"Active and disruptive," was the quote from Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley during his preseason press conference on Thursday (via UTSports.com). He was responding to a reporter's question asking what he would be looking for from the defensive linemen in practice.
That response reminded me of something another coach from Tennessee used to say about the type players he wanted. "I like my boys to be agile, mobile and hostile," is how legendary Tennessee-born coach Jake Gaithers would respond to those type of questions.
Gaithers is a college football Hall of Fame coach, who led Florida A&M University to six Black College National Championships in 11 years in the 50s and early 60s.
I'm not making an attempt to compare our current UT coach with Gaithers. He will need about another 23 years and 200 wins before we go there.
I am saying that the current group of defensive linemen the Vols have in fall camp are likely the kind of players that both coaches would want. As camp begins, this is the most experienced group of defensive linemen UT has seen here in years.
Though the line loses two of last season's four starters, they return four of the top six tacklers from 2011. This year, the Vols officially switch to the 3-4 defense. That being said, they will still likely have four down linemen playing in many situations.
It's not just news of plenty of players with experience vying for game time on the defensive line that's exciting, it is also the quality of the players. All three projected starters (Darrington Sentimore, Maurice Couch and Marlon Walls) are juniors and all are being pushed by other talented players.
Several times during the 22-minute press conference, Dooley referred to finally having enough big and talented players on the lines—and in other positions—to compete.
When Dooley spoke of competition, he wasn't talking about a month from now. He was referring to players competing with each other for starting jobs to make each other and this team better in 2012.
Expect the difference to show in the number of sacks. More importantly, expect it to show in the average yards per carry that opponents muster this season. It has been three seasons since UT allowed less than a 4.0 yards per carry average on defense.
This year, the average should be much improved.