Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Tennessee Preview |
2007 CFN Tennessee Preview |
2006 CFN Tennessee
What you need to know:
There's an interesting mix of superstars, pedestrian talents,
and overhyped prep prospects who never lived up to their
billing. While all top teams have that, it's more pronounced on
the Tennessee defense that'll boast the phenomenal safety tandem
of Eric Berry and Demitrice Morley and a fantastic outside
linebacker in Rico McCoy, but could be woefully lacking at the
other linebacker positions and is strangely mediocre on the
line. Tackles Dan Williams and Demonte Bolden are fine, but the
defense desperately needs to generate more of a pass rush after
struggling to get into the backfield last year. Defensive
coordinator John Chavis might have to find ways to manufacture
pressure from different places. The secondary should be able to
handle the stress, but it would be nice if the ends could get to
the quarterback on their own.
Rico McCoy, 106
Robert Ayers, 4
Interceptions: Eric Berry, 5
Star of the defense: Sophomore SS Eric Berry
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB/KR Dennis Rogan
Best pro prospect: Berry
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Berry, 2) LB Rico
McCoy, 3) FS Demitrice Morley
Strength of the defense: Secondary, tackles
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, linebacker depth
Projected Starters: The defensive ends have to be
more productive, and that'll start with senior Robert Ayers.
The 6-3, 270-pound veteran made 34 tackles and led the team with
four sacks and 12 tackles for loss, but he needs to do more to
help the woeful pass rush. An interesting pro prospect with
excellent speed to go along with his size, he ramped up his
intensity level this spring showing he's ready to take over for
Antonio Reynolds, who was fine, but nothing special.
Taking over on the left side for Demonte Bolden will be 6-4,
256-pound junior Wes Brown, a solid reserve who made 23
tackles and a tackle for loss. While he's not quite as big as
the typical Tennessee end, he's a top talent who has yet to live
up to his prep hype. He's hardly a lock to hold on to the
starting job all season long; he'll have to keep pushing to keep
the gig and he has to prove he can get into the backfield on a
6-6, 290-pound senior Demonte Bolden is a tall, talented
tackle who made 26 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for loss
starting 12 games on the left side. While he's been a bit
underwhelming over the course of his career and hasn't come
close to living up to his potential, he has the skills and the
experience to do more on the inside. He's consistent, if not
always spectacular, and can serve as an anchor.
Junior Dan Williams made his signature play in the win
over Kentucky with a blocked field goal, and the 6-3,
310-pounder is a promising inside presence who could be on the
verge of being a star. The 6-3, 310-pounder was seventh on the
team in tackles making 51 stops with two sacks and seven tackles
for loss. He turned into one of the team's better pass rushers
as one of the few consistent threats last year when it came to
Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 275-pound senior
Walter Fisher needs to come up with a big season behind
Demonte Bolden at left tackle. As the only backup tackle with
appreciable experience, the former JUCO transfer came up with 27
tackles as a good reserve. He's good enough to potentially start
here and there, but he's not Bolden.
Wes Brown is hardly a lock to hold down the left end job with
promising Chris Walker waiting in the wings. The 6-3,
230-pound sophomore might be undersized, but he can move. The
former linebacker isn't going to be an every down end in this
defense, but he could become a specialist who brings more heat
Also a bit smallish, but quick, is 6-3, 240-pound sophomore
Ben Martin, a little used pass rusher who made seven tackles
in a reserve role. He looks the part with a body out of central
casting, and he'll push for time as an athletic option behind
Robert Ayers on the right side.
Watch Out For ... Martin and Walker. Ayers and
Brown are fine, but nothing special, and the line must find a
way to generate more pressure into the backfield. If nothing
else, the two sophomores should see more time in pure pass
Strength: Tackle. While the Tennessee interior has been
much-maligned for not being nasty enough last year, Williams is
a good one who should become a star. Bolden might never be the
elite player he was destined to become, but he's good enough.
Fisher is a player who'll do what's needed.
Weakness: Pass rush. 11th in the SEC in tackles for loss
and 25 sacks in 14 games ... this is Tennessee? If the ends
can't get it done again this year, the linebackers will have to
be sent more on a variety of blitzes.
