Too many mistakes

Tennessee's new offensive coordinator ran into an old spring problem: mistakes.

``There is a theme from this scrimmage: We didn't take care of the football,'' Dave Clawson said. ``That can't happen if you're going to play winning football.''

But in the spring, what's bad for the offense is usually good for the defense.

Tennessee's defense recorded four interceptions, three against No. 1 quarterback Jonathan Crompton. Dennis Rogan, the Knoxville Fulton product, returned one 82 yards for a touchdown. DeAngelo Willingham had two picks.

It's not unusual for the defense to be ahead of the offense at this time, in particular when a new coach is putting in a new offense with some new terminology and new formations.

Having said that, Tennessee's defense has been impressive. The secondary coverage has been tight. The tackling has been crisp – running backs and receivers haven't been breaking many tackles. And the pass rush show signs of improvement, recording about half a dozen sacks.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis said the pass rush from the front four was the best he's seen in some time. The leaders in that category are Ben Martin, Robert Ayers and Wes Brown.

Chavis also said the secondary play is like night and day from last fall.

But that doesn't make Clawson feel better.

``The No. 1 goal is we have to win the turnover battle and we turned it over too often,'' Clawson said. ``Part of that was bad decisions by the quarterbacks. Part of it was guys slipping on routes. That can't happen if you're going to win football games.''

Clawson is also concerned about pass protection.

``Sacks can be result of a number of things,'' Clawson said. ``It can be the quarterback holding onto the ball too long. It can be the offensive line missing a block. It can be a back missing a block. It can be a breakdown in protection. It can be receiver running the wrong route. Until you identify why sacks are occurring, it's hard to just say this is the problem.''

And Clawson won't know the problem until he watches the tape.

Safety Demetrice Morley didn't need tape to notice how well the defensive is playing.

``We're getting better and better and better,'' said Morley, who blocked a field-goal attempt. ``We're working hard and we're excited about everything.''

For a secondary that got torched quite often last season, Morley said he saw a group with confidence when spring practice began.

``I knew we had the swagger,'' Morley said. ``That's all we talk about is swagger. We call ourself the goon squad. We're goony gonnies out there. We're like piranahs. Everybody runs to the ball, breaks on the ball.

``Defense wins championships and offense sells tickets; you know what I'm saying. We're going to work hard and I'm just loving it. I still think we're not where we need to be yet. We're looking good and stuff but there are more plays to make and we're going to keep working hard.''

When it was mentioned that fumble recoveries and interception returns sell tickets, Morley said: ``They can sell plenty of tickets – plays like that. Those turn around games. We need those, man.''

Morley said he was able to pick up the defensive scheme quicker than he anticipated after missing last season for academic reasons.

``I felt my love was Tennessee, even when I left,'' Morley said. ``I felt I never forgot nothing. I remembered everything when I got here (in January), all the checks. The coaches were surprised.''

What Morely didn't recall, he brushed up with freshman Eric Berry and the film room.

Morley and Berry figure to make a dynamic tandem. Both are extremely athletic. Berry was a Freshman All-American. Morley was arguably the most athletic player on the team his sophomore season (2006). As they develop a chemistry, they could make UT's secondary one of the SEC's best.

That's quite a turnaround from a defensive backfield that gave up a plethora of big plays while the Vols were managing to win the East Division.

The secondary has not only made strides in pass defense, the tackling has been crisp.

On one play during the scrimmage, running back Arian Foster turned the corner and appeared headed for a huge gain when Berry swiftly surged ahead and nailed Foster in his tracks for a 3-yard gain.

``Coach Chavis (emphasizes tackling) every day in practice,'' Morley said. ``You can't give them no yards. When you tackle, you got to move them back. Can't give them no forward progress. We want to get all the minuses. That's what we've been working at.

``We need those in third-down critical situations, second-down critical situations. All those downs count.''


Rogan and Anthony Anderson, another Knoxville product, had big scrimmages.

Rogan not only had an 82-yard interception return for a score, he ran back a punt 55 yards before being tackled in the open field – for the second week in a row – by the punter.

Anderson gave Rogan grief about that.

``I told him that's his weakest link – the punter,'' Anderson said. ``If he wants to score a touchdown before I do, he needs to get past the punter.''

Rogan said Anderson told him: ``You run out of moves once you get to the punter.''

Anderson made a terrific interception, jumping on an out route and laying out for the pick. He not only displayed a quick step, but he showed tremendous hands.

``When I get my hands on the ball, I know I can make plays,'' Anderson said. ``That (interception) reminded me of when I was in high school, I made a play like that against Fulton.''

Anderson said Berry has taken him under his wing, watching film with him and pointing out ways to play the position better.

Anderson said he likes the idea of two Knoxville products playing in the secondary.

``It's an honor to be playing with Rogan, especially because we're from the same place,'' Anderson said.

Said Rogan: ``It means a lot, playing against each (in high school) then getting to play together. I know a lot of local people enjoy getting to see that. It's pretty cool.''

Inside Tennessee Top Stories