Justin Harrell was a tight end/defensive end in high school before moving to the defensive tackle at UT. Turk McBride and Tony McDaniel were defensive ends. In fact, McBride was rated No. 3 at that position in the Class of 2003. Jared Hostetter was a high school linebacker who moved to defensive end as a freshman and likely to move inside to tackle this season.
There isn't an abundance of readymade D-line talent coming out of the high school ranks at any rate and even less capable of playing in Tennessee's swarming, attacking, speed-oriented scheme. That's why the Vols sometimes sign prospects that are fast, quick and athletic first and figure out where to play them later.
This approach doesn't always mean signing the highest rated prospects available and that impacts recruiting rankings. (That's something that's important to a lot of fans.) Another drawback is that it usually requires time to develop and acclimate such players. As good as Kevin Burnett was at UT it still took a couple of seasons for him to become adept at linebacker after playing his entire high school career at safety.
A current prospect Tennessee is tracking that fits that makeover mode is defensive end Tavares Brown, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end from Richmond High School in Rockingham, N.C., who is already making the transition to tackle. While a three-star prospect who has more interest than offers at this point, the thing that really stands out about Brown is his 4.6 speed. If he can retain most of that in the process of gaining roughly 40 pounds, he could become a future force at defensive tackle.
As a junior, he recorded 80 tackles with eight sacks and posted many of his stops by chasing plays down from behind. Some schools see him as a "tweener"— not tall enough to play defensive end and too big to be a coverage linebacker.
I don't know what's up with Virginia," Brown told Pack Pride's James Henderson. "The coach sounded like they were going to offer and then he started talking about how they wanted 6'4 or 6'5 defensive ends."
While Virginia is still evaluating Brown, Maryland and North Carolina State have reportedly offered the D-line prospect. Other schools in the hunt include: Georgia, Clemson, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Brown's mobility is augmented high energy, tenacity and a very physical style of play. He is quick off the ball and goes all out until the whistle blows. "I'm very aggressive, eager to make a play, and I'm a good pass rusher," he said.
These type of traits will keep Tennessee closely tracking Tavares' progress this season as he continues to grow into an interior D-lineman with chops. Brown doesn't expect to make a decision until later in the recruiting process, and if the Vols offer they may be tough to beat.
"Tennessee has always been in my heart," Brown told Scout.com's Don Callahan. "But really I want to stay close to home. If I don't stay close to home I want to go really far away."
Knoxville may a place that is just right.