Demonte the disrupter

Tennessee's coaches envisioned him as another Albert Haynesworth when they signed him two years ago. Unfortunately, they were right.

Haynesworth was a 6-6 behemoth with all-world potential as a defensive tackle. After grossly underachieving for two years, he blossomed into a superstar as a junior, then jumped to the NFL.

Demonte Bolden may be following the same script. He is a 6-6 behemoth with all-world potential as a defensive tackle. After grossly underachieving his first two years on campus, he may be on the verge of having the same type of breakout junior year that Haynesworth had.

Tabbed a Parade and USA Today All-American following his senior year at Chattanooga Tyner, Bolden spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy and two years frustrating UT coaches with his inability to play up to his potential. He has performed so well this preseason, however, that both head coach Phillip Fulmer and defensive coordinator John Chavis used the word "disrupter" to describe him.

"I'm not ready to anoint him yet because I want to see him do it in a game, but Demonte Bolden has been a guy that has really made significant strides for us as a potential disrupter in the middle," Fulmer said. "We've been at our best on defense when we've had one of those."

Justin Harrell played the role of disrupter in 2005 but missed the Vols' final 10 games of 2006 due to a torn bicep muscle. His absence was a contributing factor as Tennessee's defense slipped from great to mediocre in one year.

"Nobody could ever imagine how much we missed Justin Harrell last year after he got hurt," Fulmer said. "I hope Demonte continues on that (disruptive) path."

Chavis said all of Tennessee's defensive tackles have made "tremendous progress" this fall, then added: "The one that's made the most has been Demonte Bolden. I couldn't be any more pleased with the progress that he's made."

Asked in which area Bolden has made the most progress, Chavis replied: "You name it, he's made progress. He's a disrupter now, and that's what we've got to have inside. That's the way he's going to have to play all year.

"If we're going to be successful defensively, we've got to have that inside. He's given us a little bit of that, and that's what makes it kind of exciting watching him right now."

Bolden contributed 22 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, a sack and a hurry as a reserve last season. Fans were disappointed in his production, and so was he. That's why he devoted himself to getting better in the spring, the summer conditioning program and the preseason camp.

"Basically, I had to get myself mentally prepared and focused on trying to get the job done," Bolden said. "Coach Chavis says he sees stuff in me, and I want to be there and make him believe in me."

Although he looked relatively lean at 6-6 and 290 pounds, Bolden insists he was too heavy last year. Losing weight, he says, has helped him regain the quickness he exhibited in high school.

"Basically, what held me back before was physical," he said. "I was a little overweight, and I felt like I couldn't run around like I used to. I lost a little more weight and I feel like I'm at my playing weight right now."

Minus Harrell (a first-round NFL Draft pick) and Turk McBride (a second-round pick), Tennessee went into spring practice last March with two huge voids at defensive tackle. Bolden felt destined to fill one of them.

"You had some good athletes that left, so I felt like somebody had to step up," he said. "Why not have it be me? I'm not going to stay on the bench. That's just not me."

Tennessee's pass rush registered a paltry 17 sacks in 2006, and a big part of the problem was a lack of push from the tackles. Bolden believes he and fellow starter Jonathan Mapu can upgrade the rush in 2007 by applying more pressure up the middle.

"If we can get pressure on the quarterback, he may make a mistake," Bolden said. "If you see two big guys in your face, you're going to get rid of the ball quick. Hopefully, he'll throw the ball to the safeties."

Thanks to his improved quickness, Bolden is convinced he will be a much better pass rusher than he was a year ago.

"I think I've progressed a lot better than last year," he said. "I think with the intensity level and energy I've got now, I've got to contribute to the game."

Bolden smiled when told Chavis referred to him as a disrupter. When asked what that means to him, however, he struggled. After stammering for several seconds, he shrugged.

"I can't explain it," he said. "You've just got to be out there and see it."


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