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April 20, 2006

Tennessee, Georgia share DT U honors

It's tough to imagine now, but when Dan Brooks left Mack Brown's staff at North Carolina in 1994 to become Tennessee's defensive line coach he inherited a total rebuilding project.

The Volunteers were losing all of the starters on their front four, and none of the D-linemen coming back had played a significant number of snaps.

Phillip Fulmer and Brooks met just days after he was hired and quickly put a plan in place to create some depth along the defensive line. Fulmer, a former offensive guard, wanted to stop moving offensive linemen to the other side of the ball. He ordered Brooks to recruit prospects to play exclusively on the defensive line.

Thirteen years later, Tennessee has transformed into a steady factory for producing defensive linemen in the NFL, especially on the interior. Six of Tennessee's former defensive tackles are playing in the league.

Georgia is the only other school that has created a pipeline of a similar caliber. Five former Bulldogs defensive tackles are on NFL rosters, and three of them were first-round picks.

For that reason, both Georgia and Tennessee have earned the distinction from Rivals.com as Defensive Tackle U as part of our series looking at which schools are dominant at each position in the NFL.

Brooks credits much of his former players' success at the next level to that initial meeting with Fulmer.

"When I first came here coach Fulmer made a commitment to recruit defensive linemen," said Brooks, who has the longest tenure at UT of any of Fulmer's assistants. "Before I got here they had been moving guys from other positions to get enough D-linemen.

"We were able to develop continuity and that has obviously continued throughout my career here. Guys are able to come in as defensive linemen from Day One and they grow and progress much faster because of it."

It didn't take long for players to develop under Brooks. Three of the starters on his second defensive line in 1995 went on to have long careers in the NFL, including ends Leonard Little (still active) and Steve White and tackle Shane Burton.

Position: Defensive Tackle
Schools that rule: Georgia (Jason Ferguson, Brandon Miller, Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud and Johnathan Sullivan) and Tennessee (Shane Burton, Aubrayo Franklin, Albert Haynesworth, John Henderson, Rashad Moore, Demetrin Veal and Darwin Walker).
Coming attractions: Georgia (Kedric Golston, Ray Gant); Tennessee (Demonte Bolden, Justin Harrell).
Runners-up: Alabama (Anthony Bryant, Cornelius Griffin, Kenny King, Kindal Moorehead, Michael Myers, Kenny Smith), Miami (William Joseph, Damione Lewis, Warren Sapp, Santonio Thomas, Vince Wilfork), Missouri (Atiyyah Ellison, Jeff Marriott, Steve Martin, C.J. Mosley, Keith Wright), LSU (Kenderick Allen, Howard Green, Chad Lavalais, Anthony McFarland, Chuck Wiley), Texas (Casey Hampton, Shaun Rogers, Marcus Tubbs, Cedric Woodard), Texas A&M (Sam Adams, Rocky Bernard, Ron Edwards, Ed Jasper, Ty Warren, Pat Williams).
Why Georgia and Tennessee are Defensive Tackle U: It seemed a little too unfair to pick one of these two schools. The Volunteers led the way with six active defensive linemen in the NFL, and Henderson is considered one of the best in the game. The Bulldogs are next with five in the league and that group is equally as impressive. Ferguson is an eight-year veteran with more than 400 career tackles. Seymour has been a key piece during each of the Patriots' three Super Bowl runs, and Stroud has racked up 40-plus tackles in each of his first five seasons.
"We were fortunate to have some talented guys my first couple of years, but it probably took about three or four years before we could develop the depth we were looking for," Brooks said. "We like to have 10 guys ready to play each game, five on the inside and five on the outside."

Darwin Walker was one of the first players to benefit from that approach. A prep All-American as a linebacker and fullback at Walterboro (S.C.) High, he spent one season at N.C. State before deciding to transfer.

Brooks convinced Walker to come to Knoxville. The Vols were able to bring him along slowly and after learning the intricacies of playing on the inside of the D-line he became a valuable starter on their national title team in 1998. Walker went on to earn a starting job with the Philadelphia Eagles and is about to enter his seventh season in the NFL.

The emergence of guys like Walker allowed Brooks to start redshirting major recruits and play them a limited number of snaps their first couple of seasons.

Highly touted tackle John Henderson, who was ranked the No. 1 prospect in Tennessee in high school, didn't academically qualify in his first season in 1998. Henderson began the following season on the second team, but when Billy Ratliff suffered a broken ankle, he ended up starting the final seven games alongside Walker. He went on to earn All-America honors as a junior and senior.

