The Vols return two great ends who have the game experience to make the loss of Overstreet and Jackson not such a big deal afterall. Omari Hand and Constantin Ritzmann will most likely be penciled in as the starters from day one. The best news is that with the two aforementioned graduating following the 2002 season, there is a very talented crop coming right in behind them. This season, it seems more than any in past years, want to have a serious pass rush threat off the corners. They couldn't have been any luckier or planned any better, one of the two. Constantin Ritzmann is arguably the best pass rusher UT has this year. Omari Hand has been very successful in interupting passing attempts for the Vols during his career. That combined with the young pups that are ready to play, Tennessee's future at defensive end might just be bright after all.
Ritzmann, 6-4, 252, has racked up 7 sacks in his Vol career. In 2001, which has been his most productive year, he recovered a fumble for a touchdown(Kentucky), caught a two-point conversion(Memphis) and chalked up a safety(Syracuse). The main knock on Ritzmann in his three year tenure has been that he has not been able to defend the run like what the coaches want in their defesive linemen. "Constantin has really worked hard this past summer to not only get better in stopping the run, but making up for years past that he hasn't worked as hard in that area as I would have liked him to have done," said Coach Steve Caldwell. "Omari and Constantin are not where I would have liked them to be at this point in their career and I think they would tell you that. I am really proud of the way they have pushed each other to improve their overall game." Ritzmann will be a major key in 2002 pertaining to Tennessee's success. If Constantin is able to be the dual threat at rushing the passer and stopping the run, the Vols could be in for some very good things. If not, Tennessee fans could see the future of the Vol d-line playing very early.
Omari Hand has been the most consistent of the bunch since spring practice started. Hand started in games 1(Syracuse) and 2(Arkansas) over Bernard Jackson in 2001. Omari registered four quarterback hurries in his time on the playing field in '01. Omari also had 10 tackles, 11 assists for 21 total stops last season. "Omari's ability to play the run well is going to be very important for us this year," defensive coordinator John Chavis. "You know Omari has done well in the past for us, the only thing left for him to do is go out and show everybody as a starter." Coach Chavis appears to be satisfied with both Hand and Ritzmann as his starters, he just sounds anxious to see them go out and show their talent.
Mondre Dickerson, had he made the grade two years ago, would probably already be a fixtured in Tennessee's defensive line. Because of two years of junior college(Coffeyville-Kansas CC), he is fighting for a second team job as it stands now. Dickerson was a star on a Memphis Melrose HS team that he helped to a 55-5 record over four years and a 15-0 state championship year in his final high school season. Dickerson's 6-5, 265 pound frame should make him a real force off the end. With just two years of eligibility remaining, Mondre can feel the pressure to step up and perform. He should have the opportunity to show coaches that very potential in games 1 and 2 this season. Going into the Florida game, Mondre hopes to be someone that the Gators will have a problem contending with.
Karlton Neal found his place at defensive end in spring practice. Neal was brought to Tennessee as a linebacker and then converted to end. He earned the Most Improved defensive player award this past spring. Karlton is in the same boat as Mondre Dickerson. Both will see playing time this year and they should be the early favs to start in 2003. Karlton is a great pass rusher, but there is no shortage of pass rushers this year. If Neal can improve his run defense before the season begins or as it unfolds, he will see more and more playing time.
Wesley Holmes was just recently switched to defensive tackle from end. Holmes is better suited at end and will probably see another move by midseason if not earlier. Wesley came to Tennessee from Pearl Cohn High School by way of Ole Miss. Wesley was unable to participate with the Rebels due to test score problems. He elected to come to Tennessee and walk-on as opposed to staying at Mississippi with a scholarship in hand. Whether or not he stays at tackle is a mystery, but he will make an impact on the d-line this year and in future years. With his strong performance this spring, he should find himself in the second group of guys coming off the bench more and more as the 2002 season unfolds.
Ovince Saint Preux had a good spring defending passing plays. Preux's body is smaller than what Tennessee coaches would like to have, but he will see time against teams such as Florida, Miami and MTSU that will pass the ball around. Depending on how Ovince's body responds to more weight lifting and other strength training, he could find himself back at linebacker before his career at Tennessee expires. For the time though he will see playing time off the end and he will be given the chance to make an impact.
Tennessee did a great job over the off season of recruiting some of the best defensive end propects in the nation. Jonathon Mapu, David Ligon and Jason Hall. "Jonathan and David are further along as far as their knowledge of the game goes," Coach Caldwell said. "Those two guys will see playing time this year. We feel Jason is going to be a great defender for us once we get him a little more accustomed to the speed of SEC football and get some more strength on him." Coach Caldwell seems to be very happy with his catch at defensive end this past February. He also landed Parys Haralson and Greg Jones, but both have since been moved to other positions. Jones to defensive tackle and Haralson to linebacker. Mapu and Ligon will be very important to the Vols in 2002. Caldwell was quick to say that both are only one snap away from being in the top two groups at the position.
Losing such talent at a position makes one wonder how a coach can stay so upbeat. Coaches always say that they are constantly looking at the future. Well the Vols future looks very good, now if they can just figure out how long in the future it is going to be.