Vols loaded with speed on D

Note to the Cal Golden Bears: If you thought Tennessee's defense was fast last year ... you ain't seen nothin' yet.

The stop unit Tennessee puts on the field Saturday night at Berkeley might be the smallest California faces all year. It might also be the fastest, though.

Jerod Mayo is a step quicker than Marvin Mitchell, the guy he has succeeded at middle linebacker. Rico McCoy, who can fly, inherits Mayo's old weakside linebacker spot. Ryan Karl returns as the strongside 'backer.

Demonte Bolden and Jonathan Mapu have stepped in for Turk McBride and Matt McGlothin at the tackle spots. Bolden and McBride are roughly equals in speed but Mapu, now that he's back in shape following a two-year Mormon mission, is an upgrade from McGlothlin in terms of quickness.

Tennessee's top four ends are all back from last year, so the quickness at that outpost should be roughly the same.

In the secondary, Marsalous Johnson and Antonio Gaines have succeeded Jonathan Wade and Antwan Stewart as the first-team corners. Johnson and Wade are roughly equals in terms of speed but Gaines is significantly quicker than Stewart, a safety who filled in at cornerback after Inquoris Johnson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Game 2 of 2006.

"I think we're a lot faster than last year," Mayo said recently. "We have guys like Rico McCoy that can really run to the ball. And having J.T. Mapu finally being in shape helps."

Karl agrees that the '07 defense is even faster than its predecessor.

"We have great speed," he said. "We're not all that big but I think our speed's going to surprise some people. We've got a lot of new guys who can run and a lot of veteran guys that are just as fast as anything.

"It's going to be great to see them go out in the regular season against Cal and everyone else and just show it off."

Tennessee's emphasis on speed over size is readily apparent at linebacker. Mayo (6-2, 230 pounds) is roughly average in size, but Karl (6-0, 215) and McCoy (6-1, 215) are a bit undersized. So are backups Ellix Wilson (5-10, 225), Adam Myers-White (6-2, 215) and Dorian Davis (6-2, 210).

The Vols' reliance on speed is most obvious, however, in the secondary. Free safety Jonathan Hefney is 5-9 and 185 pounds. Corners Gaines and Johnson both check in at 5-9 and 180.

"We're pretty small DBs but we have a lot of speed and quickness," Johnson said. "Our DBs are real quick, so we can move just as fast as they (Cal receivers) can.

"Man, we're a real fast secondary. Our whole defense is real fast. We're going to face a lot of quickness but we also have a lot of quickness."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories