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Thursday, October 21, 1999
Tennessee defense draws line in sand

By Mike Strange
Scripps Howard News Service

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Will Overstreet says he's praying a lot this week. He says he's working on every little aspect of the game he knows to work on. No stone goes unturned.

It's not just Shaun Alexander, Alabama's Heisman Trophy candidate tailback, that makes this week perhaps the biggest challenge of Overstreet's Tennessee career. It's more the guy Overstreet has to go through to get to Alexander.

Chris Samuels, Alabama's fifth-year senior offensive tackle, just might be the best offensive lineman this side of the NFL. At least that's what the Vols are saying this week.

"He has great feet, he's strong, he's physical and he's nasty," UT defensive coordinator John Chavis summed up Samuels. "He's probably the best offensive lineman in the country."

And on Saturday afternoon, Overstreet walks into Samuels' world at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

"He's going to be ready. I'm going to be ready. Hopefully, it'll be a 60-minute war," Overstreet said. "He's the toughest player, the most physical offensive tackle I've seen this year and the one with the best feet. I'm looking forward to it."

A lot of people are looking forward to the clash between the No. 5 Vols (4-1, 2-1 SEC) and the No. 10 Crimson Tide (5-1, 4-0). The war within a war between Overstreet and Samuels will be worth keeping an eye on, too.

Tennessee thinks Alabama has the best offensive line it has faced this year, and that line is blocking for Alexander, the SEC's leading rusher with six consecutive 100-yard games.

It's up to Overstreet, Shaun Ellis, Darwin Walker and John Henderson to find cracks in that offensive line and disrupt an Alabama offense that has been impressive running and throwing.

Only three Vols have made more tackles than Overstreet (26). He's responsible for 4.5 of UT's 25 sacks. One of five true freshman to play last year, Overstreet moved into Corey Terry's vacated starting spot this season.

Samuels has started Alabama's past 35 games, dating to his redshirt freshman season. Like Tennessee's Tee Martin, he grew up in Mobile, Ala.

Here's Overstreet on Samuels:

"He's fast. He can move his feet in front of you if you give him a speed rush. He can bull up if you come at him. He looks like he likes to run block more than pass block because he likes to throw guys down. He's got a mean streak."

That said, should Overstreet just call in sick?

Not a chance. This is a guy who has a few weapons of his own.

"I'm going to come hard every play," Overstreet said. "I'm not going to take off a play. If they slow up one play, hopefully I'll beat 'em when the least expect it.

"This is a chance to see how far I've come from last year and a chance to see how good I can become."

  I'm going to come hard every play," Overstreet said. "I'm not going to take off a play. If they slow up one play, hopefully I'll beat 'em when the least expect it. This is a chance to see how far I've come from last year and a chance to see how good I can become.  ”
—  Tennessee defensive lineman Will Overstreet

Overstreet has come a ways from last year and the UT staff can't wait to see how good he'll become over the next two seasons. The Vols knew they had a gem when they signed Overstreet out of Jackson, Miss., a turn of events that broke some Ole Miss hearts.

"Alabama recruited me, too," Overstreet said. "They're two hours from my house. It was a good place to be. It just didn't work out."

Tennessee was a good place for Overstreet to be. He liked the aggressive scheme and posture of coordinator John Chavis' defense.

"That's one of the reasons I came here," Overstreet said, "to play for people who do everything they can to do their best to win."

That includes an attacking scheme, as opposed to a read-and-react approach in which the down lineman are often asked to occupy blockers and free up the linebackers to make the plays.

"I don't know too many guys who like to read," Overstreet said. "You like to make plays.

"Me personally, I knew I wasn't going to be 275 or 290 by my first two years so I wouldn't be able to sit back and (play off blocks). I knew I wanted to be fast and get off the ball and make plays."

The 6-foot-4 Overstreet lists at 250 pounds in the UT brochure. What can't be measured is his heart. As the coaches like to say, he has a big motor that's always running.

That motor will be running hot Saturday in Tuscaloosa when he lines up opposite Samuels.

"Any time the competition is stepped up, you step up, too, hopefully," he said.

"When you play a team up to your level, you raise the stakes."

Mike Stranges writes for The Knoxville News-Sentinel in Tennessee