The joy of sacks

A Tennessee defense that mustered just 24 sacks in 14 games last season registered seven sacks in one scrimmage Thursday afternoon.

That explained the grin on the face of Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis. He got one sack each from ends Robert Ayers (minus-4 yards), Wes Brown (minus-7 yards) and Ben Martin (minus-2 yards), two sacks each from linebackers Ellix Wilson (minus-14 yards) and Nevin McKenzie (minus-12 yards).

Making the seven sacks all the more noteworthy is the fact they came against Vol offensive linemen that allowed just four sacks in 534 pass attempts last fall. Whether the sack pack stays on track once the season begins remains to be seen but the pass rush certainly was relentless and fruitful on Thursday.

"It was," Chavis said. "I was really pleased with that. I thought the front four, in particular, did a really good job. Those kids are playing well, particularly the first three tackles (Demonte Bolden, Dan Williams, Walter Fisher)."

With the Sept. 1 opener at UCLA just nine days away, 10 of Tennessee's 11 starting jobs appear to be locked up. The lone exception is strongside linebacker, where the competition between seniors Nevin McKenzie and Adam Myers-White is ongoing.

"Yeah, it is," Chavis conceded. "I told them before we came out here that we may make some decisions based on this scrimmage and see where they are. I'm not going to say anything until I grade the film because I won't know."

Chavis' defense has been up and down all preseason. It shut down the run in Scimmage No. 1, limiting the top three tailbacks to 37 net yards on 26 rushes (1.4 per carry), but let the top four tailbacks gain 137 yards in Scrimmage No. 2 and 157 yards in Scrimmage No. 3. Likewise, the pass defense has been awesome at times, considerably less at other times.

"We've done some good things all fall," Chavis said. "We've obviously had some mistakes because we have a lot of young guys that haven't played together and we've been mixing a lot of people in and out.

"When you do that the communication's not as good as it needs to be. That's where we've got to grow: To be a good defensive football team we've got to communicate better and know what we're doing. That begins with them being able to communicate."

Tennessee may have college football's top safety tandem in Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley. Depth behind them is a concern but redshirt freshmen Daryl Vereen and Anthony Anderson showed up a few times in Thursday's scrimmage.

"We've got to have some help in creating depth," Chavis said. "We just hope we can go through a season and not have what we had last year in the secondary. But you're going to have to have seven or eight guys to go through the season, and that's if you stay healthy. We're trying to create depth, and it looked like we had some guys do some good things today."

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