Best of the decade: defense

Tennessee's football team could barely score against air in 2005 and 2008, yet the Big Orange was consistently strong defensively in the decade 2000-09. The Vols routinely fielded quality stop units featuring quality personnel.

That said, I'm concluding my "Best of the Decade" series by offering my picks for the 10 finest Big Orange defensive players of 2000-2009, regardless of position:

1. ERIC BERRY: Brilliant against the run and the pass, the 5-11, 205-pound safety led the NCAA in interceptions as a sophomore in 2008 and led the Vols in tackles as a junior in 2009. He started all 39 games of his college career, then elected to bypass his senior year in favor of the NFL. Who could blame him? There were no frontiers left to conquer at the collegiate level.

2. JOHN HENDERSON: Big John was a solid producer at tackle throughout his career but he was downright incredible as a junior in 2000. All he did that fall was register 71 total stops (64 of them solos), 12 sacks, 9 tackles for loss and 4 forced fumbles. Those would be good career numbers for a tackle, which is why he won the Outland Trophy as the NCAA's premier lineman that season. He missed a season as a non-qualifier but still finished his three-year UT career with 162 stops, an amazing total for his position. He was the ninth player picked in the 2002 NFL Draft.

3. KEVIN BURNETT: A two-time captain, this talented outside linebacker earned All-SEC and All-America recognition as a senior in 2004. A big hitter with excellent range, he recorded 140 tackles as a senior, then was taken by the Dallas Cowboys with the 10th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

4. JASON ALLEN: Though agile enough to start at cornerback in 2003 and 2005, this 6-2, 205-pounder found his niche at safety in 2004, leading the SEC with 123 tackles. He missed half of his senior year due to a dislocated hip but still was a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins (coached by Nick Saban) the following April.

5. WILL OVERSTREET: Known for his non-stop motor, Overstreet was a tenacious pass rusher who finished his career with 19 sacks and a program-record 49 hurries. He was tabbed All-SEC at end in both 2000 and 2001. A second-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in '02, he was agile enough to play linebacker in the pros.

6. PARYS HARALSON: Another high-motor defensive end, Haralson overcame his lack of ideal size (6-2, 245) with tremendous effort and determination. A team captain in 2004 and 2005, he ranks fifth on UT's all-time list for sacks (21) and second for hurries (44). Like Overstreet, he moved from end to linebacker upon entering the NFL.

7. GIBRIL WILSON: A junior college transfer, Wilson did enough in his two years on The Hill (2002, 2003) to warrant inclusion on this list. The 6-1, 195-pounder was a punishing tackler who registered 196 stops as a Vol, with 17 pass breakups and 3 interceptions. An unholy terror on the safety blitz, he also recorded 5.5 sacks at Tennessee. He has gone on to enjoy a solid NFL career.

8. ANDRE LOTT: Like Jason Allen, Lott sandwiched two years as a starting cornerback (1999, 2001) around a year as a starting safety (2000). Excelling in run support and pass coverage, he earned All-SEC recognition as a senior, then spent five seasons in the NFL.

9. JABARI GREER: An NCAA champion in the hurdles, this athletic young man was a three-year starter (2001, 2002, 2003) at cornerback. He broke up 33 passes during his Vol career and, though undrafted, has developed into one of the NFL's better cover corners.

10. ERIC WESTMORELAND: Perhaps the most underrated UT player of the decade, "E-mo" was a sure-handed tackler who did nothing spectacularly but did everything well. A three-year starter, he earned All-SEC recognition as a senior outside linebacker in 2000, then spent six seasons in the NFL.

NEAR MISSES: ROBERT AYERS, ALBERT HAYNESWORTH: Both guys were one-hit wonders - underachievers who became first-round NFL Draft picks via one spectacular college season.


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