Vols take a hit at defensive tackle

Losing senior defensive end Ben Martin to a torn Achilles tendon was bad enough for Tennessee.

But losing sophomore defensive tackle Marlon Walls two days later to the same injury was even worse, because it comes at a position where the Vols have no depth.

Walls and Montori Hughes were going to be the "veterans" of the tackle group, and they played backup roles as freshmen a year ago. Now, with Walls likely out for the season, Hughes becomes the only player on the roster who's ever played a meaningful snap at tackle in a college game.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley admitted following practice Sunday that the Vols' lack of depth was downright frightening -- and not just at tackle.

Still, it's most glaring in the interior of the Vols' defensive line, which is where you win games in the SEC. Stopping the run could be a real challenge for the Vols this season.

To combat the loss of Walls, Tennessee moved senior Victor Thomas from center back to tackle. He started his career on the defensive line. Junior Rae Sykes, sophomore Stephen Fowlkes and redshirt freshman Arthur Jeffery will also see their roles increase. Other than the 6-4, 305-pound Hughes, the Vols aren't going to be very big at tackle, either. Sykes is around 270 and Fowlkes 253. Jeffery did weigh in at 294 on the updated roster, while Thomas was 293.

Going to a 3-4 won't be an option, according to Dooley, because the Vols aren't big enough up front.

"You really need three big guys in a 3-4," Dooley said. "In a 4-3, you need two big guys. You can get away with some lighter ends in a 4-3. If you go to a 3-4, you say, 'There’s one less defensive lineman.' But you’re adding one more big guy because you’re reducing them down."

Showing that he hasn't lost his sense of humor, Dooley added, "We’re looking at going to a 2-5, maybe a 1-6. We’re going to be the first team ever to employ a 1-6. The 1 better be a big guy ... really big."