Run defense must improve

John Chavis knows that to win at a high level in the Southeastern Conference, you better have a stout run defense.

The Vols bucked the odds last year. They captured the East Division and won 10 games despite ranking ninth in the SEC and 69th in the nation at stopping the run. The 164.6 yards allowed per game was the worst in Chavis' 13 years of heading up UT's defense.

``If you're going to win in the SEC, you have to be good up front,'' Chavis said. ``You have to be able to stop the run. Whether we do that with personnel or numbers, we're prepared to do that.''

What he's not prepared to do is see his defense get waylaid in the run game. Four teams rushed for more than 200 yards on TennesseeCalifornia, Florida, Louisiana-Lafayette and LSU. UT won one of those games.

Three others had more than 170 yards – Arkansas State, South Carolina and Wisconsin. UT won all three, edging the Gamecocks in overtime.

``At times last year,'' Chavis said, ``we were as bad as we've been.''

Big plays were often the culprit against the likes of Cal, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Yet, against two quality running teams – Arkansas and Georgia – the Vols were outstanding at stuffing the run.

``At times against some of the better teams,'' Chavis said, ``we were as good as we've been.''

Georgia was held to 69 yards on 25 carries as Tennessee controlled the line of scrimmage. Arkansas – the SEC's best rushing team at 286.5 yards per game – was held to 127 yards on 36 runs, and much of that came after the game was decided.

How do you explain the inconsistency?

``A little bit of that you can put on youth,'' Chavis said.

Chavis feels his front four is adequate, though lacking depth. He likes four of his linebackers with a couple more starting to emerge. And he thinks a secondary that figures to be much improved can make a difference.

``You play first-and-10 and second-and-10 (well) and get a bad matchup and all of a sudden they're moving the football on you,'' Chavis said.

In other words, when an opponent needed 8 to 12 yards, UT's secondary got burned.

``That wasn't the only problem we had last year,'' Chavis said. ``Our biggest problem was not playing first down as well as we needed to. We're going to get back to doing that and we shouldn't have bad matchups because of the numbers in the secondary.''

If he has to, Chavis said he'll play man-to-man on the corners and stack the line with eight or nine in the box.

``That's something everybody does,'' Chavis said. ``You have to be committed unless you're just so much better than the teams you're playing and that's not going to be the case (in the SEC). You have to commit yourself with numbers in the box to be able to stop the run.''

And when you play man, that extra guy in the box can make if difficult for and offense to figure out who might be blitzing.

``We'll be better at that part because we're more mature and our kids understand the system better,'' Chavis said.

UT will no doubt miss middle linebacker Jerod Mayo in the run game. He made plays from sideline to sideline in racking up 140 tackles. Ellix Wilson replaces Mayo in the middle.

But Chavis pointed to another player as a key to the defense – a senior defensive tackle.

``Demonte Bolden can and should be a guy that when offenses start looking at us, they should look at Demonte and say, `This is a guy we have to account for,''' Chavis said.

``He's shown those flashes in spring practice that he can be that kind of guy. He needs to continue to grow. For us to be a good defense, he has to be that kind of player for us.''

PARKER JOINS ELITE GROUP

When Candace Parker was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, she joined an elite group.

Parker became only the fifth Tennessee athlete to be selected No. 1 overall in a professional draft.

Can you name the others?

The only other Lady Vol to go No. 1 overall was Chamique Holdsclaw in 1998 to the Washington Mystics.

The only Vol to go No. 1 in the Major League baseball draft was Luke Hochevar to the Kansas City Royals.

Two UT football players were No. 1 overall picks in the NFL draft. George Cafego went to the Chicago Cardinals in 1940 and Peyton Manning went to Indianapolis in 1998. Center Bob Johnson was the first-ever pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968, but he was the second overall pick, behind Southern Cal offensive lineman Ron Yary, taken by the Minnesota Vikings.


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