Where do Vol DTs come from?

From the late-1990s through the mid-2000s, the Tennessee Vols cranked out NFL-caliber defensive tackles much the way Jimmy Dean cranks out sausage.

Consider:

- Darwin Walker (1999) was a third-round NFL Draft pick in 2000 who just finished his eighth season in the pros.

- Outland Trophy winner John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth (2001) were first-round picks in 2002 who have gone on to become bona fide NFL standouts.

- Aubrayo Franklin, Rashad Moore and Demetrin Veal (2002) were taken in the 2003 draft's fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, respectively, yet all are drawing NFL paychecks to this day.

- Jesse Mahelona (2005) is still active in the NFL, although he wasn't selected until Round 5 of the '06 draft. So is Tony McDaniel (2005), who wasn't a starter at UT and wasn't selected at all in the '06 draft.

- Justin Harrell (2006) was a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL draft and teammate Turk McBride (2006) went in Round 2 the same year.

It probably was inevitable that UT's incredible run of outstanding tackles would end someday, and that day appears to be at hand. The Vols' defensive-tackle play was mediocre in 2007 and projects to be about the same for the foreseeable future.

The Vols launched an exhaustive – but largely futile – search for defensive tackles this recruiting season. They have just one prospect committed, and he is considered a project who likely will need seasoning in junior college or prep school before joining the Vols sometime down the road.

Now that Tennessee's parade of stud defensive tackles has ended, perhaps it's time to ask: Where did the stalwarts of the past come from?

Walker, a product of Walterboro, S.C., transferred to UT after beginning his career at North Carolina State.

Henderson was a homegrown product, joining the Vols after a heralded prep career in Nashville.

Haynesworth was a highly rated underachiever from Hartsville, S.C.

Franklin, originally from Johnson City, and Veal, originally from Paramount, Calif., joined the Vols from junior college. So did Mahelona, originally from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Moore was a highly regarded prospect from Huntsville, Ala., that the Vols somehow were able to wrest away from Alabama and Auburn.

McDaniel came to the Vols after a celebrated prep career in Columbia, S.C.

Harrell signed with UT as a lightly regarded home-state "sleeper" from Martin.

McBride came to Tennessee following a standout prep career as a defensive end in Camden, N.J.

Bottom line: Three of the studs (Franklin, Veal, Mahelona) transferred in from the juco ranks and a fourth (Walker) transferred in from another Div. 1-A program. Two of the stalwarts (Henderson, Harrell) were homegrown and two more (Haynesworth, McDaniel) were imports from South Carolina. The Vols plucked one star (Moore) out of Alabama and another (McBride) out of New Jersey.

Now that Steve Spurrier and Tommy Bowden have closed the borders in South Carolina – as has Nick Saban in Alabama – the Vols' best bet to bring in standout defensive tackles appears to be going the juco route ... or maybe praying that Nashville and Martin can produce more Hendersons and Harrells.


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