While the Wolfpack is thin on the interior line in terms of both depth and experience, there are options aplenty on the perimeter. The Pack boasts 14 defensive ends on the roster, including game-tested veterans Brian Slay, Darryl Cato-Bishop, Art Norman, and McKay Frandsen, as well as potential impact transfer Forrest West and top recruits Kenderius Whitehead and Desmond Owino.
Tennessee's ends are long on promise though relatively short on production, but, like State, the Vols do have an experienced rotation rushing from the edge. Jacques Smith, Marlon Walls, Jordan Williams, and Willie Bohannon give D-coordinator Sal Sunseri an SEC-tested, two-deep rotation of end rushers.
Rushing the quarterback's blind side for UT will be Walls (6-2, 283 RS JR), who played mostly on the interior in a 4-3 set last year but will move to end as Tennessee transitions to a 3-4. Walls came to UT as the #5 rated prep school prospect according to Rivals, but his tenure has been slowed by an Achilles injury that caused him to miss all of 2010. Back last year, Walls appeared in every game, making 4 starts. He had 3 tackles for a loss and 1 sack, and his 5 quarterback hurries were 3rd best for a UT rush unit that rarely hurried anyone. The Vols managed just 15 sacks a year ago, 109th in the nation.
Trevarris Saulsberry (6-5, 280 RS FR), a consensus 3-star recruit out of high school and a pretty good athlete for his size (4 touchdown receptions as a TE in high school), is on the depth chart behind Walls. Not listed, but likely to get a lot of snaps, is Bohannon (6-2, 250 RS SR). The senior has played in every game of his UT career so far and was a starter at the end of last season. Bohannon has 5 career sacks.
A seasoned vet, Slay (6-3, 290 SR) will try to bring pressure from the blind side for the Pack. Slay has appeared in 34 games in his career; all 3.5 of his career sacks came a year ago. Slay's 52-yard fumble return for a TD last year against Liberty was the longest scoop and score for the Pack in 16 years.
Though Slay is listed as the starter on the spring organizational chart, the Pack's best edge rusher, and the guy likely to get most of the snaps at right end, is the undersized, unheralded out of high school Art Norman (6-1, 242 RS SO). Norman gives Packnation faith in the recruiting abilities of TOB, as (like most Pack recruits) he had negative a million stars out of high school but emerged as a stud during his freshman campaign, sharing the team lead with 5.5 sacks in part-time duty. Norman pressured the QB 30 times last year, twice as many times as anyone else on the team. Apparently, as a math major (that's right, he's an actual student-athlete too) Norman understands angles and leverage, and if he can have UT QB Tyler Bray running for his life on August 31st, the opportunistic Pack secondary will be ready to accept some errant tosses.
Smith (6-2, 242 JR), the #1 recruit in all of Tennessee out of high school, will line up at left end for the Vols. Smith has been somewhat productive, finishing second on team in tackles for a loss (7.5) and QB hurries (6) as a sophomore, but he only has 3 sacks in 25 career games. That's not exactly the sort of production UT was expecting from one of its most highly decorated recruits in recent years. Hopefully Smith does not break out against Rob Crisp, another highly regarded recruit that has not quite fulfilled his promise yet. Though his playing time has been inconsistent, Crisp has only allowed one sack in his career thus far.
Williams (6-5, 255 SO) gives UT more experience at left end, where he will spell Smith. Williams appeared in 9 games as a true freshman and notched 1 sack. Trent Taylor (6-3, 277 FR), a consensus top 40 DE out of talent-rich Florida, could also figure in the mix if he does not redshirt.
Cato-Bishop (6-4, 281 RS JR), the Pack's starter at left end, will try to meet Norman in the pocket for QB sammiches. Cato-Bishop appeared in all 13 games for the Pack last year, starting 9, tied for the team lead with 5.5 sacks, and displayed his athleticism with an interception. The USA-loving Frandsen, a JUCO All-American from Snow College, returns to spell Cato-Bishop. Frandsen was in on 15 stops a year ago. West (6-1, 270), a Colorado transfer and former member of the Big-12 all-frosh team, may push Frandsen for snaps. Whitehead and Owino are likely to spend a year redshirting, lifting, acclimating, and making life miserable for the scout team QB, but both have the physical tools to make an impact right away if need be.
Prior position battles have not resulted in a clear advantage for either squad, but mathematician Art Norman can help us out here with some simple addition. Add it up, and you see the Pack returns 14.5 sacks from the end position, just .5 a sack less than UT managed all of last year as a team and over 10 more than the total posted by UT's returning DE candidates. Obviously linebackers figure into the pass rushing equation, but when it comes to linemen rushing off the edge, the advantage is clearly N.C. State's, and the same is likely true when it comes to stuffing the run. UT was just 69th against the run a year ago, while the Pack ranked 37th.