Critics helped Vol DBs improve

If Tennessee's secondary is as good as it looked in Saturday's season-opening 47-7 blitz of Wyoming, the Vols have Big Orange boosters to thank for it. From all indications, fan criticism of last year's defensive backs spurred them to work harder.

''Always,'' reserve safety Mark Jones said. ''It always motivates us. Last year, everybody talked about the secondary and the question marks about it. This year we want to come out and show those critics differently.''

The big knock on UT's defensive backs last season was their paltry interception total. Tennessee intercepted just 12 passes a year ago -- a far cry from the school-record 36 interceptions registered by the 1970 Vols. Moreover, only nine of last fall's ''oskies'' were picked off by defensive backs. Thus, it was encouraging that UT intercepted three passes against Wyoming, including one each by starting safeties Julian Battle and Rashad Baker.

''Going back to two-a-days,'' Jones said, ''we wanted to be a tighter unit and one of the best secondaries in the nation.''

Although Jones didn't start the opener, he had a productive day in relief. In addition to leading the Vols in solo tackles (3) and breaking up a pass, he returned four punts for 35 yards, with a best of 15.

''I enjoyed that,'' he said of the return duties. ''I had fun out there.''

Asked what he brings to the punt return game, Jones replied: ''I think I bring some excitement. When the ball's in my hands, I want to do something spectacular with it.''

Certainly, the Vol secondary did something spectacular vs. Wyoming, limiting Cowboy QB Casey Bramlet to 11 completions in 30 attempts for 144 yards. Thirty-five of those yards came on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Jovon Bouknight. That was just about the only breakdown in UT's secondary all evening. Still, Jones says it's too early to start applauding the pass defense.

''This is just one game,'' he said. ''We need to try and improve on this game. We need to try and play mistake-free football back in the secondary.''

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