Ahead of the curve

Mark Schlabach has an interesting article posted at ESPN.com concerning how the "spread offense" is forcing college teams to recruit smaller, quicker defensive players who can cover more ground.

He writes:

"More and more, college football teams also are looking for faster, slimmer players who can defend the spread attack. Coaches want 275-pound tackles who can stop the run and rush the passer. They want 250-pound ends who can sack the quarterback and drop into pass coverage.

"Ends have become tackles. Linebackers have become ends. Safeties have become linebackers."

Schlabach's point is valid but this is no recent development at Tennessee. Operating well ahead of the curve, the Vols have been doing this for years – though more by necessity than by design.


Safeties Al Wilson, Eric Westmoreland, Anthony Sessions, Eddie Moore, Kevin Burnett, Ryan Karl, Ellix Wilson and Adam Myers-White have grown into linebackers during their Vol careers.

Linebackers Leonard Little, DeAngelo Lloyd, Bernard Jackson, Parys Haralson, Karlton Neal, Antonio Reynolds and Robert Ayers have grown into defensive ends while on The Hill.

Defensive ends Jeff Coleman, Edward Kendrick, Mondre Dickerson, Turk McBride, J.T. Mapu and Walter Fisher have bulked up and become tackles during their days in Knoxville.

Tennessee's coaches had not heard of the spread offense when they converted Al Wilson from safety to linebacker, Leonard Little from linebacker to end or Jeff Coleman from end to tackle. They simply chose to build the Vol defense around speed, whether the opponent plays a spread offense or a triple-option attack. That's why Tennessee has made a habit of recruiting quick players, then bulking them up whenever possible.

The logic is faultless: It's a whole lot easier to make a quick athlete bigger than it is to make a big athlete quicker.

Tennessee's reliance on smaller, faster defenders should prove useful against at least two 2008 foes. Florida (Sept. 20) and Auburn (Sept. 27) are committed to the spread offense.

Due to its long-standing policy of making safeties into linebackers, linebackers into ends and ends into tackles, the Vol defense should feature the quickness needed to combat the Gator and Tiger spread attacks.

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