Secondary still unproven

Tennessee limited the best wide receiver corps it will face all year to 118 passing yards in Saturday's 24-6 defeat of Fresno State, but defensive coordinator John Chavis figures the Vols secondary remains a work in progress.

Basically, Fresno's offensive line was so weak that quarterback Jeff Grady had no time to get the ball to his talented pass-catchers. Thus, it was Tennessee's pass rush -- not Tennessee's pass coverage -- that shut down the Bulldogs' aerial game.

''I still think their receiving corps is outstanding; I don't know that we'll play against a better corps of receivers,'' Chavis said. ''But the quarterback didn't have much time and we didn't get challenged downfield as much as we anticipated because our pressure was a little better than we thought. If we're able to get that kind of pressure, it makes it a lot tougher for the offense to execute.''

Another factor that contributed greatly to Fresno's ineffectiveness throwing the ball was its total lack of a ground game. Tennessee limited the Bulldogs to minus-1 rushing yard. Knowing Fresno couldn't run effectively, the Vols were able to gear their defense to stop the pass by using five and six defensive backs at once.

''As we got into the ballgame, we played a lot of different coverages on first down that we normally don't because we didn't have to put a big emphasis on stopping the run,'' Chavis said.

One of the most encouraging developments for UT's defense came on the final play of the third quarter, when linebackers Kevin Burnett and Kevin Simon -- both of whom missed most of 2002 with injuries -- combined on a sack of Fresno quarterback Jeff Grady. Simon finished with a team-high five solo tackles, three assists and the half-sack. Burnett added two solos, two assists, a minus-yardage stop and the half-sack.

When asked about the play of the two Kevins, however, Chavis declined to pinpoint the talented linebackers.

''I was pleased with our entire defense,'' the coordinator said. ''The guys in the secondary played well and our tackles grew up some. It was good for them to get this kind of experience in a game situation. We should make a lot of improvement this next week.''


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