Common as Hen's Teeth

Haven't we been here before, in the homestretch of a nationwide quest for quality defensive tackle prospects and the board nearly empty?

Well don't feel bad. It happens to every school at least sometime, to some schools all the time and to most schools most of the time. It is a phenomenon for which there are few cures outside of the prototypical 6-foot-4, 290-pound, 18 year-old with quick feet, strong hands, 4.8 speed, a 500-pound bench press and powered by a high RPM motor.

In other words: good luck. There is rarely any player of such dimension, strength and abilities coming out of high school. Even former Vols like John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth, who fit that rare description, had to acclimate to the intensity and high-tech tactics unleashed in the trenches.

Tennessee fans have probably been spoiled to a degree given the remarkable run of superb tackles that have suited up for the Big Orange over the last decade or so. Players like Shane Burton, Bill Duff, Darwin Walker, Billy Ratliff, Aubrayo Franklin, Rashad Moore, Jesse Mahelona, Justin Harrell, Turk McBride joining the aforementioned Henderson and Haynesworth. Throw in a few ends that could slide down to tackle like Shaun Ellis, Jonathan Brown and Demetrin Veal and you have a group of warriors that could battle the best in college football.

With a track record like that Tennessee is deserving of the unofficial "D-Tackle U" title, especially when you add a pair of NFL Hall of Fame talents like Reggie White and Doug Atkins to that elite list. In fact, White and Atkins are arguably the best pair of defensive tackles ever produced by one school. You could even make a convincing case for White and Atkins as the top defensive tackles ever — period.

Attracting talent of that caliber is no accident and it's not something you can ever guarantee, as the 2007 season has proven. There was more than one hole in UT's defense, which was at least statistically the school's worst ever, but the problems begin inside. To play the attack-style defense with press coverage Tennessee prefers you have to be able to consistently beat one-on-one blocking and get push in the center of the line.

Now the Vols would like to sign a prospect who can come in and impact the rotation, adding depth and pushing the starters to step up their game or step aside. There doesn't appear to be a high school player with those qualifications. Even No. 6 ranked Guy Lawrence. who committed to Arizona State this week after visiting and seriously considering Tennessee, isn't ready to make that leap.

However the Vols are at least in contention for a Junior College prospect who can. Simi Kull, of El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif., is actually a defensive end but at his current 6-foot-4, 275-pound size he could become one. And with his 4.7 speed he could become a force up front at the next level as well as the level beyond.

Kuli, who is rated a five-star prospect by Scout.com, originally committed to Nebraska in October, but reopened the recruiting process after head coach Bill Callahan was fired. He is still considering Nebraska, but he rates the Cornhuskers even with a field that includes Arizona State, LSU, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State and Tennessee. He visited the Sooners on Dec. 1 and visited LSU in October.

If the Vols can get one of his remaining three official visits, they could offer an interesting contrast to what he has seen. Of course, it doesn't hurt that UT has an immediate need and no one left to fill it. Plus, Dan Brooks would have a chance to make his pitch, and with his achievements developing D-lineman, it would carry a lot of weight.

In 10 games in 2006 Fuli recorded 50 tackles (15 behind the line of scrimmage) with five sacks, a fumble recovery and 20 quarterback hurries. Through five game this fall he recorded 42 tackles (13 for losses), seven sacks and 20 QB hurries. He played both on the weakside and strongside posts in addition to sliding inside to tackle.

"Simi is third on the team in tackles and second on the team in sacks and he missed two games," Coach Tim Hyde told the Big Red Report. "He might have been able to just miss one after that knee sprain, but we wanted to bring him back slowly. Last year at the junior college combine he ran a 4.7 (time in the) 40."

Kuli is a player in the mode of Turk McBride in terms of his size, quickness and versatility. He can exploit gaps, split double teams and pursue beyond the tackle box. He could be the disrupter Tennessee is seeking.

The Vols are also contending for the services of Birmingham Huffman High School star Marcel Dareus, who is rated No. 7 nationally at defensive tackle. At 6-6, 275, he is the same size as Kuli and he also good mobility with 4.95 speed. As a senior, he recorded 107 tackles with 19.5 sacks and he returned a fumble for a TD.

Scout.com analyst Jamie Newberg describes Dareus as follows: "A demon on the defensive line, Dareus plays inside at tackle and outside at end. While he has the quickness as an end in college, his future is likely at defensive tackle with his size. He controls his blockers, has a lightning quick first step, and is tenacious in pursuit. He's the total package on the defensive line."

Auburn is the team to beat for Dareus with Alabama, Arkansas, Clemson, Florida, Tennessee and UAB in the running. He has yet to set any official visits and doesn't have a date for announcing his decision. The Vols have also offered his brother Marcel, who is listed at 6-5, 245.

A little brotherhood is just what Tennessee's D-line could use.


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