Banking on junior college players to come in right away and provide a quick fix in college football is a lot like playing the lottery.
Sometimes you hit it big. But more times than not, you don’t.
With the news Thursday that Tennessee coach Derek Dooley had booted junior defensive tackle Montori Hughes from the team, Maurice Couch joins John Jenkins at Georgia as two of the most important junior college additions in the SEC this season.
They both just happen to be interior defensive linemen, as if that’s any coincidence.
The Bulldogs are counting on Jenkins to step right in at noseguard and be a dominant presence in their 3-4 defense.
The Vols need any help they can get in the middle of their defensive line, and if Couch isn’t what they think he is, they’re going to struggle to stop anybody from running the football this season.
While the 6-foot-4, 327-pound Hughes didn’t exactly conjure up memories of Reggie White (except for his size), he was at least a big, athletic body who had showed flashes when he wasn’t suspended for academic reasons or getting into trouble off the field. The writing had been on the wall for some time that Hughes wasn't going to make it, meaning Couch was already a key piece to the Vols' defensive puzzle.
Not only are the Vols thin in numbers at defensive tackle, but they’re also undersized, which makes the 6-2, 305-pound Couch even more valuable.
Tennessee would be ecstatic if Couch could come in and have the kind of impact another junior college tackle did earlier this decade. The late Jesse Mahelona came to Tennessee from Orange Coast College in California and earned All-America honors from The Sporting News in 2004. Mahelona had 18.5 tackles for loss that season and was one of the driving forces in the Vols reaching the SEC championship game.
Nobody’s expecting Couch to come in and be an All-American his first season, but the Vols desperately need him to come in and be an impact player and solidify the middle of that defensive line.
The linebacker corps is already going to be inexperienced, particularly with the injury to Herman Lathers. True freshmen Curt Maggitt, Christian Harris and A.J. Johnson will all figure prominently into the rotation.
That’s a lot of new faces in the front seven, but nobody in that group will be more important for the Vols this season than Couch.