Doubting Thomas

Coordinator John Chavis and line coach Dan Brooks are spending a lot of time screaming at Tennessee's defensive tackles this spring, but at least one Vol finds the noise comforting.

"That's a good thing," sophomore Victor Thomas says, "because if they're not on you daily, something's wrong."

Thomas, a 6-4, 270-pounder from Olive Branch, Miss., isn't bothered by the shouting of Chavis and Brooks. Nor is he bothered by all of the grumbling from Vol fans regarding the need for vast improvement at the defensive tackle position.

"It motivates us because we hear that every year ... that the defensive line has to get better," he says. "We hear that every year, and we always come through."

Not always. The defensive tackles in particular underachieved in 2007.

Dan Williams had a good year with 40 stops, 6.5 tackles for loss and 3 quarterback hurries. The rest of the cast, though, was largely unproductive. Walter Fisher, a backup, recorded more stops (27) than starting tackle Demonte Bolden (26) and part-time starter J.T. Mapu (22).

Moreover, none of the tackles was much of a factor in the pass rush last fall. Williams and Bolden recorded 2 sacks each, Mapu 1.5. Fisher had none.

Thomas saw mop-up duty in two games as a redshirt freshman last fall, recording one stop. Interestingly enough, though, it was a tackle for loss.

With Mapu out of eligibility, Tennessee desperately needs for Thomas, redshirt freshman Donald Langley and junior Chase Nelson to pick up the pace and provide some quality depth behind Williams, Bolden and Fisher in 2008.

"It's really crucial because we only have three guys who had a lot of playing time last year," Thomas concedes. "We normally play five to six D-tackles. It's important for us to make steps forward, so we can play this upcoming year."

At 270 pounds, Thomas is a tad small for a major-college tackle. He has the strength and quickness to be a factor at the position, however, if he can become a better technician and develop a little more intensity.

"The key for me," he says, "is I feel like I've got to work on my technique more and just give my all on every play."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer will be looking for signs of progress in both areas when Thomas and the rest of the Vols stage their second full-scrimmage of the spring this afternoon at Neyland Stadium.

"I see flashes," Fulmer says. "Flashes would be about it right now from Victor."

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