Top OLBs, picks 1-5

All lists are subjective and, therefore, arbitrary. Still, I believe my list of the five greatest outside linebackers to play for Tennessee between 1964 and 2004 stands up reasonably well under scrutiny.

In addition to sideline-to-sideline range and terrific tackling skills, each of the five guys mentioned below showcased a tremendous knack for making game-changing plays in big games.

5. JACKIE WALKER: Weighing just 190 pounds, this Knoxville native was basically the forerunner to today's nickel back. Starting from 1969-71, he is the only linebacker to show up among Tennessee's top 15 in career interceptions, checking in at No. 11. Incredibly, he returned five of his 11 career "Oskies" for touchdowns. Walker's 281 interception return yards rank fourth on UT's career list. He paced the 1970 Vols with 124 tackles and served as a team captain in '71. Voted All-SEC as a junior and senior, he earned some All-America accolades each year.

4. DALE JONES: No one ever wore the Orange with more pride than this four-year starter (1983-86) from nearby Cleveland. Playing at 6-2 and 205 pounds, Jones ranks eighth on the career tackles chart (350), seventh on the primary tackles chart (233) and fourth on the tackles-for-loss chart (39.5). His 11 fumbles caused ranks second on the all-time list. Blessed with tremendous heart and leadership skills, he was to the 1985 "Sugar Vols" what Al Wilson was to the 1998 national championship team. Jones' leaping deflection/interception of a Mike Shula pass in 1985 vs. Alabama may have been the greatest defensive play in program history. A two-time All-SEC pick and a team captain as a senior, Jones is now defensive coordinator at Appalachian State University.

3. PAUL NAUMOFF: One versatile Vol, Naumoff started at split end in 1964, defensive end (essentially outside linebacker) in '65, then moved to inside linebacker when Tom Fisher was killed in a car wreck durng the early stages of '66. No tackle statistics were kept prior to 1970 but Naumoff was a consensus All-American in 1966. His head-on hit on Syracuse star Larry Csonka saved a touchdown and preserved Tennessee's 18-12 victory in the 1966 Gator Bowl. Selected in Round 3 of the 1967 NFL Draft, Naumoff spent 12 productive seasons with the Detroit Lions.

2. AL WILSON: After two years starting on the outside (1996-97), the Jackson native manned the middle in '98. Slowed by injuries throughout his career, his tackle total of 272 does not accurately reflect his range or his value. His best year was his sophomore season, when he recorded 15 minus-yardage stops among his 87 total stops. He forced three fumbles in '98 against Florida, setting a single-game record that still stands. A fiery and emotional leader, he literally willed the '98 Vols to the national title, then captained Tennessee as a senior, making several All-America teams. A first-round NFL Draft pick in 1999, he is soon to begin his eighth year with the Denver Broncos. He was All-Pro in '05.

1. STEVE KINER: A three-year starter (1967-69) and two-time consensus All-American ('68 and '69), Kiner finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a senior. Voted SEC Sophomore of the Year in '67, he was tabbed the league's Defensive Player of the Year in '69. Kiner gave one of the great defensive efforts in UT history against Alabama in 1969, finishing the 41-14 win with 16 total hits, a mind-boggling five sacks, four quarterback hurries, an interception and a forced fumble. In addition to leading the Vols in tackles as a junior and senior, he recorded nine career interceptions. A third-round pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, Kiner spent nine years in the league. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in '99.


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