"You want everybody to have that kind of self growth to where they can be self starters," Chavis said. "If you've got a bunch of self starters out there, self starters become leaders. You don't want your football to change if you have a significant injury."
Senior safety Jonathan Hefney is talented enough and vocal enough to be a team leader on defense in 2007. So are senior linebacker Ryan Karl and senior end Xavier Mitchell. Perhaps more players will emerge as leaders in preseason.
"These guys are going to follow somebody," Chavis said. "You hope it's the right people and, if we're doing a good enough coaching job, it will be."
Leadership is an even bigger issue this year than usual for Tennessee, which will field an unusually young and inexperienced team in 2007.
"Fifty-six of our 85 guys are going to be sophomores or freshmen," Chavis noted. "You need to grow up in a hurry, and I believe we took a step in that direction."
Tennessee's defense seemed to grow up a lot during spring practice. Tackles Demonte Bolden and Dan Williams matured considerably. So did cornerbacks Marsalous Johnson and Antonio Gaines. None played significant roles in 2006 but all will play key roles in 2007.
Although UT defenders made tremendous strides during the spring, continued growth is vital if the Vols are to overcome the loss of the top three defensive tackles, the starting middle linebacker and four of the top five defensive backs from 2006. Chavis says that makes this summer absolutely critical.
"A player can make a lot of progress between the end of spring practice and the start of fall practice," he said. "We've got some guys who definitely need to do that but I certainly like where we are. We're definitely on track but we've got a lot of work to do."