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May 16, 2012

Breaking down the DL

The biggest question for the Vol offense this off-season is all about the running game. From running back to offensive line it's the burning question for the offense. For the Vol defense, the talk is about the adjustment to the 3-4 defensive scheme. And that adjustment starts with how the defensive line plays.

Breaking down the DL:
Starter: Marlon Walls, 6-2, 283, JR

Improved: More comfortable at his natural position of defensive end. Played with more confidence

Summer target: Improve strength and improve his consistency

Starter: Maurice Couch, 6-2, 295, JR

Improved: Played with better pad leverage and with much improved stamina.

Summer target: Continue to improve his leverage, improve his strength and just hands better.

Starter: Steven Fowlkes, 6-5, 255, SR

Improved: After not playing for a year, Fowlkes was surprisingly consistent and comfortable at defensive end.

Summer target: Needs to add strength and weight.

Backups: Darrington Sentimore, Jordan Williams, Daniel Hood, Greg Clark, Trent Taylor, Allan Carson, Trevarris Saulsberry, Joseph Ayers

Improved: Sentimore - newcomer; Williams - showed that he could make plays either at DE or OLB; Hood - limited with off-season surgery; Clark - found home as a NT size helps him hold a gap; Taylor - newcomer; Carson - played with better leverage and showed flashes of being able to be a contributor; Saulsberry - redshirted a year ago, showed improved strength; Ayers - made strides in playing physical

Summer target: Sentimore - improve conditioning and consistency; Williams - learn defense and settle in on a position either DE or OLB; Hood - get healthy and improve strength; Clark - get more phsyical and improve quickness; Taylor - improve strength; Carson - improve conditioning and strength; Saulsberry - get better grasp of the defense and physically improve strength; Ayers - if a NT then must add weight, if a DE must improve quickness.

Steven Fowlkes - After missing last season because of academic suspension, Fowlkes returned to the field this spring and returned to his natural position of defensive end. In the 4-3, Fowlkes wasn't quick enough to be a factor at defensive end and couldn't get big enough to be a defensive tackle. At 6-5, 260 pounds, Fowlkes believes the defensive end spot in a 3-4 scheme is a more natural fit for him. Fowlkes was effective in the spring to the point that he left spring practice positioned as a starter on the depth/organizational chart. Whether the Georgia native can win the job in August remains to be seen. But given where Fowlkes started at the beginning of spring practice, he had as good of a spring as anyone on the roster. The challenge for Fowlkes now is to build off it this summer and continue to learn the defense and physically to add some weight.

Darrington Sentimore - Some will call Sentimore's spring a disappointment because he didn't leave with a starting job after a winter of so much hype. Sentimore struggled at times to go as hard as he could for extended periods of time as he readjusted to the SEC after his year in junior college. Sentimore also did himself no favors by adding nearly 20 pounds in February. At times Sentimore showed real promise of being a real help this fall. In order to do that Sentimore must manage his weight and become more consistent in his effort on the practice field each and every play.

Marlon Walls - You won't find anyone more excited about the upcoming season that Walls. The Memphis native has bounced from end to tackle in his Tennessee career and like Fowlkes feels he's at his home at defensive end in the 3-4. Walls' biggest challenge heading into the 2012 season is to develop more consistency. He must be more physical. Part of the reason he was moved back to end a year ago is that he physically couldn't hold up in the interior. Now with a full year removed from the Achilles injury, Walls believes that he will be better than ever after a summer of no limitations.

Jordan Williams - Williams played both defensive end and linebacker in spring practice and where he ends up right now remains anyone's guess. But whether it was at linebacker or at defensive end, Williams showed up and made plays. The sophomore from Gainesville, Fla., may not always know where he's supposed to be going scheme-wise, but he's going somewhere in a hurry. He's one of the most aggressive players on the team. This spring Williams proved that he can help this defense somewhere. The challenge now is what position will the coaching staff have him playing and can Williams get a better grasp of it this summer. Like all players, Williams can get physically stronger, but the first priority is to get a better grasp of the defense.

Trevarris Saulsberry - After redshirting last season, the 280-pound defensive lineman is looking to find his role with the defensive front. To this point, Saulsberry is more known for his Twitter account than anything else. At this point, Saulsberry's role in the defense is up in the air. He he looks to be provide depth at the defensive end position. Saulsberry must improve his quickness and must play more physical. There's a lot of internal optimism that Saulsberry is going to be a really good defensive lineman for the Vols. To get there this season, Saulsberry needs a big summer. But definitely there were flashes in spring that lend encouragement.

Maurice Couch - After a slow start to last season, Couch came on and really became a quality defensive tackle for the the Vol defense. Couch battled through his asthma a year ago and with that under control, the junior left spring practice as the starter at nose tackle in Sal Sunseri's defense. Couch is not exactly the poster child for the nose tackle position as he's more of a playmaker tackle than just a space-eater in the middle. Couch's challenge this off-season is to get stronger and to continue to improve his pad leverage in an effort to manage interior double teams and to hold a gap to allow the linebackers to run and make plays.

Daniel Hood - Hood didn't get any scrimmage reps in the spring as he continued to recover from off-season surgery. At 6-4 and over 300 pounds, Hood is more of a traditional nose tackle in terms of hold up in a gap and occupying space for others to make plays. Hood did get enough work in the defense this spring to have a good feel for the scheme. Plus Hood is an extremely intelligent player. He has to continue to learn the scheme since he did miss a good bit of work this spring. But most importantly for Hood is to get healthy to allow him to maximize his work in the weight room.

Greg Clark - Clark was a big-time forgotten guy when spring practice started. But the change to a 3-4 scheme has been just what the doctor ordered for the Georgia native. At 6-2, 320 pounds, holding a gap is what Clark does best. He's not a guy who's going to make many plays, but the hope is that he can do the dirty work inside to let others make the play. This spring, Clark did that and as a result helped his chances of playing. He showed the coaches that he could be an help on the inside. Now that doesn't mean anyone sees him as a great player, but he did offer hope this spring of being a guy in the nose tackle rotation. The challenge for Clark now is does he prepare this summer like a guy who will be in the rotation this fall. He must continue to get stronger, play lower and use his hands better to be a more physical player.

Trent Taylor - Taylor enrolled at mid-term and was thought to be a defensive end when he signed with the Vols. Taylor left spring practice working mostly as a nose tackle. At 280 pounds, Taylor must get stronger and even add some more weight. But he should just be finishing his senior prom so arriving at mid-term is a huge help to Taylor --- not to just learn the defense, but for growth in the weight room. Taylor has a winter workout under his belt and will enter the summer knowing what all he needs to do to be able to play in the SEC. What Taylor did show in spring practice is that he was not intimidated by being a freshman and showed plenty of promise heading to the summer off-season.

Allan Carson - Many assumed that Carson would be the third nose tackle behind Couch and Hood, but Clark jumped in front of Carson this spring. The Alabama native did close out spring on a good note with his most production in the Orange and White Game. At times Carson looked as if he could be a real help in the interior and at other times he didn't. Carson's challenge is to do everything more consistently and to improve his conditioning this summer. At times Carson looked like he was out of shape and he got winded easily.

Joseph Ayres - Ayres was not a name that you heard a lot about in the spring. The biggest challenge is what position is best for Ayres on the defensive line. At 280 pounds, Ayres is not the most physical player although it's something he has improved on the last couple of years. The challenge for Ayres it to continue to be more athletic in terms of quickness and physical play. If Ayres is going to play defensive end then he must be more athletic. If he's going to play nose tackle, then Ayres must get bigger.

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