The 2008 Vols ranked No. 10 nationally in scoring defense (16.8 points per game), No. 4 nationally in pass defense (160.4 yards per game) and No. 3 nationally in total defense (263.5 yards per game).
Still, Tennessee's fans believe the defense will be better in 2009. Even Tennessee's players believe this defense will prove superior to the one that finished No. 3 nationally in '08.
"Our goal is to be better," junior end Chris Walker said. "We're looking for that No. 1 spot this year."
That simply isn't realistic when you consider the attrition Tennessee's stop unit has suffered since last fall.
Gone from the '08 defense are an end who was a first-round NFL Draft pick (Robert Ayers), a two-year starter at tackle (Demonte Bolden), a part-time starter at tackle (Walter Fisher), the No. 1 middle linebacker (Ellix Wilson), two guys who platooned at strongside linebacker (Nevin McKenzie, Adam Myers-White), a first-team cornerback (DeAngelo Willingham) and a two-year starting safety (Demetrice Morley).
Still, UT fans expect Monte Kiffin to perform miracles. So do UT players. Both groups think having Kiffin at the controls will make the Vol defense virtually impregnable.
"Oh, man, it's going to make a tremendous difference," Walker said, literally gushing. "He's been in the (National Football) League. He knows how to go against League offenses, which are more complex than college offenses, so he's going to be ready for anything."
The litmus test for Kiffin will be upgrading a Vol pass rush that registered just 17 sacks in 2006, 24 in 2007 and 25 in 2008 - the three lowest totals since 1989.
Walker, who was a pass-rushing demon in spring practice, believes the Vols will register plenty of sacks in 2009.
"Coach O (line coach Ed Orgeron) is working us like we're going to," Walker said. "We just have to put together everything, come out and play hard. I think we will."
Even if the Vols play their hardest in every game, you have to wonder: Can Monte Kiffin deliver the world-class defense UT fans and players are expecting? Walker thinks so.
"Obviously," he said, "we're optimistic."