As part of our all-inclusive SEC coverage, the Dwellers will be bringing you 24 players to watch in the upcoming season. Two players, one offense, one defense will be profiled from each of the 12 SEC schools over the next few weeks. For no particular reason at all, we begin with the Volunteers of Tennessee.
The Tennessee Volunteers had a rough go of it last year, especially on defense. After the week one warm-up game against UT-Martin, the Vols had nearly a 2 month long streak of awful games. Six losses, five by two touchdowns or more, and a terrible looking double OT win against UAB. In all seven games the Vols were outgained by their opponents, as the defense could not get off the field. During this stretch, UT opponents were a combined 47-101 on third down conversions (47% success rate) and 5-7 on fourth down conversions (71% success rate). Just to make sure we are on the same page, that reads 5 for 7 on fourth down for a 71% success rate. As a matter of fact the only team that attempted a fourth down conversion and didn’t get one was Alabama. Admittedly, that was a rough stretch (vs Oregon, vs Florida, vs UAB, @LSU, @ Georgia, vs Bama, @ USC), but that is the way it is here in the South Eastern Conference and the defense just could not rise up and make the plays to stop drives. Tennessee needs a difference maker to step up and make the tough plays when it counts. In 2011 that play maker will be Malik Jackson.
Coming into the 2011 season, Jackson has been selected to both the Coaches and Media Preseason All-SEC First Teams. The senior defensive lineman will be looking to improve on his 48 total tackles from last season, 6th on the team. Last year he proved his play maker ability with 5 sacks, and 11 tackles for loss; he led the team in both categories.
In order for there to be better times on Rocky Top this season, Jackson will be taking on a larger role in his second year in Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox’s scheme. Malik is expected to play both tackle and end to maximize his disruptive potential. With any luck he will be in the right spots on those critical 3rd and 4th downs.
After their abysmal start, the Vols rallied under Head Coach Derek Dooley to finish the season with four straight wins to get bowl eligibility. The Vols last four games were as impressive as the previous seven were bad, beating all opponents by double digits (Memphis, Ole Miss, Vandy, and UK). The Music City Bowl resulted in a heart-breaking loss in double OT to the UNC Tarheels but they played hard, and proved to the rest of the conference that the team will be no slouch in the coming season. If the Vols defense is going to have success this season they will most definitely be led by Malik Jackson, watch for him.