It starts with three seniors - Chris Walker, Ben Martin and Gerald Williams. Walker, a second-team preseason All-SEC pick, started 12 of 13 games last season, missing one start due to injury. He led the team in sacks (6) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (2).
Martin started 11 games last fall, ranking second in sacks (3.5) and fumbles forced (2). Williams started two games last fall, ranking second in hurries (5) and fourth in pass breakups (3).
Then there's Willie Bohannon, who returns after playing a key backup role as a freshman last fall. He numbered two tackles for loss among his 14 stops in '09.
Further enhancing the end outlook is the addition of Southern Cal transfer Malik Jackson, who recorded 18 stops, 3.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a Trojan sophomore last fall.
Even with five solid players vying for playing time at defensive end, Tennessee could get immediate contributions from two freshmen - Jacques Smith and Corey Miller. That's because these are no ordinary freshmen.
Smith, a 6-2, 248-pounder from Ooltewah, was rated a 5-star prospect by Scout.com last winter after recording 79 tackles and 9.5 sacks as a high school senior. He turned heads in Tennessee's initial spring scrimmage by recording 6 stops.
Miller, a 6-3, 255-pounder from Wellford, S.C., was tabbed a 4-star prospect by Scout.com after registering 146 tackles and 18 sacks as a prep senior.
Further enhancing Smith's and Miller's chances of making immediate impact is the fact both enrolled early and participated in spring practice. Those 15 workouts put them light-years ahead of the typical freshman in terms of understanding the Vol defensive scheme and adjusting to the speed of college football.
Smith enters preseason drills No. 3 at right end behind Walker and Bohannon. Walker enters August No. 3 at left end behind Martin and Williams.
Most years players the quality of Smith and Miller would be competing for first-team jobs as true freshmen. Even with the superior depth Tennessee has at defensive end for 2010, they should see the field early and often this fall.