Montori Hughes and Albert Haynesworth have a lot in common. At least, Hughes and the young Albert Haynesworth have a lot in common.
Haynesworth spent his first two years on The Hill as the poster child for under-achievement. Despite incredible size, strength and agility, he had virtually no impact on the Vol defense in 1999 and 2000. It wasn't until his junior year of 2001 - with a lucrative NFL signing bonus providing incentive - that he began to maximize his 6-6, 330-pound frame. As a junior that fall Haynesworth recorded more stops (36), more tackles for loss (10) and more pass breakups (7) than he had in the previous two seasons combined.
Hughes was similarly mediocre in Years 1 and 2 but didn't make it to Year 3. The 6-4, 327-pounder from Murfreesboro recently left the Big Orange program following an assortment of disciplinary and academic mishaps. After recording 20 tackles as a freshman in 2009, he played so poorly as a sophomore last fall that he lost his starting job after five games. He registered just four tackles over the final eight games, missing one contest due to suspension and finishing with a mere 17 stops for the season.
The high point of Hughes' career arrived on April 4, 2009, when he kicked butt in an intra-squad scrimmage that was attended by Haynesworth, who was coming off a spectacular season with the NFL's Tennessee Titans.
“Montori again today was just dominant,” Kiffin noted afterward. “There was a pretty big guy on the sidelines today named Haynesworth, and I saw those two guys around each other, and they're built about the same.”
That was high praise, considering that Haynesworth at the time was considered the premier defensive tackle in pro football. But Hughes at the time showed flashes of greatness, especially in that 2009 scrimmage.
“He was unblockable,” Kiffin said. “We played him in a lot of head-up techniques, where he was just knocking the guard back like they (Titans) did with Albert. It was pretty cool to see him dominate like that, then see the best in the world 10 yards away watching.”
Given how poorly Haynesworth played in his first two years on The Hill, no one expected him to dominate as a junior, become a first-round draft pick and develop into an NFL star. But he did.
It's unlikely, of course, but maybe the lure of a big pro payday would've brought out the best in Montori Hughes, too.
We'll never know.