ELIZABETHTON – Tennessee sophomore running back Devrin Young weighs 172 pounds. He could clone himself and the duplicate Devrins would weigh less than defensive lineman Daniel McCullers.
So when the 360-pound junior-college transfer had a clear shot at Young during the Volunteers’ first practice at Milligan College on Monday morning, Young’s eyes must have looked about as big as McCullers’ calves.
“I felt my heart drop,” Young said.
It would’ve been a good time for a flop on Milligan’s soccer field, but Young was resigned to absorbing the punishment. Fortunately, McCullers wrapped him up and delivered him to the ground instead of burying him beneath it.
“After this practice I’m gonna go tell him ‘Thank you,’” Young said, “because he had a clean shot on me and he just wrapped me up. He’s hit me a few times and he’s showed some love.”
The potential impact of the 6-foot-7 McCullers, a junior who weighed around 400 at one point at Georgia Military College, couldn’t be more conspicuous.
“He’s a wall,” UT senior offensive lineman Dallas Thomas said. “We call him the ‘Green Mile.’”
McCullers’ height and weight make him seem like a mixture of Albert Haynesworth and John Henderson.
One of the most massive Vols that comes to mind was offensive tackle Albert Toeaina. He was listed at 6-foot-6, 355 pounds when he came out of City College of San Francisco in 2004.
And much like Toeaina, the massive McCullers doesn’t look fat, certainly not like heavyweights such as Terrence Cody, Gilbert Brown, Tony Siragusa and William “Refrigerator” Perry. He has agility too, as did Toeaina, and it’s always strange seeing such size somewhat light on its feet.
“I don’t too much like standing next to him, man,” said 6-foot-2, 299-pound junior UT defensive lineman Maurice Couch. “I don’t like feeling small, so I keep my distance from him. You know, I’m a big guy myself, but he makes me look like 5-11 or something.”
Tennessee shifted personnel in first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri’s new 3-4 scheme after UT’s run defense was suspect in Saturday’s scrimmage. Couch moved from nose tackle to end for the first time on Monday and McCullers seemingly moved ahead of red-shirt junior Daniel Hood (6-4, 292) at nose tackle. A large factor in the Vols’ run defense reaching its potential is McCullers achieving his.
Coaches like the progress of Darrington Sentimore (6-2, 288), another JUCO transfer who played in 11 games as a red-shirt freshman at Alabama in 2010 when Sunseri was there.
Judging by how defensive line coach John Palermo intensely implored McCullers during drills early in practice Monday, the Vol coaches see a beast that still needs to be unleashed in McCullers.
“A big guy his size, you know, you’re gonna get tired fast,” Couch said. “I mean, that’s just natural. So we just push him … so he can play longer and what-not, and get him strong mentally also.”
McCullers should save some wear and tear on UT’s inside linebackers. The Vols have two good ones in A.J. Johnson and Herman Lathers, but injuries have stripped the depth at that position.
“He (McCullers) has made a big impression,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to get around him to get to those ’backers. When I see how the coach and them are using him, they’re using him very well. He’s so strong … like, if you’re not low enough or you don’t have a good angle, you’re not gonna move him at all.”
Couch said McCullers makes things look easy that require all of Couch’s strength and will.
“Him taking on three guys kind of frees up me and Darren to make some plays,” Couch said. “And actually, sometimes he can do that and still make a play with three guys on him. He’s definitely doing a good job.”
McCullers didn’t do interviews following Monday’s early practice. Players weren’t available after Monday night’s practice. Couch said McCullers is a quiet guy who’s coming out of his shell.
“All of us get along with him very well,” Couch said.
This would seem to beat the alternative.
“He comes off the ball hard and you’ve got to be ready for him,” Thomas said. “If not, you might end up on your back.”
Notes: UT players had quite a bit of free time on Sunday. Some of it was semi-free. They were divided by position units for contests involving dancing and karaoke. The O-line sang Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and the D-line did Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
UT coach Derek Dooley liked a lot of what he saw on Sunday and didn’t like some of what he saw on Monday during the first of a two-practice day that came some 40 hours after a physical scrimmage.
“I told them that this is when leadership starts getting tested,” Dooley said. “We’ve got great team chemistry. We’ve got a lot of good camaraderie going on. But we don’t need leadership when it’s Open Mic Night and we’re up there singing and rapping. We need leadership when it hurts, and we’re – some guys are struggling.” …
Senior defensive back Marsalis Teague played well in Saturday’s scrimmage, according to Dooley.
“It was probably his best scrimmage since he’s been here,” Dooley said. “He started making some plays in the deep part of the field that, uh, historically, he hadn’t made.” …
Dooley continues to rave about the week-long adventure off campus, and the job his staff and Mark Fox’s staff at Milligan are doing.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” Dooley said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in this organization that isn’t saying, ‘You know what? This is pretty good deal.’ I texted (Tennessee athletic director) Dave Hart to see if he’d let us stay up here for six months. He didn’t text back.”
Tennessee will practice today at 2:30 p.m. and will practice twice on Wednesday, then return to Knoxville on Thursday morning.