UT needs pass rush to survive

Today's rap: If the blitz can't arrive the Vols can't survive (insert your favorite hip-hop noises here).

That line isn't from "50 Cent" but from "The Chief," Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis. His stop unit is coming off a season in which it recorded just 17 sacks, the Vols' lowest total since 1988.

With the 2007 season opening Saturday night at California, Chavis says the Vol pass rush had better improve significantly ... or else.

"We got off to a good start last year," he recalled. "We had four sacks (in the opener vs. Cal), then had 13 the rest of the year. We can't survive with that kind of productivity.

"We've got to have better pass rush than that. We've got to create some situations. And we've got to do a better job as coaches, in terms of getting them in better positions to make plays."

Tennessee desperately needs a decent pass rush to take some pressure off a youthful Vol secondary that features three new starters this fall. An occasional sack will kill some Cal drives and allow the defensive backs to build some confidence.

"One of the ways to stop drives is by sack," Chavis noted. "If you get a sack, it's usually hard for the offense to overcome that. We've been good at that but last year was not a typical year for Tennessee."

Most sacks come from defensive ends, who typically have good quickness and face fewer double-team blocks. Chavis believes Vol ends Xavier Mitchell, Antonio Reynolds, Robert Ayers and Wes Brown have the tools to be exceptional pass rushers this fall.

"We can create some rush with some speed," the coordinator said. "We've got good speed at defensive end, and we're going to take advantage of that. But we also have good speed from some other positions (linebacker, safety) that we're going to take advantage of."

Three of Tennessee's four sacks in last year's opener vs. Cal were registered by linebacker Jerod Mayo on blitzes. What enabled that to happen?

"Him taking advantage of some opportunities and playing hard," Chavis said. "Obviously, he made some terrific plays for us. We're going to need those kind of plays this year from him and a lot more guys, playing against an offense (Cal's) that may be one of the best in the nation. They were in the top 10 or close to the top 10 in every offensive category. They had an outstanding offensive team that returns most of its starters."

Tennessee limited the Golden Bears to 20 completions in 42 attempts for 272 yards in 2006 and picked off a couple of interceptions. Although the Vol secondary played well, much of the credit belonged to a pass rush that made life miserable for Cal quarterback Nate Longshore.

"It all starts with pressure – getting after ‘em and causing the quarterback some indecision," Vol secondary coach Larry Slade said. "We were in his face a lot. He didn't have a chance to set his feet."

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