Dynamic defenders

Two freshmen would be likely to make immediate impact on Tennessee's defense this fall except for one thing: They play the one position at which the Vols appear to be loaded.

Defensive ends Corey Miller and Jacques Smith still might see considerable action in 2010, even though they play the same position as proven seniors Chris Walker (12 career starts), Ben Martin (11) and Gerald Williams (2).

Miller is a 6-4, 230-pounder from Byrnes High in Wellford, S.C., who was rated a 4-star prospect by Scout.com last winter. Smith is a 6-3, 235-pounder from Ooltewah High was tabbed a 5-star recruit by Scout. Nothing either has done this spring suggests they were overrated.

"For those guys coming in here at mid-year out of high school to jump into conditioning like they did and go through spring football at a big-time place, they've done an awesome job," first-year Vol defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said this week. "I've been really excited about both of those guys, and I think they're going to help us."

Some high school superstars arrive at college thinking they'll earn playing time just by showing up. Miller and Smith exhibit no such arrogance. They reportedly are putting forth tremendous effort on the practice field and in the meeting room.

"They have great attitudes," Wilcox said. "They've been willing to learn and willing to work, and we're excited about where those guys are going."

Tennessee's new head coach likes what he is seeing from the dynamic duo, as well.

"Let me tell you, those two guys are going to be really good football players," Derek Dooley said. "They have a great attitude and great character; they play with tremendous effort and have a lot of physical skills. They are progressing at a really rapid pace and are going to be important to us this year. I'm glad they are part of our program."

Smith was one of the stars of Tennessee's initial spring scrimmage, registering 6 tackles. Neither rookie distinguished himself - statistically, at least - Saturday in Scrimmage No. 2. In fact, Wilcox hinted that the defense as a group may have underperformed last weekend.

"I thought there were some things we showed some improvement on - in terms of some alignment/assignment things," the coordinator said. "I thought there were some things that showed up that we didn't do particularly well physically."

With only Thursday's practice remaining before the Vols go public in Saturday's Orange & White Game, Wilcox is hoping the defenders will give a better performance than they did in last weekend's dress rehearsal.

"It gave us a good motivation coming into the last week," he said, "because I think we need to clean up some things, not only schematically but also technique-wise."

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