Bringin' the heat

Three of Tennessee's four starting defensive linemen from 2005 are out of eligibility. Projected starter Turk McBride is sidelined by injury. So are key reserves Xavier Mitchell and Vladimir Richard. Tony McDaniel is skipping his senior year to turn pro.

Given all of this, it's no wonder defensive line coach Dan Brooks felt more pressure than the quarterbacks did in the Vols' first full-scale scrimmage of the spring.

"I didn't think we rushed the passer as well as we would've liked to," Brooks said, looking back on the March 11 scrimmage. "But we're replacing three of the four ends we played last year. Jason Hall and Parys Haralson are gone and Xavier Mitchell's not practicing. Robert Ayers has a lot of ability but he's green. We want some guys to come along faster than they can probably. That's the nature of spring practice."

The Vols are nearly as unproven at tackle as they are at end. Justin Harrell is an All-America candidate and McBride, when healthy, is a quality player. Beyond them, though, is an assortment of question marks.

"We want to get Demonte Bolden rushing the passer better," Brooks said. "Now Vlad Richard is hurt and he's going to miss some time, so Dan Williams has got to come on."

Given the lack of depth at tackle, Brooks borrowed defensive end Raymond Henderson and gave him some work insude during the scrimmage. Another end, junior college transfer Walter Fisher, may get a look at tackle, as well.

"There's some potential there," Brooks said. "You just find the best four guys, then the next four guys. That's why you put Raymond Henderson inside or put Walter Fisher inside some. They're OUR guys. They're not my guys or (ends coach) Steve Caldwell's guys. We're going to find the best guys to go play.

"Hopefully, we'll get Turk McBride and X (Xavier Mitchell) well and add them to the mix. For now, though, those freshmen have got to get a lot of work."

Tennessee's inexperience up front wouldn't be quite so critical except that the Vols are even younger at linebacker. The fact all three 2005 starting linebackers are gone puts more pressure on the front four to perform.

"It does," Brooks conceded. "You're replacing six out of seven starters up front – three linemen and three linebackers."

Brooks withheld Harrell from the early part of the scrimmage to see how the new-look line would perform without its star player. Clearly, he was missed.

"We didn't play Justin early to see how those guys would handle that," Brooks said. "We just decided to play him in some situational stuff and not play him in the open field. I think that made a difference. They need that bell cow sometimes to go out and show them how."

Even after Harrell joined the lineup, Tennessee's front four didn't muster a whole lot of pass rush. As a result, Vol quarterbacks had a field day in the scrimmage.

"Some of those throws down the field were on us," Brooks said. "We can't give ‘em that long to throw it. We've got to rush the passer better. That's the biggest thing: We've got to be active and find out who the playmakers are on third-and-long and get us out of some situations."


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