Talent's not enough

One imposing sophomore has the talent to be Tennessee's best defensive tackle. If he ever develops the intangibles to go with that talent, he could be the SEC's best defensive tackle.

For now, though Montori Hughes remains a work very much in progress. He has the size (6-4, 305 pounds), strength, agility and toughness to be another Dan Williams. In fact, Hughes spent last fall as the chief backup to Williams, who was a first-round NFL Draft pick in April.

Hughes may have even more natural ability than Williams. But Williams' determination and effort enabled him to make the most of his skills. That has not yet happened for Hughes.

"Dan Williams came to work every day, stayed focused," Vol defensive line coach Chuck Smith said recently. "That's the kind of blueprint I have for Montori. Montori has the talent to be a dominant defensive lineman but there are a lot of other intangibles that go with being a great defensive lineman."

Hughes hasn't exhibited those intangibles on a consistent basis this preseason. That's why he recently was called out by head coach Derek Dooley, who noted that Hughes was not having a good fall camp.

"It's the truth," Hughes conceded. "Coach ain't going to tell you nothing that's going to hurt you. He's just challenging me to play better, to challenge myself to step up and play like he knows I can."

Hughes peformed so well as a mid-term freshman in the spring of 2009 that Lane Kiffin compared him to ex-Vol Albert Haynesworth, currentlyl the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. Hughes has not progressed as quickly as expected, however, since that blazing start.

"I see myself as having a lot of growing up to do, a lot to learn," he said. "I still learn a lot from older guys like C-Walker (Chris Walker) and Gerald Williams. Even though they play defensive end, there's still a lot to learn from the way they play. I try to take the experience I do have and help the younger guys."

It's odd, but Hughes was one of those "younger guys" last year. Now, as a mere sophomore, he's one of the veterans of the D-tackle ranks due to graduation and attrition.

"We lost a lot of experience," Hughes noted. "I'm still a young guy but I've got to grow up fast. There's a lot of spots to fill and a lot of growing to do. As Coach says, if I do my job and hold the player next to me accountable to do his job, we'll be fine."

Hughes has dropped seven pounds since playing last fall at 312 pounds. He believes he has added some mobility in the process.

"I feel like I've made improvement - gotten a little quicker and a little faster," he said. "I think I've got a little speed."

He'll need a little more speed - and a little more patience - this fall. With so much inexperience around him, Hughes must do his job and help the young pups grow into their jobs. He believes they'll be fine.

"We all expect high of each other," he said. "We all expect each other to get the job done, no matter what the age is. Like coach says, if you can make a play you can make a play. Age doesn't matter.

"They're holding me accountable - they're looking up to me - but I'm watching them. They're pushing me and I'm pushing them."

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