Who'll bring the heat?

You can't go wrong getting your Vol football coverage from InsideTennessee. Sign in or sign up to read why pressuring the quarterback will be especially crucial this fall.

With Tennessee likely to field one of the youngest secondaries in program history this fall, the Vol pass rush becomes even more important than usual.

No one is more acutely aware of this than defensive line coach Steve Stripling.

"Totally," he said with a laugh. "And the secondary coach (Willie Martinez) lets me know it all the time."

Obviously, the more pressure Tennessee's front four can put on opposing passers the less pressure there will be on a young and suspect secondary.

"That message has been presented to the D-line," Stripling said, chuckling again. "We understand. We've talked about the youth of our secondary and the age of the D-line. We're an older, mature group, so we need to shoulder that responsibility."

Head coach Butch Jones has made quite clear that Tennessee's defensive line is the key element in pass defense.

"Everyone wants to talk about the secondary," he said, "but you win upfront. You have to impact the quarterback with ball disruptions, pass rush, hits on the quarterback. That's going to be critical."

Tennessee's secondary is among the NCAA's youngest this fall. The starting lineup features sophomores Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil at safety, with junior Justin Coleman and true freshman Cameron Sutton at cornerback. The top reserve at corner appears to be another true freshman, Malik Foreman.

%%MATCH_9%%
Stripling
Probably the greatest challenge for young defensive backs comes when an opposing quarterback appears to hand the ball to his running back. The DB must decide in an instant whether to charge upfield in run support or to backpedal in pass coverage. One false step can be disastrous … unless the D-line exerts so much pressure that the quarterback has to take a sack or throw the ball away.

"We've definitely talked to them (D-linemen) in areas like play-action pass," Stripling said. "I tell them, ‘We've got to convert (in pressuring the quarterback) because that's the hardest thing for our DBs.' We've put that message in front of them, and they're taking the challenge."

Unfortunately for Tennessee, two of its best defensive ends – senior Jacques Smith (broken thumb) and freshman Corey Vereen (sprained knee) – are nursing injuries that will sideline them into September.

"Those two guys were our best pass rushers," defensive coordinator John Jancek mused, flashing a pained grin.

All is not lost, though. An obscure junior is picking up some of the slack in the absence of Smith and Vereen.

"Jordan Williams is giving us an explosiveness off the edge with his first step off the ball," Jones said. "He's playing with a relentlessness that we expect and demand from our defensive front. He's performing extremely well right now."

Tennessee's defensive coordinator echoes those thoughts.

"Jordan Williams is having a great camp," Jancek said. "Out of the D-linemen he's probably been the most impressive. He's shown the most improvement.

"We're looking for pass rush. We have got to be able to generate some form of pressure. We have to be able to able to disrupt the quarterback without blitzing every single time. That's our challenge, and that's where Jordan has really improved and shown that he's made great strides in that area."

Stripling agrees, noting: "Jordan Williams has shown some good progress. Jordan got an opportunity (due to the injuries) and he has shown up. Jordan has kind of jumped out at us."

Williams credits his improved pass rush to improved technique.

Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek understands that creating pressure from the front is of great concern.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"I'm working on my technique and not coming off (the line of scrimmage) so hard," he said. "I'm slowing it down, seeing it (rush lane) with my eyes and then using my hands."

Tennessee recorded just 17 sacks in 2012, a total that ranked dead last in the 14-team SEC. Given how much help the youthful 2013 secondary needs, the front seven can't let that happen again.

"There's definitely more emphasis on pass rush," Williams conceded. "With 17 sacks last year, we definitely need to get that up. They (coaches) remind us."

Williams believes the heavy emphasis on pass rush is paying dividends. He sees significant improvement since preseason camp began.

"We've taken big strides – one, in our effort and, two, our get-off in our edge," he said. "That's one thing a D-line needs that we didn't have before."

When Tennessee's new defensive staff showed the Vols film of last season's pass rush, the players were shocked.

"We weren't running to the ball," Williams said. "We saw that, and it was like a wake-up call. We don't want what happened last year to happen again, so we've stepped it up."

Williams admits being embarrassed to watch film of his feeble attempts to muster a pass rush last season.

"It wasn't no effort," he said. "It was just going through the motions."

