All-Time Defense: Tennessee

Tennessee defense
KNOXVILLE TN, - CIRCA 1983: Reggie White #92 defensive linemen for the University of Tennessee Volunteers poses for head shot at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Tennessee Athletics/Collegiate Images via Getty Images)

Last week, we took a look at our all-time offense for the Tennessee Volunteers. The lineup included Peyton Manning, Jason Witten and Bob Johnson among others. Vol fans have seen many great offensive players come through Knoxville but many of their greatest players have played on the defense. This week, we tackle the all-time team for the Tennessee defense.

DL: Reggie White (1980-1983)
College Stats: 293 tackles, 19 TFL, 32 sacks, selected fourth overall in the 1984 NFL supplemental draft

Reggie White, number 92. Both a name and number that every Tennessee fan knows. Reggie is one of only three Vols in program history to have their number retired in Neyland Stadium. White became a household name among the Volunteer faithful early in his career as he racked up 17 sacks through his first three seasons at Tennessee. However, it was his senior season that put him in the national spotlight. As a senior, White recorded a team record 15 sacks, a record that stands to this day. He would also be named a consensus All-American, SEC Player of the Year and a finalist for the Lombardi Award. Reggie’s 32 career sacks were the most by a Volunteer until 2016.

DL: John Henderson (1998-2001)
College Stats: 165 tackles, 20.5 sacks, selected ninth overall in the 2002 NFL Draft

John Henderson was a force to be reckoned with on the Tennessee defense. After not seeing much playing time during his freshman season, Henderson emerged as a sophomore. He recorded 43 tackles and four sacks in just seven starts. He followed that performance up with 71 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 12 sacks during his junior year. Following the season, Henderson was awarded the Outland Trophy and named a consensus first-team All-American. John would again be named a consensus first-team All-American after his senior season where he recorded four and a half sacks. His 20.5 career sacks currently stand as the fifth most in school history.

DL: Derek Barnett (2014-2016)
College: 198 tackles, 52 TFL, 33 sacks, selected 14th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft

Derek Barnett began his college career by setting records and expectations. He became the first true freshman to start on the defensive line in school history. Barnett finished the 2014 season with 10 sacks and 20.5 TFL, both SEC freshman records. As a sophomore, Barnett continued his dominance. He added another 10 sack season to his resume, giving him 20 through just two seasons. Despite massive numbers in year one and two, year three was the major stepping stone for Barnett. Barnett got his 13th sack of the season during the 2016 Music City Bowl against Nebraska. That sack gave Derek 33 for his career, surpassing the late Reggie White in just three seasons at Tennessee. He was named first-team All-SEC and a consensus All-American in 2016. 

DL: Doug Atkins (1950-1952)

Doug Atkins almost never played football, instead he began his career on the basketball team. Coach Robert Neyland played a major role in getting Atkins to join the football team. He would become a vital member of the Tennessee defense. In 1951, the Vols won their fourth national title. Atkins would go on to receive All-American honors in 1952 and have his number 91 jersey retired, the first in program history. He would be selected 11th overall in the 1953 NFL Draft. Atkins was the only consensus member of the All-SEC Quarter Century Team and was awarded as the SEC Player of the Quarter Century for the years spanning 1950-1975. He would also be named a member of the All-time All-SEC team. Doug Atkins and Reggie White are the only two Volunteers to be in the College and Professional Football Hall of Fames.

LB: Leonard Little (1995-1997)
College Stats: 182 tackles, 28 sacks, selected 65th overall in the 1998 NFL Draft

Leonard Little joined the Tennessee defense in 1995 as a junior college transfer. Little sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times during his first two seasons as a Volunteer. However, most fans know him for the performances he had throughout the 1997 season. He would record 87 tackles and 11 sacks as the defense played a large part in earning the SEC title. As a senior, Little would be named co-SEC Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. At the time, Little would end his Tennessee career second in sacks behind Reggie White.

LB: Al Wilson (1995-1998)
College Stats: 272 tackles, selected 31st overall in the 1999 NFL Draft.

It wasn’t statistics that epitomized Al Wilson’s legacy at Tennessee. Ask any teammate or coach and they will tell you that it was his leadership and football IQ. It also helped that the sight of such a menacing middle linebacker caused opposing offenses to second guess their every move. Wilson helped lead the Volunteers to back-to-back SEC titles in 1997-98 and a national title in 1998. He was also named an All-American as a senior despite missing three games.

LB: Steve Kiner (1967-1969)
College Stats: selected 73rd overall in the 1970 NFL Draft

Steve Kiner joined the Vols prior to the start of his sophomore season and never looked back. Kiner was in the starting lineup for every game in his three seasons at Tennessee. During his first season he was named second-team All-SEC and SEC Sophomore of the Year. He was named All-SEC and a consensus All-American in 1968 and 1969. As a senior in 1969, he was also awarded SEC Defensive Player of the Year while finishing ninth in the Heisman voting. Kiner would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

DB: Deon Grant (1997-2000)
College Stats: 14 interceptions, selected 57th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft

Deon Grant blossomed for the Tennessee defense as a sophomore in 1998. He ended his first season, as a full-time starter, with five interceptions and played a major role in leading the Vols to a national championship. In ’99, Grant turned in one of the greatest defensive seasons in school history. He led the NCAA with nine interceptions and was named a consensus All-American as a junior. He would declare for the NFL Draft following his junior season.

DB: Bobby Majors (1969-1971)
College Stats: 13 interceptions, selected 76th overall in the 1972 NFL Draft

Bobby Majors holds many defensive and special team records for the Volunteers. Majors broke the single-season school record with ten interceptions in 1970. Over his college career, he also amassed 1,163 punt return yards and four touchdowns on 117 returns, all school career records at Tennessee. He was named All-SEC in 1970 and 1971 while being named a consensus All-American as a senior.

S: Dale Carter (1990-1991)
College Stats: 102 tackles, nine interceptions, selected 20th overall in the 1992 NFL Draft

In just two short seasons in Knoxville, Dale Carter put on many memorable performances. He averaged nearly 30 yards per kick return and intercepted five passes to earn him several All-American nominations for the 1990 season. In 1991, Carter was named a consensus All-American and earned first-team All-SEC selections in his two seasons at Tennessee.

S: Eric Berry (2007-2009)
College Stats: 245 tackles, 14 interceptions, selected fifth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft

Eric Berry burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2007. He led all SEC freshmen with 86 tackles and earned SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. As a sophomore, he had, a nation-leading, seven interceptions and 72 tackles. Berry was a finalist for the 2008 Jim Thorpe Award, the Lott Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award. He also named to the first-team All-SEC team, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. As a junior, Berry would again be named as a first-team All-SEC member and consensus All-American for the second straight season. He would also win the Jim Thorpe award, given to the best defensive back in college football. Berry declared for the NFL draft following his junior season.

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