Attrition killing Vol D

Four games into the 2004 season, Tennessee's defense is without seven players who figured to play key roles this season.

Knee injuries have sidelined starting middle linebacker Kevin Simon, reserve linebacker Marvin Mitchell and two projected secondary starters -- cornerback Antwan Stewart and free safety James Banks. Academic problems have sidetracked projected starting tackle Greg Jones and freshman tackle Demonte Bolden. Yet another tackle, Matt McGlothlin, is serving a one-year disciplinary suspension.

Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis isn't inclined to make excuses but even he admits that attrition has forced a lot of reserves to step into roles they aren't quite ready to fill.

''It's been a bit of a challenge,'' he said. ''Two years ago we lost a bunch of starters but I was not as concerned because we had guys behind them who had played in the games. They came in, did a good job for us and we ended up finishing fourth or fifth in the nation (in total defense).''

Unfortunately, the Vols lack that kind of experienced depth this year. As a result, Chavis is having to rely on true freshmen (Jonathan Hefney, Antonio Reynolds, Xavier Mitchell), redshirt freshmen (Roshaun Fellows) and sophomores (Justin Harrell, Tony McDaniel, Turk McBride, Daniel Brooks, Jonathan Wade, Jarod Parrish, Corey Campbell) more than usual.

Obviously, inexperienced players tend to make more mistakes than experienced players. And that's why the Vol stop unit in't coping with attrition nearly as well as the 2002 defense did.

''We don't have that kind of experience this time,'' Chavis said. ''And we don't have the poise and toughness yet that you need to play in the SEC.''

Until Vol defenders develop this experience, poise and toughness, more growing pains are inevitable. There could be plenty of these this weekend at Georgia, which is coming off a 45-16 pasting of LSU.

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