Thursday, October 7, 2010

This Week in the Dawg House: Tennessee Defense

Tennessee rolls into Athens this week a shell of it's prior self. Derek Dooley is trying to pick up pieces left by Lane Kiffin's late-night departure from the program. Well, honestly Derek has been doing more throwing than picking up lately.

(The headphones must've been extremely hot. That's all I can figure.)

But enough about the pillar of class that is Derek Dooley, lets talk about UTk's defensive prowess. The Vols are really setting the woods on fire in this department, as they rank 11th in the conference with 377 yards allowed a game, which is right ahead of the Commodores. If you break this down to Pass D and Rush D, the Vols rank 9th and 10th respectively. Scoring defense is 9th in the conference at 24.8 per game, which is coincidentally right behind the Dawgs. So as not to beat a dead horse, most of the other measurables that center around defensive acumen follow along the same line as the aforementioned stats. 

Now for the positional breakdowns:

Defensive Line: 
After losing 1st Team All-SEC DT Dan Williams and starting DT Wes Brown, the Vols looked to fill some very big shoes in the offseason. They have found a very good group in starters #7 DE Malik Jackson, #84 DE Chris Walker, #52 DT Victor Thomas, and #93 DT Montori Hughes. Walker is the veteran anchor of this unit after totaling 42 tackles and 6 sacks last year, despite battling injury. He looks to be back to 100% this year and leads the DL in tackles. Malik Jackson transferred from USC two years ago and has looked solid in his first few games for The Big Orange. Thomas is trying to step into the void left by the achilles injury of So. DT #58 Marlon Walls. DE Ben Martin #99 was also projected as a starter along this front but went down early in camp with another achilles tweak.  #57 DE Gerald Williams has been a big surprise this season and leads the team in sacks (2.5) and TFL (4), after only registering .5 TFL last year in 13 games. Freshman DE's #94 Corey Miller and #55 Jacques Smith provide depth along with DLs #65 Joseph Ayres and #95 Arthur Jeffery. If you'll remember UGA heavily recruited Smith and Miller last year. 

Just when you consider the quality of most of these players when UT recruited them, there is a lot of potential along this front. They have had some setbacks with the injuries of Walls and Martin, and haven't looked to be anywhere near their potential. Rush defense hasn't been good (10th in SEC @ 4.13 YPC), they are tied with Bama for last in the conference in sacks, and the DL can't put pressure on the QB on 3rd down. There aren't a lot of positives here, but there is quite a lot of underachievement. If recent history is any indication, I look for this group to show marked improvement on Saturday.


In UTk's base 4-3, Senior LB #56 Nick Reveiz has been the bright point. After tearing his ACL four games in last year, the former walk-on Reveiz totals 50 tackles (leads team), 4 TFL, and 1 INT. #42 LaMarcus Thompson starts at SLB and has 16 starts under his belt at the position. Thompson notched 35 tackles and 7 TFL last year in 11 starts. Sophomore #34 Herman Lathers starts on the outside with #34 Savion Frazier also getting reps after tearing his ACL last year. Frazier is slowly working back into the rotation and will see a lot of action Saturday. #9 Daryl Vereen backs up at SLB, and #40 Austin Johnson and "Hyphman" candidate #37 Nigel Mitchell-Thornton provide depth at MLB.  

If you consider that the DL on this team  has greatly underachieved in light of their obvious talent, you'd be forced to say this LB corp is full of HUGE overachievers. Reveiz was once a walk-on and no other player was rated above three stars out of high school. They are also pretty small, with Austin Mitchell being their largest guy at 6'2 234. Depth is also a concern considering last year they were down to only seven at the position, including walk-ons, when Reveiz and Frazier went down with ACL tears. This unit has more talent than last year, but only marginally.


Defensive Backs: 
The loss of the best DB in country last year in Eric Berry and the dismissal of safety Darren Miles Jr. after a bar brawl during the summer have left the Vols reeling in the secondary. Also gone are CB's Dennis Rogan, Brent Vinson, and Marsalous Johnson, who totaled 15 starts last year (Rogan w/12). Replacing Rogan has fallen to #24 Eric Gordon and #25 Art Evans. #10 Marsalis Teague is a converted wide receiver and leads all CB's in tackles with 24 and also has an impressive 6 PBU's this season, which is good for second in the conference. Junior #36 Anthony Anderson and #38 C.J. Fleming are the only other corners to have starting experience back this year. JUCO signee #29 Stephaun Raines also will provide depth.

Safety is really where the Vols got burned in the offseason but look to have two quality guys back there early on. The sophomore tandem of #15 Safety Janzen Jackson and #23 Prentiss Waggner man the safety positions at FS and SS respectively. Jackson makes his way back to the team after an attempted armed robbery in Knoxville last November. The charges against Jackson were dropped (SURPRISE!!!) because he didn't have prior knowledge of the robbery. Yeah, sure. Anyway, Waggner and Jackson are in the top-4 on the squad in tackles and Waggner also has two pick-6's. 

If this were an evaluation purely on CB's the Vols would not be looking good. When you add in the surprising play of the safeties, the landscape of the defensive backfield improves somewhat. All of these guys are pretty small and could be a liability in run support, which leads me to believe that we're probably going to pound the rock, even though we've sucked doing that thus far. As far as the overall quality of this group, they're probably a couple notches below the group we saw in Colorado. 


#96 Chad Cunningham will do the punting for UTk. He has gotten quite a bit of action this season, kicking away 31 balls (2nd in conference) and averaging a little better than 43 YPP. 

Really? It's a punter.

GRADE: Pass (It's a pass/fail type of thing)

Projected Starting Lineup

DE #7 Malik Jackson
DT #93 Montori Hughes
DT #52 Victor Thomas
DE #84  Chris Walker 
SLB #42 LaMarcus Thompson
MLB #56 Nick Reveiz
WLB #34 Herman Lathers
CB #24 Eric Gordon
CB #25 Art Evans
FS #15 Safety Janzen Jackson
SS #23 Prentiss Waggner

#96 Chad Cunningham

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