- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

ATLANTA Tennessee defensive tackle John Henderson sent a succinct message to LSU quarterback Rohan Davey earlier this week:
Get ready to run.
When the Vols (10-1) and Tigers (8-3) get together tonight at the Georgia Dome with the SEC title on the line and a Tennessee trip to the Rose Bowl in the balance, expect a full frontal assault from the best defensive line in college football.
"We're going to be Tennessee, and we're going to pressure the quarterback," said Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis. "I'm sure that's what they're expecting, and I'm sure that's what they're going to see."
After Nebraska manhandled the Tennessee defensive line in the Orange Bowl after the 1997 season, rolling up 409 rushing yards during a 42-17 victory, Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer focused his considerable recruiting talents on strengthening the team's first line of defense.
Over the next two years, Fulmer signed a staggering nine of the top 20 rated prep defensive linemen. At the time, Allen Wallace, publisher of "SuperPrep" magazine, said of the feat, "In my more than two decades in this business, no program has ever managed to stockpile that much talent at one position. In a couple of years, Tennessee's D-line will be downright scary."
Four seasons later, nobody is arguing with Wallace's prediction.
Led by 2000 Outland Trophy winner Henderson, the Tennessee front has led the nation over the last two seasons in sacks (82) and run defense (82.1 yards). Frighteningly for Davey and LSU, tonight's SEC title game marks the first time this season the group known affectionately by the Volunteer faithful as the "Four Rocky Tops" has been completely healthy.
Senior defensive end Bernard Jackson was suspended for the season opener against Syracuse for disciplinary reasons. Henderson suffered a high ankle sprain against Syracuse and wasn't 100 percent until last week's 34-32 victory over Florida in the Swamp.
Senior sackmaster Will Overstreet sprained his knee in the Vols' first victory over LSU (Sept. 29) and was limited until two weeks ago, when the Vols crushed Vanderbilt. And bull-rushing junior tackle Albert Haynesworth, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound monster, had his ankle sprained on a cut block in the Vanderbilt game and played sparingly against Florida. Tonight against pass-happy LSU, all four starters are finally healthy and hungry.
"I'm excited to have them all charged up and ready to go," said Tennessee defensive line coach Dan Brooks, with a glint in his eye reminiscent of the pre-battle confidence Maximus had in "Gladiator" when he commanded his troops to "wait for my signal and then unleash hell."
Florida and then-Heisman Trophy favorite Rex Grossman got a taste of the orange nightmare last week in Gainesville. Tennessee sacked Grossman four times, batted down three of his passes at the line and knocked him down or hurried him into errant throws on 31 other plays.
"We haven't been whipped like that all year," said Florida All-American offensive tackle Mike Pearson. "I'm afraid to watch the tape, because it felt like they had a jailbreak on every other play."
Like Florida, LSU features a pass-first attack led by Davey, freshman All-American receiver Michael Clayton and Biletnikoff Award winner Josh Reed, who led the nation in receiving yardage. At 6-3, 240 pounds, Davey is much tougher to bring down than Grossman. And with 4.5 speed in the 40, he's much more mobile.
"I'm not Rex Grossman, and we're not Florida," Davey said. "We're a much better team than Tennessee beat [26-18] earlier this year, and we still feel we should have won that game. It doesn't matter what kind of pressure they come with, we'll be ready."
The LSU offensive line has been extremely successful protecting Davey in its last two games, allowing no sacks in victories over Arkansas and Auburn. But Chavis and the Vols employed a bizarre approach to thwarting blocking schemes against Florida last week. Throughout the game, Tennessee's defensive tackles never took a three-point stance. Instead, they slid back and forth looking for gaps in the offensive line until just before the snap, often overwhelming one lineman with two blitzers and leaving the Tennessee linebackers to fill the gaps and clean up against the run.
"Henderson [6-7, 290] and Haynesworth are so strong that leverage really isn't an issue for them even if they start standing up," Chavis said. "They looked real good against Florida, improvising and picking their spots, because they can see what's happening so much better. Plus, that negates a lot of blocking schemes and audibles, because the offense just doesn't know where they're going to be at the snap. That's definitely a wrinkle we're going to continue experimenting with [against LSU]."
Ask Henderson, however, and he'll tell you it doesn't matter where, when or how he lines up against LSU. Though he was on scholarship during Tennessee's run to the 1998 national title, Henderson was forced to sit out the season as a partial qualifier, and therefore could not get a championship ring because of NCAA rules. That's the reason the Outland Trophy winner returned to Knoxville for his senior season, even though he was projected as a top-10 selection in last year's NFL Draft.
"It hurt that I didn't get a ring , but it's motivated me everyday since to earn one of my own," Henderson said. "Now it's in my sights, in our grasp if we can beat LSU. Every time I line up against them, I'm going to see that ring. It'll be like Davey's got it, and I'm going to go get it."

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