. He has the athleticism to play center on the varsity basketball team in addition to being a member of the school's baseball squad. But the gridiron is where he really shines. As a junior he led Wayne County to the state championship while posting 71 primary tackles with 14 sacks.
"I'm real big and I move pretty good," he said. "I'm quick for my size and play with a lot of power. I also have great technique. I need to work on my right swim move and try to perfect it. I just ain't real comfy with that right now. I feel good with my left swim move, but I rely on my rip and my quickness right now.
"I play with good quickness, good speed, power and technique. I think I have a way of taking over the game at crunch time."
Powe is rated the nation's No. 3 defensive tackle and No. 38 overall in The Insider's Hot 100. He comes from a high school football program that produced a trio of solid D-I prospects in the Class of 2004 — Steve Gandy, Cedric Jones and Mike McLaughlin.
Furthermore, he hails from a state in which UT has enjoyed a lot of recruiting success in recent years with Ratliff, Will Overstreet, Parys Haralson and Xavier Mitchell. Perhaps the most positive mitigating factor in Tennessee's favor at this point is the fact Powe appears to prefer playing his college ball beyond the borders of the Magnolia State.
"My favorites are Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, and West Virginia," Powe stated. "I want to go somewhere I can win championships and that has good leadership from the top on down."
Since defense wins championships and defenses begin with what's up front, football titles will probably have a way of following Powe — wherever he goes.