Rae of hope

Rae of hope

When a guy with the quickness and athleticism to play end adds the weight and strength needed to move inside, the result can be a dynamic defensive tackle.

Tennessee's noteworthy end-to-tackle success stories over the past dozen years include Shane Burton, Jeff Coleman, Billy Ratliff, Edward Kendrick, Aubrayo Franklin, J. T. Mapu, Mondre Dickerson, Turk McBride, Robert Ayers and Wes Brown.

Now Rae Sykes is hoping to be the latest in a long line of Vol ends to make this transition successfully. So far, so good.

"It's going good," the 6-4, 270-pound junior said following Tuesday's practice. "I feel like I've got the advantage with the quickness, speed and power moving in from defensive end - which is all about speed and quickness - moving in there to the 3-technique (tackle) and trying to dominate."

Sykes says the pass-rush techniques he learned at end are proving especially beneficial now that he's playing tackle.

"It's helping me a lot," he said. "I'm good with my hands, swimming and just staying physical on the inside.

"Pass rushing is my specialty - has been since high school," he said. "I believe it will be until I finish playing football."

Sykes grew up in Alcoa, 20 minutes from the UT campus, and was a three-time first-team all-state pick as a defensive end. Unable to qualify for college out of high school, he spent two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College but was unable to play either season due to injury. Rusty after the two-year layoff, he saw mopup duty in Tennessee's 2009 opener vs. Western Kentucky but didn't leave the bench again all year.

Sykes worked at both end and tackle in practice last fall. Because the Vols have quality depth at end and none whatsoever at tackle this spring, he agreed to move inside for 2010.

"I just had to get used to the double-teams and things like that," he said. "It really wasn't a big difference."

Tennessee has enjoyed considerable success in recent years utilizing some guys at both end and tackle. McBride did it, Ayers did it and Brown did it for a while. Sykes says doing so would be "no problem" for him.

"Really, I think I could play all the way across the board," he added, referring to any of the four line positions. "Wherever they put me I'm going to do my best at it."

Interestingly enough, Sykes is about the same size as McBride, Ayers and Brown - three players who played both positions.

"The advantage is, I gained some weight to play on the inside and take on those double-teams," Sykes said, "but I've still got my speed and quickness to move outside. As long as I'm using my hands and being physical, I could do it."

Sykes says he has added 20 pounds of muscle since arriving on campus last summer.

"I was 250," he said. "By the time I leave - my senior year - I'm going to try to be at least 285, 290 if possible."

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