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February 10, 2013

Diversity in Vols defensive line class

For any college coaching staff in America, the biggest need annually is on the defensive line. And everyone is looking for the next great one who can change the game either as an end or a tackle.

First-year Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and his defensive staff signed three defensive linemen on National Signing Day. For defensive line coach Steve Stripling his three newest Vols are very different in make up.

Memphis native Jason Carr, at 6-5, 260 pounds, is the most prototypical in terms of his physical attributes. Fellow defensive line signees Malik Brown and Jaylen Miller are both shorter and Brown is lighter. Stripling said he has list of things he looks for in identifying a defensive lineman, but at the end of the day he's looking for one thing.

"It's a formula. I have 10 criteria. I go through and grade each kid," Stripling said. "Some of them are as simple as athletic ability. Some of them are as technical as his ability to use his hands. Does he have natural instincts? There are lots of things. You are really just looking for a young man who can get off a block and make a play. It's what a lot of people call 'burst'. I don't care if it's run or pass, it's the ability to get off a block and get to the ball carrier or quarterback in the shortest amount of time. That's what you are looking for.

"That's the good thing about it. Like size. Some of the greatest players I have ever coached haven't been that big. So while they might lack in size they have in leverage. A defensive lineman that is too tall probably has an issue with leverage. The criteria has a tendency to balance itself out."

Miller stands only 6-2 and doesn't get a check mark when it comes to size, but Miller's explosion was what drew Stripling to wanting to make him a Vol on signing day.

"His was burst," Stripling said. "He's a young man who had 27 sacks as a senior. So his ability to come off a block and get there, plus his growth development. He's a young man who is really going to mature. So while his height is not the greatest thing. There are some outstanding attributes there."

The veteran defensive line coach acknowledged that a guy like Brown is the hardest type of player to evaluate. A year ago, Brown weighed just over 205 pounds. Now he stands at 252. Stripling said Brown's effort and desire to be good are traits that impressed him, but the challenge in evaluating a guy like Brown is projecting where he can get to physically.

"There's no question because how far can he go?" Stripling offered. "I think all athletes hit a point somewhere that as they get bigger they start to lose their ability. So you want to get them to where they are maxed out on their size and their ability. That's what's fun about it. Here's a young man that's really blossomed in the last six months."

The question for the Vols is can all three blossom quickly into helping a Vol defensive front in need of playmakers regardless of how many of the criteria they meet.



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