Talk of 6-pack angers Vol rushers

In college, a six-pack usually refers to abs or beer. At Tennessee, it refers to the sack total of the defensive ends.

And the ends are sick and tired of hearing about it.

That's because six sacks by that position is embarrassingly low, especially at a program that prides itself on rushing the quarterback.

Wes Brown, a sophomore defensive end, said he's heard enough about the lack of sacks in 2006. He said defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell and defensive coordinator John Chavis stay on the front four about mounting pressure.

``We use that as motivation,'' Brown said. ``We've got to get pressure. I think we're off to a pretty good start.''

Xavier Mitchell, who led the ends with four sacks, called last season's numbers disappointing.

``We want to put it upon ourselves to get it done,'' Mitchell said. ``We know it was the lowest sack total for the defensive line since coach Chavis has been here. We want to get that number up for Coach Chavis, for ourselves and for the team. We know we can win more ballgames if we do that.''

Is the talent there?

``Absolutely,'' said Mitchell, a senior who has the potential to reach double digits in sacks.

Mitchell and Brown are the best pass rushers. Brown has actually been the quickest off the ball in August camp. Robert Ayers has talent but hasn't fulfilled his potential. Antonio Reynolds needs to improve his overall game. Andre Mathis, a converted linebacker, is making strides. And true freshman Ben Martin made an early impression before suffering a knee injury that has his 2007 season in doubt.

``He's got quick moves and he can really run,'' Caldwell said of Martin. ``That's what we saw on film coming out of high school. He still has work to do. He had trouble getting into a stance the first day. But as time progresses, he'll get better and better. I think he is a very special athlete.''

Last year's overall sack total of 17 was less than HALF of what Tennessee averaged from 1990 to 2005. During that 16-year stretch, the Vols had a school-record 50 sacks in 2000 and had four other seasons with at least 40. The lowest in the Chavis Era had been 28 in 2003 – until last season.

``That really put a damper on our spirits,'' Mitchell said. ``We haven't talked about a goal this season, but it goes without saying we're going to try to get more than six sacks (among the ends).''

Recording sacks isn't just the responsibility of the defensive ends. Tackles need to get an inside push and the secondary can't let receivers run free.

``We've got to get some pressure off the edge,'' Caldwell said. ``We didn't do near a good enough job last year and we've got to get some push up the middle. They both work up together.

``We've got to do a great job pressing the outside of the pocket and making the quarterback step inside and we've got to have some disruptors inside to do the same thing. If we're not getting pressure outside, the tackles have got to be able to push the middle to make sure we have a chance to get sacks from outside.''

Last season, the inside pass rush was hurt dramatically by the season-ending injury to tackle Justin Harrell, an eventual first-round NFL pick who missed the last 10 games.

Tennessee wasn't the only SEC school with a low sack total last year. Alabama had a league-worst 13. Ole Miss had 14. Four other schools had fewer than 30.

It's harder to get to the quarterback because more teams are using a three-step drop, throwing timing routes, going to maximum protection and instructing the quarterback to throw the ball away rather than take a sack.

``Oh yeah, it's a whole lot harder,'' Caldwell said of getting a sack.

Caldwell pointed out that since 1995, UT has broken the sack record three times – going from 40 to 42 to 47 to 50.

``Look at what leads the conference now,'' Caldwell said. ``It's nowhere close to that.''

LSU led the SEC with 39 sacks, but that was in 13 games. Arkansas was second with 37 sacks in 14 games. The previous UT totals consisted of 11 or 12 games because bowl games didn't count toward your final stats until 2002.

``People are getting in the (shot) gun, they're getting rid of the ball faster and they're doing a better job with timing routes,'' Caldwell said. ``But we can still do a lot better than what we did last year.''

And they'll need to early.

California, the opening opponent, might have the best passing attack the Vols will face this season. Although battered by UT last year, Nate Longshore went on to pass for 3,021 yards and 24 touchdowns, completing 60.2 percent of his passes. He was 11 of 20 for 85 yards against Tennessee.

DeSean Jackson, a preseason All-American, caught 59 passes for 1,060 yards. Lavelle Hawkins, an LSU transfer, caught 46 for 705 yards. Robert Jordan caught 46 for 571 yards. They combined for 18 touchdown receptions.

Mitchell expects to see a much improved Longshore this time around.

``I bet you (playing in Neyland Stadium) was overwhelming for him just a little bit,'' Mitchell said. ``But we'll be in their house and he'll be a little more comfortable. We'll try to get him rattled just like we did when he was here.''

Will you remind him of his Neyland experience?

Mitchell laughs.

``Hey, when we get back there in the backfield,'' he said, ``that will be enough reminder for him.''


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