Tough test for Vol D-line

Tennessee's front four looked pretty good in Game 5 vs. Georgia and Game 6 vs. Mississippi State but the litmus test comes this Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama has perhaps the finest offensive line in the Southeastern Conference. All five starters return from the 2006 blocking front, led by 6-4, 348-pound left tackle Andre Smith, a Freshman All-American last year.

Scheduled to join Smith up front this weekend are left guard Justin Britt (6-4, 290), center Antoine Caldwell (6-4, 288), right guard Marlon Davis (6-2, 311) and right tackle Mike Johnson (6-6, 298).

Challenging them Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be a Vol defensive front that consists of ends Xavier Mitchell (6-2, 255) and Antonio Reynolds (6-3, 270), tackles J.T. Mapu (6-4, 290) and Demonte Bolden (6-6, 290).

After playing poorly in Games 1, 2 and 3, Tennessee's defensive line showed significant improvement in Games 4, 5 and 6.

"Our front has made tremendous progress," defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "We like what they're getting done right now. If you're going to play good football in the SEC, you have to be good there. The last three or four weeks those guys have really stepped it up. I think everybody's improved but I think the biggest improvement is in our defensive front."

One player, in particular, has been progressing at an impressive clip. That would be Bolden, who led the front four in tackles with 4 each of the past two weeks. The Chattanooga native registered a tackle for loss and a pass breakup last Saturday against Mississippi State.

"Right now he's becoming a disruptor, and that's what you've got to have," Chavis said. "He's doing some things that you look at on film and you say, 'Hey, this guy's a disruptor, and we've got to find a way to block him.' You're seeing more and more plays that way, so hopefully he'll continue to grow."

Tennessee has recorded just eight sacks in the first six games – six of those coming from the front four and two from the linebacker corps. Still, Chavis isn't discouraged with the pass rush.

"It's better than the stats show," he said. "We're getting close a bunch. We're putting pressure on, but what people are doing is getting rid of the football.

"We've had the reputation for a long time for getting after the quarterback, and it seems like more and more people are saying, 'Hey, we're not going to let you get the quarterback,' and they're getting rid of the ball.

"I think that's happening all around the league. Our sacks are way, way, way down but I think everybody else's are, too.


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