Tennessee's pass rushers can't afford to go through the motions in 2013. A green-as-grass Vol secondary is counting on them.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories

\r\n\r\n
\r\n","mobileBody":"With Tennessee likely to field one of the youngest secondaries in program history this fall, the Vol pass rush becomes even more important than usual.

No one is more acutely aware of this than defensive line coach Steve Stripling.

\"Totally,\" he said with a laugh. \"And the secondary coach (Willie Martinez) lets me know it all the time.\"

Obviously, the more pressure Tennessee's front four can put on opposing passers the less pressure there will be on a young and suspect secondary.

\"That message has been presented to the D-line,\" Stripling said, chuckling again. \"We understand. We've talked about the youth of our secondary and the age of the D-line. We're an older, mature group, so we need to shoulder that responsibility.\"

Head coach Butch Jones has made quite clear that Tennessee's defensive line is the key element in pass defense.

\"Everyone wants to talk about the secondary,\" he said, \"but you win upfront. You have to impact the quarterback with ball disruptions, pass rush, hits on the quarterback. That's going to be critical.\"

Tennessee's secondary is among the NCAA's youngest this fall. The starting lineup features sophomores Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil at safety, with junior Justin Coleman and true freshman Cameron Sutton at cornerback. The top reserve at corner appears to be another true freshman, Malik Foreman.

Probably the greatest challenge for young defensive backs comes when an opposing quarterback appears to hand the ball to his running back. The DB must decide in an instant whether to charge upfield in run support or to backpedal in pass coverage. One false step can be disastrous … unless the D-line exerts so much pressure that the quarterback has to take a sack or throw the ball away.

\"We've definitely talked to them (D-linemen) in areas like play-action pass,\" Stripling said. \"I tell them, ‘We've got to convert (in pressuring the quarterback) because that's the hardest thing for our DBs.' We've put that message in front of them, and they're taking the challenge.\"

Unfortunately for Tennessee, two of its best defensive ends – senior Jacques Smith (broken thumb) and freshman Corey Vereen (sprained knee) – are nursing injuries that will sideline them into September.

\"Those two guys were our best pass rushers,\" defensive coordinator John Jancek mused, flashing a pained grin.

All is not lost, though. An obscure junior is picking up some of the slack in the absence of Smith and Vereen.

\"Jordan Williams is giving us an explosiveness off the edge with his first step off the ball,\" Jones said. \"He's playing with a relentlessness that we expect and demand from our defensive front. He's performing extremely well right now.\"

Tennessee's defensive coordinator echoes those thoughts.

\"Jordan Williams is having a great camp,\" Jancek said. \"Out of the D-linemen he's probably been the most impressive. He's shown the most improvement.

\"We're looking for pass rush. We have got to be able to generate some form of pressure. We have to be able to able to disrupt the quarterback without blitzing every single time. That's our challenge, and that's where Jordan has really improved and shown that he's made great strides in that area.\"

Stripling agrees, noting: \"Jordan Williams has shown some good progress. Jordan got an opportunity (due to the injuries) and he has shown up. Jordan has kind of jumped out at us.\"

Williams credits his improved pass rush to improved technique.

\"I'm working on my technique and not coming off (the line of scrimmage) so hard,\" he said. \"I'm slowing it down, seeing it (rush lane) with my eyes and then using my hands.\"

Tennessee recorded just 17 sacks in 2012, a total that ranked dead last in the 14-team SEC. Given how much help the youthful 2013 secondary needs, the front seven can't let that happen again.

\"There's definitely more emphasis on pass rush,\" Williams conceded. \"With 17 sacks last year, we definitely need to get that up. They (coaches) remind us.\"

Williams believes the heavy emphasis on pass rush is paying dividends. He sees significant improvement since preseason camp began.

\"We've taken big strides – one, in our effort and, two, our get-off in our edge,\" he said. \"That's one thing a D-line needs that we didn't have before.\"

When Tennessee's new defensive staff showed the Vols film of last season's pass rush, the players were shocked.

\"We weren't running to the ball,\" Williams said. \"We saw that, and it was like a wake-up call. We don't want what happened last year to happen again, so we've stepped it up.\"

Williams admits being embarrassed to watch film of his feeble attempts to muster a pass rush last season.

\"It wasn't no effort,\" he said. \"It was just going through the motions.\"

Tennessee's pass rushers can't afford to go through the motions in 2013. A green-as-grass Vol secondary is counting on them.

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