Look at it this way; the Vols won the SEC East, beat Wisconsin
in the Outback Bowl, and finished with ten wins even though the
line was mediocre at best. This year's front four isn't going to
be bad, but it's not the killer Tennessee defensive line of the
past. The tackles should be solid against the run and all four
spots will be solid, but there needs to be more spectacular
plays and more from the ends. Robert Ayers and Wes Brown have to
Projected Starters: All senior Ellix Wilson
has to do is replace 149 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and the
heart-and-soul play of Jerod Mayo in the middle. The 5-10,
225-pound Wilson might be woefully undersized for a top-flight
SEC middle linebacker, but he was decent when he got on the
field making 30 tackles, three sacks and five tackles for loss.
He's a 100 mile-per-hour player who can flash into the backfield
at any time and has the range to make plays all over the place.
He's not going to be Mayo, but he could be a breakout performer.
He's the brother of former UT star receiver, Cedrick
The star of the defensive front seven is 6-1, 215-pound junior
Rico McCoy, a tremendous all-around playmaker who
finished second on the team with 106 tackles and 4.5 tackles for
loss with five broken up passes. Overshadowed by Mayo last year,
he was able to do a little bit of everything on the weakside and
often cleaned up plenty of messes. He's huge hitter with
tremendous speed and toughness. Even though he's an All-America
caliber linebacker, he'll be a strong safety at the next level.
With Ryan Karl gone on the strongside, former JUCO transfer
Nevin McKenzie will get the look after making 35 tackles and
2.5 sacks as a reserve. The 6-2, 215-pounder plays much bigger
than his safety size with the ability to hit like a ton of
bricks and get into the backfield on a regular basis. He'll have
competition for the job, especially after getting hurt in spring
ball, but he appears to be the best option.
Projected Top Reserves: In the hunt for the job on
the strongside is 6-2, 215-pound senior Adam Myers-White,
who was neck-and-neck with Nevin McKenzie throughout spring
ball. A superstar high school recruit, he has yet to play up to
his press clippings and made just 15 tackles as a reserve. More
of a safety than a true linebacker, he'll see more time in the
rotation this year and will get a chance again to make an impact
on special teams.
Seeing time in the middle will be special teams superstar
Nick Reveiz, a 5-10, 225-pound sophomore walk-on who made 15
tackles last season and should be ready for a bigger defensive
role. He's a limited talent who gets by on want-to. While he
won't be bad for stretches, there will be reason to panic if
Ennix Wilson is hurt for an extended period of time.
Watch Out For ... McCoy to be every bit the player
Mayo was. They play different positions and do different things,
but now the spotlight will be on McCoy as he'll need to help out
all the other prospects. He needs to be an All-American monster
or the linebacking corps could be a disaster.
Strength: History. For all the concern over the
potential problems, Tennessee always seems to generate
production from whatever configuration of linebackers gets
thrown on the field. Defensive coordinator John Chavis is great
at getting his linebackers in positions where they can make
Weakness: Everyone other than McCoy. The linebacking
corps would've been devastating if Jerod Mayo had stuck around
for his senior year. Wilson won't be bad in his place, but he's
not going to be an NFL star. It'll be a rebuilding process if
injuries hit at any time.
Outlook: This could be
the team's Achilles heel. The defensive line isn't good enough
to not have a killer threesome behind it, and while Rico McCoy
will be special, there are screaming panic sirens going off
around the rest of the corps. Several young players like
LaMarcus Thompson, Chris Donald, Josh Hawkins and Savion Frazier
are the future, and they could quickly become the present if
there are problems early on.
Projected Starters: If sophomore Eric Berry
isn't the best strong safety in America, he's in the team photo.
The superstar recruit of last year was supposed to come in and
be a key backup corner, and then he took over a safety job early
in the season and never looked back finishing fourth on the team
with 86 tackles and a team-leading five interceptions with nine
broken up passes and two fumble recoveries. The question will be
where to put him. He'll make his millions at the next level at
free safety, he's a tad smallish at 5-11 and 195 pounds at
strong safety, but he's such a good hitter and such a fantastic
playmaker when he gets the ball in his hands that the goal will
be to put him in whatever spot gets him around the ball the
Berry will likely spend the season at strong safety again while
6-2, 195-pound junior Demetrice Morley will play free
safety after missing all of last year because of academic
issues. A star in 2006 making 51 tackles and seven tackles for
loss with two interceptions, he has the size, the range, and the
talent to step in for Jonathan Hefney and not miss a beat.
