Slow starts plague defense

Head coach Phillip Fulmer routinely defers when Tennessee wins the pre-game coin toss. Given the way his team is performing in preseason, he might want to take the football.

Based on the three full-scale scrimmages, Tennessee's offense appears to be a fast-starting bunch. Conversely, the defense seems to be a slow-starting group.


In the initial scrimmage the No. 1 offense marched 68 yards in 15 plays to score a touchdown on its opening possession. A 15-yard strike from Erik Ainge to Lucas Taylor and a 15-yard personal foul penalty were the big plays.

The next scrimmage saw the No. 1 offense pick up two first downs on its first possession, then drive 74 yards in 11 plays to score on its second. The big plays on the drive were a 21-yard pass from Ainge to Austin Rogers and a 27-yard TD strike from Ainge to Denarius Moore.

In scrimmage No. 3 the first-team offense opened with a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown drive. The big plays: A 15-yard pass from Ainge to Taylor, a 20-yard swing pass to Montario Hardesty and an offsides penalty.

Naturally, Fulmer views this trend with mixed emotions. Seeing the offense produce an early TD in each scrimmage is cause for celebration. The flip side: Seeing the defense surrender an early TD each time is cause for alarm.

"When it's ones versus ones and you do that it gives you a little concern about some of our defense," Fulmer said. "When you go back and look at the film, it's usually one or two things: A penalty will help continue a drive along the way or somebody gives up a big play. You have to balance that out."

Interestingly enough, the Vols' No. 1 defense usually played pretty well after the opening drive. And it defended the run much better in scrimmage No. 3 than it did in scrimmages No. 1 and 2.

"I don't know that we're where I'd hoped we would be," Fulmer said, "but I think we've made progress during the course of the camp at stopping the run."

With only a few exceptions, the No. 1 secondary has looked good in the scrimmages. Of course, UT's youthful receiver corps may not be providing the kind of test Vol defensive backs will encounter in the regular season.

Regardless, the top three cornerbacks – senior Antonio Gaines, sophomore Marsalous Johnson and freshman Eric Berry – have looked very good to date. Berry got the first repetitions with the No. 1 defense in Tuesday's scrimmage but Fulmer said nothing should be read into that.

"Marsalous had a bit of a shoulder (problem) and we just rolled ‘em (in and out)," the head man said. "I don't know who started out; that doesn't matter right now. We're still looking at guys."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories