Rip-and-strip pays off

Since most football injuries occur on the turf or on the way to the turf, Tennessee is limiting its full-speed tackling drills this spring. Instead of taking a ball-carrier to the ground, Vol defenders routinely are instructed to yank at the ball as the ball-carrier goes by.

This strategy is paying big dividends on three fronts: One, the injury rate is lower than normal. Two, the turnover rate is higher than normal. Three, the Vols have incorporated the rip-and-strip method into their tackling technique.

Quarterback Jonathan Crompton had the ball stripped from his grasp by defensive end Chris Walker in the early stages of Saturday's scrimmage. Wide receiver Tyler Maples had the ball ripped from his grasp by cornerback Dennis Rogan later in the workout.

Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron believes the emphasis on stripping the ball in practice carried over into Saturday's scrimmage ... and will carry over into the 2009 season, as well.

"That's the emphasis," he said. "We drill it every day. You develop habits, you create habits and you play that way. That's the way we coach.

"Everything we do in a drill is supposed to relate to the game-day atmosphere. If it doesn't relate, we don't drill it. The thing that happens is that you see the drills become habits and the habits start (showing up) in the games."

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin says forcing turnovers always has been a major emphasis in his scheme.

"We talk about it a lot," he said. "We talked about it at Tampa a lot. That's Pete Carroll's theory and Ed Orgeron's. We've always talked about turnovers, wherever I've coached."

Throughout his many coaching stops, Kiffin has noticed that teams who force a lot of turnovers invariably do two things:

"If you don't hustle and you don't hit, you're not going to get turnovers," he said. "We're going to hustle and we're going to hit. When that happens, you've got a better chance of turnovers."

Although he was concerned by the long runs Tennessee's defense gave up on Saturday, head coach Lane Kiffin was thrilled by the number of times it shook the ball loose.

"I love what happened – the ball coming out – because that means that the defense is really hitting, they're really taking what we're talking about," the head man said. "That's a constant everyday ... turnover mentality.

"We practice the same way we play – ripping the ball, stripping it every chance they get. It's great to see our defense responding."

Of course, there's a flip side to that coin. As pleased as he was to see the defense forcing fumbles, Kiffin was equally displeased to see the offense putting the ball on the ground so much.

"Unfortunately, our backs don't understand what it takes, so we'll keep sitting 'em and putting the next guy in and figure out who's going to protect the ball," the head man said. "That's more important than who makes the big runs at times.

"That's everything our program is about ... taking care of it."

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