"Potentially, we have a chance to be outstanding," he said. "It's been two years running that we've not been able to put our fifth and sixth defensive back on the field."
That's because the Vols barely had four DBs capable of playing SEC-caliber football in 2006 and 2007. Defensive backs 5 and 6 were so shaky that Tennessee generally left outside linebackers Ryan Karl and Rico McCoy in the game, even on obvious passing downs. This year, however, Chavis will not hesitate to utilize a fifth or sixth defensive back when the need arises.
"Coming out of spring practice, we feel very confident that we can do that," he said.
Tennessee fans no doubt recall how many times last season the Vols would stop an opponent on first and second down, then allow a 12-yard completion on third-and-nine or third-and-10. That problem should be alleviated a bit in 2008 by the Vols' secondary depth. With more DBs on the field, there will be less chance of a speedy receiver getting matched up against a Vol linebacker.
"What that does is it keeps you out of bad matchups," Chavis said. "That's going to be important to our success – that we stay out of bad matchups. You go out and play first down and second down good, and then you get a bad matchup, and all of a sudden they're moving the football on you.
"We're going to get back to doing that (using five or six DBs). We shouldn't have matchup issues because of the number of people we feel like can play in the secondary."
Tennessee's secondary boasts quality, as well as quantity. Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley are All-SEC caliber safeties. Brent Vinson (10), DeAngelo Willingham (7), Marsalous Johnson (7) and Antonio Gaines (2) have all started at corner, yet sophomore Dennis Rogan is bracketed No. 1 as spring practice comes to an end.
Having four quality defensive backs on the field frees a team's linebackers to crowd the line of scrimmage and sell out to stop the run. Sometimes a safety or two can move up "in the box" to provide additional run support.
"Unless you're so much better than the teams you're playing – and that's not going to be the case – you have to commit yourself with numbers in the box to be able to stop the run," Chavis said.
The Vol coordinator loves to apply loads of pressure with his front seven, leaving the secondary in man-to-man coverage. Obviously, the tactic only works if the defensive backs excel in man-to-man coverage.
"It's two things: It's personnel and it's scheme," Chavis said. "Personnel will allow you to play man-to-man and feel comfortable about that. Then you scheme to where the offense is not sure where the seventh, eighth or ninth man is coming from."
In addition to more quantity and quality, Tennessee's secondary has more experience in 2008 than it had in 2007. That should be a huge plus, as well.
"We're more mature, and our kids understand our system a little better," Chavis said. "So we're able to do some things from a scheme standpoint."