Defensive ends need to step up

Tennessee's 2000 defense was often dominating, setting single-season school records for most sacks (50) and fewest rushing yards allowed (817). Conversely, the 2006 defense was often dominated, recording just 17 sacks and allowing 1,907 rushing yards.

The sack total was UT's lowest since the 1988 team registered only 14. The rushing yardage total was UT's highest since the 1990 team allowed 2,054.

Given that the 2007 Vols must find replacements for the the top three defensive tackles of 2006 – Justin Harrell, Turk McBride and Matt McGlothlin – you figure the ends may have to carry a bigger share of the load this fall.

Rising senior Xavier Mitchell concedes that he and the other ends need to be productive in the fall but dismisses the idea that there is pressure on them to carry the front four.

"We're going to have to play well," he said, "but it's a team game. Some of the things we do as ends depend on the defensive tackles. We just have to work and put it all together, see what we can get done this spring to jell as a defensive line."

Mitchell is understandably disappointed with the paltry 2006 sack total. Linebacker Jerod Mayo led all Tennessee defenders with 5 sacks last fall. Mitchell was next with 4. No one else recorded more than one. So, what can the Vols do to upgrade their pass rush in 2007?

"Just work on the little things, the different angles and things," Mitchell said. "From watching on film, there's one or two things we could've done to get there on time – get that sack or get that pressure. Those are the little things we're going to work on this spring."

No doubt head coach Phillip Fulmer and defensive coordinator John Chavis will be watching Mitchell and the other ends closely when UT holds its second full-scale scrimmage of the spring this afternon at Neyland Stadium. If the Vols are to improve defensively in 2007 they must get a stronger pass rush and better run support from the guys on the flanks.

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