Can UT dent Florida front?

Jarvis Moss was taken in Round 1 of the 2007 NFL Draft. Ray McDonald was projected as a possible first-rounder but slipped to Round 3. Marcus Thomas, a first-round talent with character concerns, was picked in Round 4. So was Joe Cohen.

These four standout defensive linemen helped limit Tennessee to minus-11 rushing yards in Florida's 21-20 win last fall at Knoxville. They were the guts of the Gators' 2006 defense, so it is no exaggeration to say Florida's front four has been "gutted" by attrition.

Still, Tennessee guard Anthony Parker expects the players in Florida's new defensive front to be almost as good when the Vols and Gators tee it up at 3:30 Saturday in Gainesville.

"They're maybe not as good as last year," he said, "but it's Florida, and they're going to have great players."

Florida is also going to have a noisy crowd. Parker experienced that first-hand as a freshman reserve in 2005.

"I got in for a couple of plays," he recalled. "It was loud and all but I don't think it will bother me much. I think I've played enough now where that won't be an intimidation and I'll be able to play my game."

Intimidation is only one problem caused by the decibel level at The Swamp. A bigger concern is hearing the play calls and the snap counts.

"Just communicating is a problem," Parker conceded. "But the only people who are affected are the linemen. As long as our offensive line communicates what's going on, as far as plays and everything, we'll be all right."

For Tennessee, "all right" may not be good enough. Based on the strengths shown by Florida's offense and the weaknesses exhibited by Tennessee's defense thus far, the Vols may need a peak effort from their attack unit to have a chance.

Parker says he feels no pressure, however, noting: "We've got the same game plan this week as last week and the week before – sustaining drives and keeping our defense off the field."

Tennessee did a terrific job of that in the second half of Game 2 vs. Southern Miss, using a ball-control offense to outscore the Golden Eagles 22-3.

"The first half they came out with a couple of looks that threw us off guard a little bit," Parker said. "At halftime we made the adjustments, came out the second half and just executed the adjustments we made."

In addition, the fact Tennessee completed five first-half passes of 19 yards or more helped loosen up USM's defense a bit. That enabled the Vol rushing attack to roll after intermission.

"Definitely," Parker said. "When you've got a team that's passing well, you tend to put more defenders back, and that opens up running lanes."

Although Derrick Harvey is a star-quality defensive end, the Gators are unlikely to shut down Tennessee's ground game in 2007 the way they did in '06. If Tennessee has to rely on the passing game, however, Parker has faith in quarterback Erik Ainge and his receivers.

"Erik has been great," Parker said. "We've got some great young guys who are running their routes well and catching the ball. If we (linemen) can block well enough I believe the throw and catch will be perfect."


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