Another highly touted tackle, Albert Haynesworth, arrived a year after Henderson. Ranked among the nation's top recruits coming out of Hartsville (S.C.) High, he played on the second team behind Henderson and Walker during his first season. He didn't crack the starting lineup as a sophomore either, but continued to play plenty of snaps.

In 2001, Henderson and Haynesworth formed one of the top defensive tackle duos in SEC history and were selected with the ninth and 21st picks of the draft that year.

Henderson has emerged as a star in the NFL, racking up 98 tackles and 5.5 sacks during his first Pro Bowl season in 2004 and following that up with a 70-tackle campaign in 2005.

"I like to play a lot of freshmen and sophomores coming and then their best snaps usually come as a juniors and seniors," Brooks said. "That is what happened with John.

"I'm really proud of John and Albert. John could have turned pro after his junior season but he stayed and the two really complemented each other. Our opponents weren't able to gang up on either one and if it weren't for each one being here at the same time I don't think they would have been as good."

Georgia's defensive line coach and longtime recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner feels similarly about former Bulldogs defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud, who were the sixth and 13th picks in that 2001 draft.

Seymour and Stroud have emerged as two of the top defensive tackles in the game. Seymour played a key role in all three of the New England Patriots' Super Bowl title runs and Stroud earned a trip to his first Pro Bowl while playing alongside Henderson with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past season.

"Richard and Marcus were very competitive and they took a lot of pride in beating each other in drills in practice," Garner said. "Johnathan Sullivan (defensive tackle who was a first-round pick in 2003) also got a chance to compete against them as a true freshman and that really helped him a lot."

Garner added that going up against NFL-quality offensive linemen in practice also played a big role in preparing that trio for the pro level. They all played in an era that included former Bulldogs George Foster and Jonas Jennings (offensive tackles) and Steve Herndon (guard), who are all playing in the NFL.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt says Garner deserves a lot of the credit, too.

"The same guy that recruited those guys also coached them and that shows," Richt said. "Those guys went from having a lot of potential to having a big impact and that doesn't happen by accident. It takes guidance."

Kedric Golston knows all about that guidance. Golston experienced it during his senior year at Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek High. Ranked among the nation's top defensive tackles at the time, he broke his leg in an auto accident and spent two weeks in intensive care. Some of the programs that were recruiting him backed off after the injury, but Garner and Georgia never wavered in their commitment.

"I don't think Coach Garner says anything that different than other coaches are saying to recruits, but there is a sense he is very genuine when you hear his voice," Golston said. "He would rarely talk football with me. We would talk about how important school was and family. At the time I didn't know if I was going to play football again and I was convinced that if I couldn't Coach Garner would take care of me and help me get an education."

Golston said that father-figure approach has made Garner a great recruiter Rivals.com selected him as the SEC's top recruiter in 2006 but that his track record with defensive tackles also had a big influence on him.

"Georgia got a stronger look from me because of the type of success Coach Garner had with interior linemen, especially when I weighed them against schools that hadn't produced a lot of NFL talent at my position," he said. "In the end I decided that Georgia could offer me more than anyone else could."

Golston became the first true freshman to start at nose tackle for Georgia in 2002 since 1994 (he still had rods in his leg from the accident at the time) and played in all 14 games that season. Golston was a four-year starter and will probably be the next defensive tackle from UGA that signs with an NFL team. If he isn't drafted, he is expected to sign as a free agent.

"Coach Garner was constantly telling all the linemen that the NFL doesn't have time to teach you the fundamentals," Golston said. "He beat that into our head until it became second nature and it really helped me get ready for the next level."

Garner would know. Few college coaches spend more time at the league's summer camps. He is a regular at the Atlanta Falcons' camp in Flowery Branch, Ga., and has been to several other stops around the country.

"I'm very fortunate to be close to several NFL teams here," Garner said. "The Falcons have their summer camp right down the road from us and I also make trips to Carolina and Jacksonville. I went to see the Texans last year.

"I just try to be a sponge wherever I go. I'm always trying to pick up on new things, and it has helped me with every drill we do. We have implemented a lot of different techniques that I've seen at the camps."

Don't be surprised to see other teams implement Brooks and Garner's methods. Their impressive results have captured the attention of many coaches, most of all the ones in the NFL.

Position U.
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Def. End
Tight End
Ohio State
Def. Tackle
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Off. Tackle
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