Heat Seekers: Vols Pursue Pass Rushers

Recruiting great pass rushers is a lot like dating prom queens - supply falls woefully short of demand, the alternatives aren't nearly as hot and they won't turn the competition's head wherever they go.

That's half the value of a speed rusher positioned on the edge of space, staring at the shortest path between two points, poised to wreak havoc on the offense's best laid plans. Given such a threat, you'll invariably have the QB's head spinning like a scene from the Exorcist, the left tackle popping out of his stance like a Jack-in-the-box and fullbacks flinching like a soldier suffering from battle fatigue.

The mere presence of a pass rusher who can beat you with speed forces an offense to hurry its game and disrupt its timing. Essentially, you have an attack unit put on the defensive and a defense that can seize the initiative without benefit of the snap the count.

Tennessee has a rich history of such pressure inducers, as highlighted in statistical detail in part one of this piece. Pass rushers like Chuck Smith, Chris Mims, Todd Kelly, Ben Talley, Steve White, Leonard Little, Jonathan Brown and Shaun Ellis have gone on to enjoy NFL success after their days of tormenting SEC quarterbacks for UT.

This season the Vols have only five sacks from their top four defensive ends and a 14-year low of 26 total sacks. The search is on for a difference-maker at defensive end and Tennessee is in the running for at least 11 of the nation's top 25 such prospects. The problem is that UT doesn't appear to be the top choice of any from this elite list, except for No. 25 Jared Hostetter who is one of the Vols two verbals. At 6-5, 275, with 4.7 speed Hostetter seemingly has the size and speed to be a pass rusher, but many analysts believe his future is at defensive tackle.

Here's a rundown of the best remaining prospects on the market and a look at which might be most likely to Volunteer for passing rushing duty at Tennessee next fall.

The Vols are finalists for two of the top junior college defensive ends: J.C. Braker, 6-6, 245, 4.6, from Glendale Community College in Arizona, and Doug Langenfeld, 6-3, 247, 4.47, of Reedly CC in California. However Braker names Arkansas as his leader while Langenfeld currently favors South Carolina.

Braker is also considering Arizona State, where former high school teammate Chris McKenzie plays, and Arizona. He is from the Phoenix area and might prefer staying close home, especially if the Sun Devils Terrell Suggs decides to leave school early for the NFL Draft. Lagenfeld hasn't set up any visits yet and the Vols have ground to gain to get one. An excellent prospect who only needs to add a little size and strength to become a dominating D-I defensive end.

Langenfeld is generally considered the best speed rusher in the JC ranks and with a 4.47 clocking in the 40 that's not surprising. He is also looking at Florida, Miami and Nebraska, but hasn't set any official visits. Once again the Vols are in the pack chasing the leader and getting a visit may be a challenge.

Tennessee did get a visit from the nation's No. 3 rated defensive end prospect Lawrence Jackson, 6-3, 241, 4.93,of Inglewood, Calif., but four days later he committed to USC.

The Vols also got an official visit from No. 4 prospect Turk McBride, 6-4, 234, 4.6, who hails from the same high school (Woodrow Wilson) in Camden, N.J., that produced Rashad Baker. McBride, who recorded 16.5 sacks and 67 tackles as a junior, enjoyed his visit for the Alabama game.

"Man, I liked everything," said McBride. "The college atmosphere is amazing, the fans are great and everything was wonderful. That is a cool place to play college football."

Despite the favorable review, McBride doesn't list Tennessee ahead of any other school he's considering which includes Iowa, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State and West Virginia. He was at Ohio State last weekend for the Buckeyes game against Michigan and he'll visit Ann Arbor on Dec. 13.

UT also got an official visit from the nation's No. 5 defensive end prospect Mario Williams of Richlands, N.C., for the Miami game. Williams, 6-6, 255, 4.57, who has 90 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks and four blocked kicks through 11 games season. After a midseason move on offense to running back, he has also rushed for 425 yards and two touchdowns in 55 carries. Williams is considered a soft verbal to N.C. State which he is scheduled to visit on Dec. 6. He has also visited Clemson and may visit Ohio State. The Vols appear to be a long shot for this talent from the Tar Heel State.

Tennessee is on a long list of suitors for the nation's No. 6 DE prospect Joe Cohen, 6-3, 238, 4.47 of Palm Bay High School in Melbourne, Fla. Cohen wowed scouts at the Nike camp with his tremendous speed, outstanding strength (27 reps of 185 in the bench), 33-inch vertical leap and 4.31 shuttle.

Cohen has only visited LSU (Oct. 19) to this point and is still considering trips to Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma, Penn State and Tennessee. He doesn't list a leader, but with 10 contenders Tennessee's chances appear nominal at best, especially with the Sunshine State's Big 3 hot on his trail.

UT's chances are better with another Florida prospect, Stan McClover, 6-4, 236, 4.5, of Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale, who checks in at No. 10 nationally. McClover has an official visit set for N.C. State on Dec. 6 and recently named Florida as his leader. Tennessee and Auburn are also in the hunt although apparently trailing the leaders. McClover has a lot of athletic ability and the frame to carry added weight, but he needs strength to make an early impact at the next level.

Back out west is No. 14 prospect Junior Lemau'u, 6-4, 240, of Polytechnic High in Long Beach. Lemau'u has Miami, Tennessee and Washington among his finalists, but currently favors USC and Oregon. It's unlikely he'll leave the west coast, making the Vols a long shot.

Closer to home, the Vols will get a visit from Opelika, Ala., defensive end Tez Doolittle, 6-3, 260, 4.7, who is rated No. 18 in the nation. Doolittle will visit UT on Jan. 17, a week after touring the campus in Tuscaloosa. He visits South Carolina on Dec. 6 and plans trips to Georgia and Florida, too. Most are recruiting Doolittle as a defensive end, but he did gain over 800 yards this season at fullback and seems intrigued by the possibility of playing that position in college. He doesn't currently name a favorite, but has been to many Auburn games in the recent years and may sign with the Tigers despite not taking an official visit there. The proximity of Opelika to Auburn has served as a pipeline in the past.

The Insiders No. 19 defensive end prospect is Vince Redd, 6-7, 250, 4.75, who is located in Elizabethon, Tenn. Redd is difficult to reach and doesn't list a favorite. However, he does have a visit to Virginia Tech set for this weekend (Nov. 29) and is also considering Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina in addition to the Vols. Despite his status as one of the state's top prospects, Redd is far from a sure thing to sign with UT, as more Elizabethon products have taken the road north to Blacksburg than have gone to Knoxville in recent years.

That brings us to No. 24 on the DE hit parade — Richard Cook, 6-5, 265, 4.88, of Wilkes High School in Washington, Ga. Cook names Tennessee and Florida State as his favorites, but has only set visits with Georgia (Dec. 13), South Carolina (Jan. 10) and Florida (Jan. 17). Cook is a solid prospect, but may have more long-term potential as a defensive tackle than at end.

Tennessee is also in the running for No. 26 Quentin Groves of Greenville, Miss., No. 27 Chris Ellis of Hampton, Va., No. 34 Chris Harrington of Houston, Texas, No. 35 Shawn Crable of Massillon, Ohio, No. 36 Raymond Edwards of Cincinnati and No. 37 Vegas Franklin of Reserve, La., but none of these prospects have UT at the top of their list and only Ellis (1-24) and Edwards (12-13) have scheduled visits.

There's still time to turn a couple of the better prospects from this list of impressive pass rushers, but it just goes to show: the only thing harder than finding a great speed rusher is signing one.

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