Vol DBs have Chavis smiling

Minus six members of last year's starting front seven, Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis was hoping the secondary – which essentially returned intact – would provide solid play and leadership in spring practice. It did.

A veteran defensive backfield consisting of two seniors (Antwan Stewart, Jonathan Wade) and two juniors (Inky Johnson, Jonathan Hefney) performed so well that Chavis believes he can take a few more gambles up front, knowing the defensive backs are capable of cleaning up any spills that might occur.

"It certainly makes you feel that way," the coordinator said recently. "That's why we want to make sure they understand concepts – maybe a certain way you play a certain technique, or recognizing what the offense is doing to attack you. When they understand the offensive concepts, as well as the defensive concepts, they're able to go play at a high level."

Since each miscue on the back line of defense could be a potential touchdown, experience is crucial in the secondary, and Tennessee certainly has it. Hefney has made 23 career starts, Stewart 16, Wade 15 and Johnson 6. Their familiarity with the Vol system gives Chavis a lot more freedom in his scheming.

"You can be more multiple," the Vol aide conceded. "But the biggest thing in coaching is remembering that it's not rocket science. As coaches, we can come up with all these schemes but the bottom line is you've got to pick something and do it well. That was our focus in spring practice. We have a great base, and we're going to grow from that."

Minus Jesse Mahelona, Parys Haralson, Jason Hall, Kevin Simon, Jason Mitchell and Omar Gaither from last season's front seven, Chavis might be biting his fingernails a bit if not for the glut of returning talent in the secondary. The coordinator's job will be a lot easier now that the defensive backs' knowledge has caught up with their talent.

"I do think it's easier because of the experience we have in the secondary," Chavis said. "They understand concepts so much better. They know what's going on around them. Last year there were questions I wouldn't ask because I was afraid of the answer. I didn't want to know what THEY didn't know."

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