Moving Montori

Imagine you're a pass protector facing a blitzer coming at you with a full head of steam. Now imagine that blitzer stands 6-4 and weighs 317 pounds.

That's the unpleasant prospect Tennessee opponents will encounter this fall due to Vol defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's creative plans for Montori Hughes. This spring the burly tackle occasionally moves off the line of scrimmage and into a linebacker-type position, so he'll have a running start when he smashes into an opposing offensive lineman.

"That's a little play we've got where I get to stand up and roam around, get my momentum up and rush the quarterback," he said following Saturday's scrimmage.

Defensive linemen relish rushing the passer, so the chance to rush him with a full head of steam is a dream come true for Hughes.

"I love it," he said. "I get to build my momentum up and run into that offensive lineman. He's sitting there waiting on me to run into him. It don't get no better than that."

Hughes, an imposing sophomore from Murfreesboro, says he already recorded one sack this spring from the running-start position.

"It was one of the first times we ran it where I got to stand up and rush the quarterback," he recalled. "I got in real easy on that one because they wasn't expecting it. That was one of my best plays."

Fortunately for Tennessee, the quarterback in Hughes' cross-hairs was wearing a green jersey, designating him not to be hit.

"I would've killed him," Hughes said, flashing a truly wicked grin, "but obviously I can't do that in practice."

Hughes has been exceptional in Tennessee's first two spring scrimmages. He numbered 2 tackles for loss among his 4 stops Saturday at Neyland Stadium. Nine days earlier, in Scrimmage No. 1, he registered 5 tackles, a tackle for loss and 2 pass breakups.

Of course, tempering his stats a bit is the fact he is wreaking havoc against a patchwork Vol offensive line that features five new starters.

"Everybody always says we've got a young line and all that, but our line has got a lot of fight, and they never give up," Hughes said. "We may stop 'em but they keep their heads up and keep going. I like that about them. They're (feisty like) dogs."

Replacing a projected first-round NFL Draft pick like former Vol Dan Williams is no simple task but Hughes believes he's ready. He says he picked up some valuable lessons backing up Williams last fall.

"I learned a lot," he said. "There was so much he taught me technique-wise - stuff that sometimes the coach don't see out there that the players do. It was a hands-on thing. In game situations he'd come to the sidelines and tell me how to read the center and stuff. I learned a lot from Dan."

Minus Williams and fellow starter Wes Brown from last year's tackle corps, Tennessee is counting heavily on Hughes this fall. He understands but says that doesn't provide any added pressure.

"We're a team in this," he said. "If I do my job and the other 10 guys do their job, we'll be fine. I don't think it's anything out of the ordinary; I've got to have a good year but if we stick together as a team I think we'll be fine."

Hughes and fellow sophomore Marlon Walls are the first-team tackles this spring. Hughes likes what he has seen from his cohort to date.

"Marlon is making a lot of improvement," he said. "It's the same thing as for me. We're still young and still trying to learn some of the techniques. We're just learning and improving as we go."


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