The Vols' 2001 backups were an impressive crew, as well. Aubrayo Franklin and Rashad Moore would assume starting jobs in 2002, then be picked in Rounds 5 and 6, respectively, of the '03 draft. Moore spent five years in The League. Franklin just finished his seventh pro season, starting 44 games for the San Francisco 49ers the past three years.
That 2001 Vol defense also featured swing man Demetrin Veal, who started at end in '02 but played some tackle, as well. Taken in Round 7 of the 2003 draft, he went on to spend five quality seasons in the NFL.
All told, five tackles off the 2001 Vol defense have gone on to play at least five seasons of pro ball. That's a pretty remarkable accomplishment.
Suffice to say, the D-tackle position isn't nearly so loaded nine years later. The 2010 Vols have one proven SEC-caliber player in sophomore Montori Hughes, then they have a bunch of unknown quantities.
Hughes, a 6-4, 317-pounder, recorded 20 tackles as a freshman backup in 2009, with two tackles for loss, a pass breakup, a pass defensed, a hurry and a fumble forced. Barring injury, he's going to be special.
After Hughes, the other five tackle prospects combined for 5 stops last season.
The projected starter opposite Hughes is fellow sophomore Marlon Walls, a 6-3, 264-pounder with nice potential who lacks heft and experience. He played in seven games last fall, recording 2 tackles.
Also battling for playing time at tackle are a pair of converted ends - sophomore Steven Fowlkes (6-5, 253) and junior Rae Sykes (6-4, 270). Fowlkes registered 3 stops as an end last fall but may need another 20 pounds before he can help at tackle. Sykes saw mopup duty in UT's 63-7 Game 1 annihilation of Western Kentucky last September, then never left the sidelines again.
Rounding out the tackle corps are senior Chase Nelson (6-3, 291) and redshirt freshman Arthur Jeffery (6-3, 294). Nelson made cameo appearances in two games last fall, Western Kentucky and Memphis. Jeffery sat out the season to give a surgically repaired ACL more time to heal.
Hughes starred in spring practice. He registered 5 stops, a tackle for loss and two pass breakups in the first scrimmage, then added 4 stops with 2 TFL in the second scrimmage.
Walls came up big in the Orange & White Game, numbering 3 sacks among his 4 total stops.
Joining the tackle ranks in August will be John Brown, a 6-2, 285-pound transfer from Northeast Mississippi Community College. He recorded 80 tackles last fall, including 3.5 sacks. Rated a 5-star prospect by Scout.com as a senior at Lakeland (Fla.) High School, Brown could provide a huge lift at a very depth-shy position.
Position rating: Barely adequate ... if Hughes can stay healthy and if Brown can get eligible in time. Otherwise, the Vols could be in a world of hurt.