The cornerback battles will go on into the fall, but sophomore
Dennis Rogan appears to have one spot on the left side.
The 5-10, 185-pounder stepped up this spring when he got the
opportunity and showed he could be a starter for the next three
seasons. He made a few big plays, including a nice pick for a
long score in a scrimmage, and showed that he can be a top
playmaker on the right side. He made 19 tackles as a reserve and
will at least see more action in the rotation this year.
JUCO transfer DeAngelo Willingham is a big 6-0, 200-pound
hitter who stood out after a good end to 2007. A starter at
right corner over the second half of last year, he'll get the
first look at the left corner job after finishing with 38
tackles and three broken up passes with two fumble recoveries.
He showed he could be a playmaker in spring ball and took over
one of the staring jobs. He'll also be a backup safety behind
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Brent Vinson,
a former wide receiver, is a rising star corner who made
37 tackles and an interception with eight broken up passes, but
he was out this spring hurt and might have lost his starting job
on the left side. Maybe. He'll get a look at both corner spots
once he comes back this fall once his banged up shoulder is
better. At worst he's a fantastic backup.
Junior Marsalous Johnson will get every opportunity this
fall to win one of the corner jobs starting out pushing DeAngelo
Willingham on the left side. A track star who tore off a 10.4 in
the 100, he's a 5-9, 180-pound flash of lightning who made 25
tackles and a pick with five broken up passes before injuring
his knee. When he gets back he needs to prove he has the same
set of wheels and same playmaking ability.
Former running back Daryl Vereen could be next year's top
safety if he's allowed time to work. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he's
a quick, compact player who's learning how to be a free safety
on the fly. He'll get plenty of chances to get his feet wet
behind Demetrice Morely and he could grow into an interesting
Watch Out For ... the return of the injured
corners. Dennis Rogan already appears to be a star, but he'll be
pushed a bit once Brent Vinson and Marsalous Johnson are back.
The corner depth could go from good to frighteningly good.
Strength: Safety. The combination of Eric Berry and
Demetrice Morley is being talked about as possibly the best ever
in the Phil Fulmer era. Considering Tennessee's history of
safeties, these two have a ton of hype surrounding them.
Weakness: Backup safety. It's not like there aren't
options if Berry and/or Morley go down, but there's a huge,
25-mile-wide chasm between those two and the backups. To put it
simply, Tennessee must have a big year from its safeties to have
any hope of playing for the SEC title.
Outlook: While the offensive line will be good and
the running backs and receivers are potentially explosive, the
secondary will be the strength of the team. Berry and Morley
should be in the NFL right now, while the corners will be
terrific once all the pieces are back and healthy. With the rest
of the defense merely average, the secondary has to play up to
its capability after allowing a whopping 239 yards per game.
Projected Starters: Sophomore Daniel Lincoln
had a great first season hitting 21 of 29 field goals with
two of the misses coming from beyond 50 yards. He hit a whopping
seven of ten from 40-to-49 yards and he connected on 52 of 53
extra points. Basically, he was a godsend as his emergence
allowed Britton Colquitt to spend his season just dealing
with the punting duties.
Just when it seemed like Colquitt was about to become a star, he
got nailed for an incident with alcohol and will miss the first
five games of the year. He averaged a solid 41.6 yards per kick
putting a whopping 23 inside the 20 and forcing 15 fair catches.
Until he returns, the Vols will tread water with sophomore
Chad Cunningham, who average 40.7 yards per kick forcing
three fail catches on his three boots last year.
Speedy corner Dennis Rogan will handle the return duties
after averaging a stunning 29.5 yards per kickoff return and a
decent 9.7 yards per punt return. He'll get help from running
back Lennon Creer on the kickoff returns.
Watch Out For ... the punting game to be just
fine. Cunningham isn't some guy dragged off the street and that
Georgia game, when Colquitt will be eligible again, will come
around in a hurry.
Strength: Lincoln. While he could be a bit more
automatic, there's not a lot to complain about considering field
goals were supposed to be the big weakness last year. He'll be
the difference in at least two games.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Vols were fine covering
kickoffs allowing 20.6 yards per return but were awful on punt
returns allowing 10.3 yards per try with two touchdowns.
If Dennis Rogan is the all-around returner he was last year and
Daniel Lincoln can build on his solid freshman year and hit
around 20 field goals again, all will be fine. The punting game
will be good no matter who's kicking it.