Defenders shine on goalline

A rather uneventful Wednesday morning practice suddenly came to life when head coach Phillip Fulmer sent the Big Orange through a brief but spirited goalline scrimmage. Drill work is useful and all that, but the Vols clearly come to life when it's time to hit somebody.

Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin made a big hit on the first goalline play, and end Omari Hand came through with another stop seconds later. By the time the scrimmage work had ended, just about every Vol defender had popped somebody. For a defense that is breaking in four new line starters, UT's stop unit looked awfully good.
Fulmer said there was a reason for that, though.

''The offense is at a little bit of a disadvantage because we're not running anywhere but inside the tackles,'' he said. ''But it's a good toughness drill and good to learn from. I thought the defense did exceptionally well keeping their pads down ... as they did yesterday. I'm very encouraged by that.''

Tennessee was exceptional in goalline and short-yardage situations last fall. Offensively, the Vols converted 41 percent of their third-down opportunities and 60 percent of their fourth-down tries last fall. Defensively, UT limited its foes to a 35-percent success rate on third down and a 38-percent rate on fourth down.

''We've been good in that area,'' Fulmer said. ''It's something we really work hard on. We spend Mondays during the season really focusing on that, and the kids have taken it to heart.''

No wonder. Getting into the end zone and keeping your opponent out of the end zone is the essence of the game. Five hundred yards of total offense is meaningless unless it results in points.

''We don't get many opportunities during the season to play goalline, compared with the time you spend working on it,'' Fulmer said. ''But they're always important times. I think we're off to a really good start, defensively especially.''

Although he is reluctant to single out individual players, the head man noted that Franklin made ''a really, really nice play'' in his goalline stop. He added that freshman tailback Gerald Riggs, Jr., ''went up and over really well'' and concluded that ''There were a couple of really nice blocks Jason Witten made.''

Even more encouraging than the blocking, tackling and running showcased in the goalline drill was the enthusiasm. These Vols clearly relish the physical nature of the game.

''It's one of those things where you hope the spirit's there,'' Fulmer said. ''The spirit was there, and that's a very good thing to see.''

INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Tony Campbell (groin), safety Steven Marsh (ankle) and tailback Cedric Houston (groin) missed the session with minor injuries. Linebacker Eddie Moore was withheld from contact work due to an unspecified injury, also minor.

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