KNOXVILLE – Tennessee will have one really big part of its defense back next season.
Junior defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, one of the largest players in the nation at 6-7, 360 pounds, announced via Facebook that he will be returning to Knoxville for his senior season rather than testing the NFL Draft waters.
“I came to UT to give my all and help put Tennessee back on the map,” McCullers wrote Tuesday night. “The last year was not the best one but we have all the talent in the world to be GREAT. So with that being said i will be coming back for my senior year. Volnation be patient we gonna be ready #VFL #98.”
McCullers came to Tennessee out of Georgia Military Academy in large part to be utilized as the nose tackle in former defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 scheme. With the Vols moving back to the 4-3, some had speculated that McCullers might opt to skip his senior season in hopes of catching on with an NFL team.
The Raleigh, N.C., native started seven games and finished with 39 tackles, one sack, 5.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble in 2012. He was used sparingly in pass-rush situations at the beginning of the season, but slowly began to be integrated into more situations as the season progressed.
"Our challenge now is to see how much we can play him before he hits a dip," former coach Derek Dooley said in October of McCullers’ increasingly role. "He's a good football player. We need to keep amping up his plays each week no matter what the offense does."
McCullers’ sheer size has made him the subject of much national attention. Multiple national media outlets have done feature stories on the soft-spoken giant of a football player.
Bert Williams, McCullers’ head coach at Georgia Military College, told Nooga.com last spring that McCullers weighed as much as 400 pounds while at the junior college and that the on-site scale at the school couldn’t give an accurate reading of his weight.
New defensive coordinator John Jancek will have the responsibility of molding McCullers into a position in the new 4-3 scheme.
“He’s a big guy,” Jancek said during his first meeting with the media on Dec. 20. “Obviously when you have a guy that big, he’s going to help you do something. That’s our job as coaches – to find out what he’s good at and see what his skill set is and use him accordingly.”
Jancek values results more than he does having ideal body-types in his system. Generally speaking, collegiate 4-3 interior defensive tackles range from 290 to 320 pounds. McCullers will likely play a one-technique defensive tackle in the 4-3, meaning he’ll line up in the ‘A’ gap between the center and offensive guard.
“It’s always about production,” Jancek said. “Whether he’s 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 or 6-4, it’s about production, it’s about getting the job done. It’s a results-oriented business and you have to approach it that way as a coach, so if he’s not the ideal, prototype player, but he’s productive, then we’re going to play him.”
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS