Where's the beef?

The first time he noticed that Tennessee's roster listed just four defenders weighing 280 pounds or more, new head coach Derek Dooley hoped that was a mistake.

There was a mistake, as things turned out: Marlon Walls, listed at 289 pounds, goes just 264, so there actually are only THREE defenders on defense who weigh 270 or better.

The three are tackles Montori Hughes (6-4, 317), Arthur Jeffery (6-3, 288) and Chase Nelson (6-3, 285).

The next three heaviest guys on the defensive platoon are tackles Walls (6-3, 264) and Rae Sykes (6-4, 264), along with end Ben Martin (6-3, 251).

"I was shocked," Dooley said. "It was a shocking statistic."

Shocking perhaps, but understandable. Historically, Tennessee's emphasis on speed over bulk led the Vols to sign 250-pounders they could turn into 300-pound defensive tackles. Several of these recent "projects" have failed to pan out and several more have failed to bulk up sufficiently, leaving the Big Orange undersized at the position.

"We've got some good ones that are little and play with leverage and twitch," Dooley said.

Still, Tennessee's best D-tackle last fall (Dan Williams) was its biggest, and the same formula holds true this season.

"I feel good about Montori Hughes," Dooley said of the 317-pound sophomore. "He really had an excellent spring. We need him to be a big presence in there because we are little and need to get some bulk.

"We only have three players on our defense that weigh over 280. That's frightening. We're going to go on an eating spree here in the offseason, and I'm going to be leading the charge."

Dooley wants a tough strength and conditioning program, preferring that his athletes be lean and quick at most positions. Defensive tackle is an exception to this rule, however.

"Sometimes we get so caught up in nutrition," Dooley said, adding that "A big bucket of fried chicken sometimes is good when you're trying to stop the power O and you're playing 3 technique.

"We want their health to be good but we need 'em to be big while they're in there stopping the run."

On a positive note, the Vols have some heft on the way. Due to join the defensive tackle ranks in August are 6-3, 300-pound high school grad Greg Clark and 6-2, 285-pound junior college transfer John Brown.

Both lack collegiate experience but at least provide some additional bulk for the defensive front.

"You need some mass in there - in the middle especially," Dooley said. "You need some mass. We've got to develop that and recruit it. (Until then) we're doing a lot of movement, stemming and shifting.

"If you're not big you'd better be quick as hell."


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