Heat Seekers: Vols Need Impact Pass Rushers

During a time not so long ago, Tennesseeˆs defense could collapse an offensive line like a power lifter squeezing an accordion merely with the pressure it brought from the edge via its ends.

From a ten-year period 1990 through 1999, the Vols were consistently among the nationˆs leaders in sacks thanks primarily to the torrid pace set by their defensive ends, who brought the heat in perpetual waves.

Tandems such as Chuck Smith and Chris Mims, James Wilson and Todd Kelly, Wilson and Horace Morris, Steve White and Ben Talley, White and Leonard Little, Little and Jonathan Brown, Brown and Corey Terry, Terry and Shaun Ellis and Ellis and Will Overstreet had regular reunions at the quarterback. Sometimes the Vols had four or five quality pass rushers it could rotate at end.

That is reflected in the numbers they produced throughout the decade led by Little with 28 career sacks, Brown with 25, Kelly with 22.5, Wilson with 20.5, White with 20 and Overstreet with 19. Thatˆs six of top nine spots on UTˆs all-time sack list.

Similarly players from this elite list of ends own four of the top five spots for quarterback pressures, led by Overstreet with 49, Little with 42, Terry with 38 and Ellis with 32. (This stat was first recorded in 1995).

Even though production from the defensive ends took a nose dive in 2000, the Vols still set a school record with 50 sacks because of outstanding play from defensive tackles John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth and Rashad Moore, who brought pressure up the middle and created blitz lanes all along the line of scrimmage.

In 2001, Tennesseeˆs sack total dropped to 34 as Henderson and Overstreet missed several games due to injury and played most of the time in pain. The mere presence of Big John in the middle created blitz opportunities for linebackers as he often occupied two blockers. Haynesworth also got extra attention when Henderson was out and took advantage of one-on-one opportunities when his fellow, future first-round NFL pick was in the lineup.

Without Henderson, Haynesworth and Overstreet up front, the Vols hoped to compensate this season with increased production from Constantine Ritzmann and Kevin Burnett. But Ritzmann went down the week before the season opener and Burnett followed in the first quarter of the Wyoming game.

As a result, Tennessee has dropped to a 14-year low in QB sacks with 26 through 11 games. But the real story is at defensive end where the Vols have gotten just five sacks from starters Omari Hand (2), Karlton Neal (0), Mondre Dickerson (1) and Demetrin Veal (2). Dickerson and Veal also have one sack from defensive tackle.

As a basis of comparison consider that Ellis, Terry, Little and Smith each had single games with 3 sacks during their careers. In fact, Little had more sacks (6) in two 1996 games against South Carolina and Mississippi State than four UT ends have had this entire season. He also had more sacks in his college career (28) than UTˆs entire team has this season (26).

Suffice it to say: impact defensive ends are high on Tennesseeˆs shopping list this recruiting season and the pressure is on to sign prospects who can bring the heat.

Editorˆs Note: In part two weˆll look at some of the prospects the Vols are pursuing and offer projections on which appear most promising.

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