DBs are a bright spot

Tennessee football fans looking for silver linings in an otherwise dreary 2005 season need look no further than the secondary.

The 2004 Vols finished dead last among the 12 SEC teams in passing yards allowed (236.4 per game) and passing touchdowns allowed (19). They were 11th in completion percentage allowed (60.8) and ninth in yards per attempt (7.4).

The dramatic strides made by the 2005 pass defense are vividly reflected in the statistics. Tennessee is allowing 202.7 passing yards per game, 33.7 better than a year ago. The Vols have allowed just one passing TD in six games. If they maintain that pace, they'll allow two passing TDs all year, 17 fewer than last season. They're allowing a 58-percent completion rate, down nearly three points from last fall, and they're allowing just 6.5 yards per pass attempt, down nearly a full yard from 2004.

Saturday's 6-3 loss at fifth-ranked Alabama dropped UT's 2005 record to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play, yet the secondary performed exceptionally well … even without its top player, senior cornerback/captain Jason Allen.

Bama quarterback Brodie Croyle completed 17 of 27 passes for 190 yards, which is less than seven yards per attempt. Take out the 43-yard bomb Croyle hit in the game's final two minutes, and he averaged just 5.7 yards on the other 26 attempts. The 43-yarder came at the expense of Vol corner Antonio Gaines, who wouldn't have been playing in that situation if not for Allen's hip injury.

Now that Allen's out for the year, UT's first-team secondary consists of two sophomores (Inky Johnson and Jonathan Hefney), one junior who scarcely played until three weeks ago (Jonathan Wade) and one junior who missed 2004 with a torn ACL (Antwan Stewart). The backups are sophomores Roshaun Fellows and Gaines, plus true freshman Demetrice Morley.

Clearly, losing Allen leaves Tennesse with a green group of defensive backs. Still, defensive coordinator John Chavis isn't complaining.

"They've got some playing time under their belts now, and we've got to go play," Chavis said. "It's been a work in progress but I've been pleased with our secondary all year. They've done a tremendous job, gotten better and better with each game.

"If they continue to grow, this has a chance to be a really, really solid secondary."


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