|Tennessee defenders begin to shine in spite of struggles|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 30 October 2007 22:57|
The youthful squad has given up more than 500 yards in three different games and allowed Alabama's D.J. Hall and South Carolina's Kenny McKinley career days receiving.
But Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis insists he's not worried.
``I'm not concerned about the yardage, I'm concerned about wins. If we can win pretty that's good, but let's win first and then worry about that second,'' he said.
The 24th-ranked Vols (5-3) finally are starting to see some of the raw talent of Chavis' young players. They held South Carolina to two field goals late last week, giving the offense a chance to rally for a 27-24 overtime victory.
Tennessee's average 418.5 yards allowed per game ranks its defense second to last in the Southeastern Conference. The Vols' rushing defense fares a little better than against the pass, which gives up an SEC-worst 259.1 average yards per game.
Coach Phillip Fulmer said Tuesday he's encouraged by the improvement of the defensive line and linebackers and sees more tackles for losses and increasing pressure on quarterbacks.
``I think we've played pretty consistent, I just think there's another level they can play on,'' he said.
Cornerback DeAngelo Willingham made his second start against South Carolina, filling in for an injured Marsalous Johnson. He said the coaches have instructed the secondary to play a bit soft as they work through their inexperience.
Willingham would like to play more aggressively, but he understands the secondary must improve a bit more first.
``If we get our technique better than it is now, we won't have any problem,'' he said.
The Vols have used six different lineups in the secondary this season. The unit now includes Willingham, a junior college transfer; two freshmen in Eric Berry and Brent Vinson; and Jonathan Hefney is the lone senior.
Freshman Dennis Rogan is expected to also play against Louisiana-Lafayette (1-7) Saturday as a third cornerback.
The secondary has been hardest hit by injuries. Senior cornerback Antonio Gaines tore a knee ligament against Southern Mississippi. Johnson also suffered a knee injury before the South Carolina game. Both are expected to miss the rest of the season.
That doesn't include the loss last year of backs Inquoris ``Inky'' Johnson, Roshaun Fellows or safety Demetrice Morley. Johnson would have been a senior this season but suffered career-ending nerve damage after a hard hit, and Morley and Fellows were dismissed from the team.
``It's almost a compliment to our program that we got people in the system who could come in and play and play reasonably well,'' Fulmer said.
If big plays count, the defense may be starting to click.
Berry's 96-yard interception return for a touchdown was one of the Vols' few highlights against Florida. Berry also had an interception and returned a fumble 52 yards against South Carolina. Willingham forced two fumbles against South Carolina and had 10 tackles.
Defensive end Robert Ayres said that's just the kind of play to boost confidence and make all the players on the squad play better.
``Guys aren't making the same young mistakes that they used to,'' Ayres said. ``Everyone's just starting to gel and starting to learn their role as a player so we can have a good, solid defense.''
Trust is the most important ingredient in a defense, and Ayres said that takes time.
``When you know the guy next to you is going to lay it on the line, that makes you want to lay it on the line and play for your teammates,'' Ayres said.
``I feel like we have that right now.''