The Volunteers football team has not had a solid defensive unit since the '07 season. Last season showed the lack of depth, and those woes will probably continue unless some key role players step and come through big in 2011.
Defensive Line: The defensive line unit is thin. The d-line shows some promise, but only Malik Jackson and Jacques Smith seem to have impressed enough to be solid SEC defenders. But, with that said, the role players will bring a lot of upside to this years Vols' team.
Marlon Walls: The redshirt sophomore is coming off a recent achillies tear, and has yet to show all of his potential. Listed at 6-2 281, the defensive lineman needs to show that he is fully recovered and must play some solid minutes for the newly assigned defensive line coach Lance Thompson. While you may not consider him a factor, the redshirt sophomore played significant minutes down the stretch his first season as a Vol in 2009. He will be a big rotation guy seeing reps at end and tackle.
Arthur Jeffery: The redshirt shophomore only saw action in three games last year on defense. But, with the departure of Montari Hughes, guys like Jefferey and Corey Miller will need to step up to make a big splash in the defensive unit this year.
Alan Carson: When you think of a incoming freshman that will be a role player, a two-star recruit doesn't usually come to mind. However, with the circumstances at hand Carson seems to be the only defensive tackle that can be productive inside. Being over 300 pounds makes him the guy that could be a potential role player. Three star recruits like Trevarris Saulsberry and Jordan Williams seem to be fit better for the future, but I like Jordan Williams being able to come in and give a pash rush or two a game.
Linebackers: The low point in the Vols' defense seems to always be the linebacking unit. In the past, you've always had NFL type players lining up at the linebacker positions. But in recent years that has not been the case. With the loss of two starters and one key role player, the linebacking crew will begin the season without the part piece to the unit in Herman Lathers. Key guys like Austin Johnson, John Propst, and Daryl Vereen return from last year.
Greg King: The junior linebacker has yet to be able to stay healthy enough to be as productive as needed on the field in his first two years. Tearing up both knees, the 6-2 235 linebacker needs to be able to stay healthy enough to fulfill the role of a guy that can be a leader and a veteran on the field. One notable thing the junior out of Memphis accomplished was he, along with Austin Johnson, were credited for the only safety of the 2010 season against UT Martin. In his freshamn year, the former Memphisian started two games and played in nine. He had 24 total tackles and eight in 2010.
Nigel Mitchell-Thornton: The big mobile linebacker has earned some quality playing time in his first two seasons at Tennessee. The former All-State defender out of Stone Mountain,Georgia could possibly become a big time threat this year for a lot of playing time. Along with AJ Johnson, Mitchell Thornton looks to be one of the biggest ones out of all of the linebacking crew. He still needs to continue his quality play and improve to help out the low depth unit this season.
Defesive Backs: Compared to last season, the Vols' head into 2011 with a lot of quality depth and talent in the secondary. Depending on who you like, coach Joseph and Wilcox have plenty of options to bring into the ball game this year. With two All-SEC guys already in Janzen Jackson and Prentiss Waggner, the secondary unit is going to have to create turnovers this season to be able to put the Volunteers in position to win in 2011.
Art Evans: The one time troubled corner returns to try to prove everyone on and off the field. Having played quality downs in the past, the Lakeland, Florida native is ready to earn his spot back at the starting corner position. However, having better overall guys ahead of him like Marsalis Teague and Eric Gordon doesn't help the situation for Evans. With that said, Evans still needs to be a leader in the locker room and on the field to help the once troubled secondary grow and improve.
Eric Gordon: Depending on who you ask, Eric Gordon seemed to have a great year in 2010. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. Dropped punts seem to overshadow his defesensive stats. Gordon needs to try to build off last season and try to improve on his skills on special teams.
The defense is not where it needs to be for the Vols' to be able to compete for an SEC East Championship right now. But, as we all know, the added depth at secondary is going to help tremendously as the Vols have to face receivers like Duron Carter, Marquis Maze, Alshon Jeffery, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and more.