Tackling concerns Chavis

The numbers didn't add up to John Chavis' satisfaction. Tennessee's defensive coordinator didn't like the fact that the Vols ranked no better than eighth in the SEC in scoring defense, run defense, total defense and pass-efficiency defense.

Chavis didn‘t like being ranked 50th in the nation in total defense and 71st against the run. He didn't like being 10th in the SEC in sacks.

But he did find some positives.

``Throughout the season, I thought our guys played extremely hard,'' Chavis said. ``Not as smart as we've played in the past. Different things were really exciting, particularly early.''

Early, Tennessee had its best defensive lineman – tackle Justin Harrell – and its best cover corner – Inky Johnson.

When those two went down in September, it had an adverse effect on the defense. Teams were able to run much better against the Vols, and the secondary was forced to play more zone without Johnson, which affected the pass rush because of less blitzing.

Perhaps the loss of Harrell and Johnson affected the Vols in another way.

``This was probably not one of our best tackling teams,'' said Chavis, concluding his 12th year as defensive coordinator. ``That was a little bit disappointing, particularly in the last game (against Kentucky).

``We're addressing that in bowl practice. We're going to be a good, fundamental football team, a good tackling team.''

That wasn't the case against Kentucky, which managed 410 total yards against Tennessee. Only LSU and Arkansas gained more.

``I'm not excited about the way we finished the season,'' Chavis said.

If Tennessee doesn't tackle better against Penn State in the Outback Bowl Jan. 1, the Vols are in trouble.

Tailback Tony Hunt is a 230-pound bruiser who rushed for 1,228 yards, scoring 11 touchdowns and averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

``The first thing that jumps out at you about Penn State's offense is the running back,'' Chavis said. ``He's hard to tackle. He's physical. He runs well.''

Penn State coach Joe Paterno said Hunt reminds him of a former Nittany Lions running back who had a nice NFL career, Richie Anderson.

``Tony's learned patience,'' Paterno said. ``He's a great back. He's smart. He can block. He catches the ball well. He's a complete player. The only thing he needed was more patience and he's had that this year. He's made 20-yard runs out of what ordinarily were 3, 4 yard runs in the past.''

Hunt is a huge factor, considering the Vols' run defense allowed 143.7 yards per game.

``We're not used to giving up that kind of rushing yardage at Tennessee,'' Chavis said. ``We set the standard pretty high. We had a lot of inexperience. But we've got to get better.

``Part of it is tackling. You're reluctant to say that because if you open up that can of worms then everybody starts talking about it. Well, if you look at the Kentucky game, you could tell. We're going to be better than that and we will be better than that in the bowl game.''

Penn State junior quarterback Anthony Morelli improved as the season progressed, according to Chavis. Morelli hit 194 of 361 passes for 2,227 yards and 10 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

``Anthony is so close,'' Paterno said. ``The biggest thing with Anthony, when the protection breaks down, don't run all over the place. He's not that kind of quarterback. Tuck the ball, run to the line and take a 3, 4 yard loss. Don't take a big loss.

``And he's a little slow making up his mind on deep throws. We need a little stronger run game to take some pressure off Anthony, particularly when teams lay their ears back and come after him.''

But Tennessee hasn't been a good pass rushing team. The Vols have 17 sacks, the lowest figure in Chavis' 12 years as the defensive leader. Chavis said the number is a reflection of teams passing quickly and lack of a pass rush.

``People are getting rid of it,'' Chavis said. ``We're accustomed to being around 50 rather than 20 (17 actually). That's an area we've got to improve. It's an area we're not quite as good.''

Chavis said last November that UT's linebacker play in 2006 would be improved. He feels he was right.

``Marvin Mitchell stepped up and had a great year,'' Chavis said. ``Jerod Mayo, I was counting on him being healthy, but considering the injuries he played through, I thought he did extremely well. And I knew we'd get good play from Ryan Karl.''

Mitchell had 92 tackles, 9.5 for loss. Mayo had 82 tackles, a team-high five sacks (three in one game) and a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss. Karl had 62 stops, nine behind the line.

Chavis was pleased with the way the secondary played, especially without Johnson and Roshaun Fellows, a 2004 Freshman All-American who suffered a preseason season-ending knee injury.

``The secondary was the strength of the defense,'' Chavis said. ``We ended up making more mistakes because (of inexperience). You've got to minimize those. A big part of that is coaching. But I think (secondary coach) Larry Slade did a great job with that unit.''

Chavis doesn't buy into the premise that the SEC is considerably faster than the Big Ten. Chavis said Penn State has SEC-type speed at receiver, especially with Derrick Williams.

``Their skill people are as fast as anybody we've played,'' Chavis said.

For Tennessee to have a chance, the Vols will have to improve in the one area that concerns Chavis the most – tackling.


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