Still a concern

The fact first-team quarterback Jonathan Crompton averaged 20 yards per completion in Saturday's Orange & White Game is cause for both celebration and consternation among Tennessee fans.

The optimist would say Crompton did a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly and that the first-team offensive line did a good job of protecting him. The pessimist would say the second-team defensive line did a lousy job of pressuring him.

After watching Crompton riddle the second-team defense for 13 completions in 20 attempts for 266 yards, head coach Phillip Fulmer tended to blame the defensive front more than he credited the offensive front.

"That No. 2 defensive front didn't challenge very much," the head man noted. "It was very disappointing. They had better push during the course of the spring than they had (in the spring game). It's a credit to Jon getting the ball out, too, much like we did last year when we only gave up four sacks in 14 games."

It's no secret that the defensive line looks to be Tennessee's weak link, much as the secondary was a year ago. The first-team D-line appears adequate but the second-team line appears to be a little shaky coming out of the spring.

"I think the second-team defensive line at the end of the spring got to where I thought they would START the spring," Fulmer grumbled. "They started to understand how to give great effort, play every down hard, get off blocks and make plays."

The head man feels OK about the tackle corps now that Dan Williams, Demonte Bolden and Walter Fisher appear dependable. If Donald Langley, Victor Thomas or Chase Nelson can step it up a notch, Tennessee will at least have a four-man rotation.

Fulmer also feels reasonably good about his top three ends – first-teamers Robert Ayers and Wes Brown, along with promising sophomore Ben Martin. Behind those three, however, the Vols may have to rely on first-year players.

"We've still got some real challenges in front of us to get through the summer," Fulmer said. "Obviously, we hope to get some of the freshmen who can help us in the mix really fast – whether it be a Marlon Walls or a Gerald Williams or whoever it might be – that can give us more depth."

Walls is a 6-4, 230-pound Memphis native who signed with the Vols in February after a standout senior season at Olive Branch (Miss.) High School. He was rated the No. 14 outside linebacker prospect in America by Scout.com last winter after recording 127 tackles, including 11 sacks and 5 forced fumbles.

Williams, who originally signed with Tennessee in 2005, has been waiting three years to enroll due to assorted academic issues. The 6-4, 240-pounder was rated No. 20 among defensive end prospects by Scout.com as a senior at Lauderdale Lakes (Fla.) High School in 2004. Williams played last fall for City College of San Francisco, where he recorded 146 tackles and 6 forced fumbles. He spent the 2006 season at Fork Union (Va.) Military, where he registered 96 tackles and 2 forced fumbles.

Another potential answer to the Vols' depth problem at end is on campus already. That would be 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Chris Walker, who missed spring practice due to a relatively minor surgery on his left knee.

"Getting Chris Walker back would help some," Fulmer said. "We're not where we need to be."

While Tennessee's front four remains a concern coming out of spring practice, Tennessee's secondary remains a bright spot. The first-team defensive backs limited backup QBs Nick Stephens (6 of 17) and B. J. Coleman (9 of 13) to a combined 15-of-30 passing for just 124 yards in the Orange & White Game. Safeties Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley recorded interceptions, with Berry returning his 25 yards and Morley returning his 18 yards.

Asked what he saw from the defensive backs, Fulmer replied: "More of what we've seen all spring. The secondary is very talented and experienced enough now to get themselves in places where they can make plays. If they get their hands on the ball, then those two (Morley and Berry) especially can make big things happen.

"We limited the defense a little bit as far as how much they could do with pressure, so that (Orange & White Game) really wasn't totally what our defense will be. But the Ones kept knocking the ball loose and getting their hands on some balls, which certainly was a positive."


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