Tennessee returns a lot of young talent it had last year, but will miss one of its best leaders and players from the defensive line:
OUT: DT Malik Jackson: It was hard to find a more complete player for the Vols last year than Jackson. He was a force up front for Tennessee and led the Vols in tackles for loss (11), sacks (2.5) and quarterback hurries (10). Over the final eight games of the 2011 season, he registered 42 tackles (5.3 per game) with 9.5 tackles for loss. Jackson played most of his Tennessee career at defensive tackle, but was athletic enough and versatile enough to play defensive end -- the position he started out in. Jackson clogged the middle in the run game and had the strength and speed to make quarterbacks miserable as well. Outside of being a tremendous defender for the Vols, he was a very outspoken leader for the team. He commanded respect with both his play and his words, which will be hard to replace.
IN: Maurice Couch, Darrington Sentimore, Marlon Walls or Daniel McCullers: With Tennessee moving to a 3-4 defense, the Vols will be looking for a handful of players to make impacts up front. Jackson probably could have played at multiple spots up front in a 3-4, so it will take a collective effort to fill his shoes. Couch was supposed to come in and make an immediate impact for Tennessee at tackle, but didn't really turn things on until the end of the season. Now, he'll be asked to play the nose tackle position, where Tennessee is hurting for depth at them moment. He's hoping his 6-foot-2, 295-pound frame helps him jam up the middle. Nose tackle Daniel Hood underwent offseason shoulder surgery and is non-contact this spring, so Tennessee will have to move people around. Sentimore, who transferred from Alabama and played at the junior college level, will get more time at one of the end spots up front. The staff is very excited about he could do for this defense and the hope is that his impact is felt very early. It seems like Walls has been on campus forever and while he didn't have a great year in 2011, he entered spring atop one of the defensive end spots. He's big and athletic, but it's time for him to become a more complete player. McCullers won't be on campus until the summer, but the staff thinks he can come in and immediately compete for that nose tackle spot.