D-line D-livers

The two key men in Tennessee's pass rush are not defensive ends Chris Walker and Ben Martin. That honor goes to Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron.

Defensive coordinator Kiffin and line coach Orgeron are the masterminds behind a scheme that is allowing the Vols to register sacks without blitzing. That's a luxury few teams in college football have.

Tennessee's three worst single-season sack totals of the past 20 years were posted in 2006 (17), 2007 (24) and 2008 (23). Upon arriving in Big Orange Country last winter, Kiffin and Orgeron set out to curtail that trend. They're succeeding.

The 2009 Vols have recorded 10 sacks in the first three games, meaning they are on pace to register 40 this season. Walker has four, already surpassing last season's 12-game total of three. Martin has two, doubling his 2008 total with only one start (Florida) to his credit.

Best of all, Tennessee's sacks are coming from the front four. Tackle Wes Brown and reserve end Willie Bohannon have one each, so eight of the 10 this fall have been registered by linemen. Only two sacks - one each by linebacker LaMarcus Thompson and cornerback Dennis Rogan - were the result of blitzes.

"We're really not blitzing that much right now - just (relying on) the pressure we're getting with our four down," Walker said. "We want to continue to do that, so we don't have to bring seven or eight people. Then we can get other people out into pass coverage and help the DBs out.

"We did a lot of blitzing last year because our pass rush wasn't where it needed to be. This year Coach Orgeron has done a really good job of putting a lot of pressure on us to get to the quarterback - just us four- and getting the job done."

While Orgeron does the motivating, Kiffin does the scheming. The ageless wonder clearly brings a great deal to the Vol defense.

"He brings a lot of experience to it," Walker said. "Obviously, he's been in it a very long time and he knows a lot of stuff - things that are good against our defense and things that won't work against our defense."

Some of Kiffin's "stuff" is completely new to Vol defenders.

"There's a different technique we have to play in certain areas on his defense than we did last year," Walker noted. "It's a little bit different but not too much."

After 26 distinguished seasons coaching in the NFL, Kiffin has the Vols hanging on his every word. They find it easy to buy into his teachings.

"Yeah, it is," Walker said. "He's proven, so anything he says we're pretty much going to take it and run with it."

Thanks to Kiffin's ability as a schemer and Orgeron's ability as a teacher, Tennessee's defenders believe they can sack any quarterback at any time under any circumstance.

"Definitely," Walker said. "We tell the DBs to just give us a little bit of time and we'll get there for them. At the same time we tell 'em we'll get some pressure so the quarterback has to throw the ball where he doesn't want to or has to make a bad throw."

Walker (6-3, 232 pounds) and Martin (6-3, 239) apparently were too small to be every-down players in the Vols' 2008 defense. Both are thriving in the 2009 defense, however, because of its emphasis on pressuring opposing quarterbacks.

"It's definitely fun," Walker said. "Personally, I'm kind of light for a defensive end, so playing the run all the time kind of wears on me a little bit. What I'm doing now is a lot of fun."

Except for opposing quarterbacks.


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