Rating the rookies (defense)

A rash of injuries forced Tennessee to play a lot of freshmen on defense during the 2009 regular season. Fortunately for the Vols, several of the rookies distinguished themselves.

Here's a look at the five freshman defenders who had the greatest impact during the '09 regular season:

1. Janzen Jackson, safety: He made eight starts at free safety, establishing a reputation as one of the team's most ferocious hitters. He finished with 26 solo tackles and nine assists. He also registered a sack, 3 pass breakups, a fumble forced and a fumble recovery. If he can avoid off-the-field issues that plagued him in 2009, the rugged 6-0, 175-pounder has the potential to be an All-American someday.

2. Herman Lathers, linebacker: A redshirt freshman, Lathers wound up starting the last four games at middle linebacker after injuries sidelined Nick Reveiz and then Savion Frazier. Lathers recorded 20 solos and 20 assists, with a tackle for loss. His best outing came in Game 11 vs. Vanderbilt, when he registered 9 solos and 3 assists. The 6-1, 213-pounder was honored as a member of the Coaches' Freshman All-SEC team earlier this week. Head coach Lane Kiffin says Lathers has the tools to be a first-round NFL Draft pick.

3. Greg King, linebacker: Blessed with the infamous "nose for the football," King starred in preseason scrimmages and wound up starting two regular-season games at strongside linebacker. Despite missing a game due to injury, he registered 14 solos and 10 assists, with 1.5 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups and an interception. The 6-3, 205-pounder recorded 6-tackle games against Ohio U and Vanderbilt.

4. Montori Hughes, tackle: Stuck behind seniors Dan Williams and Wes Brown, Hughes still played enough to register 10 solos and 10 assists. Two of his tackles were behind the line. He also contributed a quarterback hurry against Ohio U and a forced fumble against Florida. Compared to ex-Vol Albert Haynesworth by UT head man Lane Kiffin, this 6-4, 312-pounder is going to be very, very good.

5. Willie Bohannon, end: After recording just 5 total tackles in Games 1 through 7, he had a breakout performance in Game 8 vs. South Carolina. Making his only start of the season, he registered 3 solo stops, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. The 6-2, 230-pounder finished the season with 6 solos, 7 assists, 2 tackles for loss (including a sack), a hurry, a fumble forced and a fumble recovery.

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