Over the past couple seasons under talented defensive coordinators like John Chavis and Monte Kiffin, the Vols' defense has been the team's strength. Tennessee has a knack for churning out excellent defenders, like first rounders John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth, and Jason Allen earlier this decade as well as Dan Williams and Eric Berry in 2010.
Tennessee's defense will be no different under new defensive head Justin Wilcox. Renowned at Boise State for tenacious turnover-causing defenses, Wilcox's work showed with a flurry of big plays including seven sacks and three interceptions. The new group includes five four-star perfomers who could provide depth on a defensive line and backfield that has been depleted by graduations and the NFL draft.
DT John Brown, Booneville, Miss.
This mature junior college recruit was another coup for Derek Dooley, who persuaded future NFL linemen Marcus Spears and Glenn Dorsey to play for him at LSU. Brown has great size for the defensive line (285 lbs) and was ranked as one of the top 50 JUCO players by Scouts Inc.
Losing Dan Williams and Wes Brown literally left a huge gap in this interior line with only sophomore Montori Hughes having game experience. A great football player at Lakeland High where he won two state championships, Brown utilized junior college to help him improve academically so he could realize his dream of playing in the SEC. If he's a quick learner in fall camp, Brown could start along side Hughes in 2010.
CB Dave Clark, Independence, Kan.
After Dennis Rogan's suprising entry in the NFL draft, the Vols needed corners. Dooley and company went after Dave Clark, who was considering state schools like Kansas, to provide depth in the defensive backfield. A former Louisiana Tech commit, Clark went to junior college to work on his physical abilities and speed, which now translates to 4.4 in the 40.
Even though he went to JUCO, Clark isn't a problem kid; he just needed to add size and speed to make it at the BCS level. Vols' corners Eric Gordon and Greg King impressed in the spring game, but Clark's rapport with Dooley will allow him to get on the field. His 6'2" height will allow him to match up against tough SEC tight ends like Orson Charles of Georgia and Weslye Saunders at South Carolina.
DT Greg Clark, Warner Robins, Ga.
Even though he's a physical specimen, this guy embodies rawness. He was an extremely late signee, but the Vols needed depth on the defensive line, so they grabbed him. If you watch his highlight videos, he's extremely slow but powerful, making him a great holding blocker at 6'4" and 300 lbs.
Clark is winner too, leading his high school squad to a Georgia 5A championship and recording nine tackles for loss his senior year. Only a two-star prospect, Clark will most likely redshirt to learn the playbook and improve his pass rushing and speed. His pure strength will be an asset to the scout team and push Tennessee's young offensive linemen in practice.
LB Raiques Crump, Adamsville, Ala.
Crump is an undersized, but speedy linebacker that dominated high school football in Alabama (9 sacks). Alabama didn't offer him a scholarship, and Tennessee, with former Bama running back coach Lance Thompson in tow, acquired the services of this small but tenacious player (106 tackles).
Only small schools gave Crump any looks, but he has a big time motor (4.6 in the 40). A redshirt year working in the weight room will add muscle to his 210-lb frame and help him contend for a starting spot in 2011 when Nick Reveiz and LaMarcus Thompson graduate.
CB Marcques Dixon, Decatur, Ga.
Vince Dooley's son dominated Georgia recruiting this spring, picking up another Georgia Top 75 prospect. Dixon doesn't really have a position, but his strength (225-lb bench press) and leaping ability (34" vertical) make him a natural corner. He could also be an undersized strong safety a la Eric Berry.
Dixon's lack of an ideal position hurt his recruiting rankings, but he was still pursued by Alabama, Miami, and Georgia. He has natural talent, even returning punts, but his lack of high school experience—he skipped his junior year—might hurt him mentally. However, Dixon's versatility and natural gifts could get him some playing time in on special teams and maybe contend for a starting corner spot once incumbent Art Evans moves on.
Six more defensive studs await in part two, including a local hero and some four-star recruits. Dooley's connections earned him some JUCO talent and his ability to mine the Georgia pipeline will help in years to come.
Part two and final recruiting writeup coming soon...