Halfway home (UT defense)

Now that six of Tennessee's 12 regular-season games are in the books, it's time to sit back and analyze how things stand at the midway point.

Here's a look at a defense that has held up surprisingly well, even when the offense wasn't carrying its weight:

ENDS: Who would've guessed that midway through the season Chris Walker would have twice as many interceptions as Eric Berry? Walker has 2 picks to go with 4 sacks, 5.5 total tackles for loss, a pass breakup, a hurry and a fumble forced. That's a lot of impact for a guy with just 21 tackles to his credit. Ben Martin has 2 sacks among his 12 tackles, plus 2 pass breakups. Gerald Williams also has 12 stops, along with 3 pass breakups, 4 hurries and a fumble forced. Freshman Willie Bohannon is beginning to make some noise, so this position might be the strongest on Tennessee's defense. Rating: 8.5

TACKLES: Dan Williams has made a seamless transition to nose tackle, ranking third on the team in total stops (29), while leading the team in quarterback hurries (5). He's been the anchor of a run defense that ranks among the SEC's finest. Fellow senior Wes Brown, though limited by two bad knees, has been solid. Freshman Montori Hughes is beginning to make a push. Andre Mathis started for Brown in Game 4 and did all right. The surprisingly good play of this group shows Ed Orgeron can coach, as well as recruit. Rating: 8.0

LINEBACKERS: Senior Rico McCoy has been all over the field, leading the Vols in tackles (53) and fumbles forced (2), while sharing the lead in pass breakups (4). He also has 2 tackles for loss and a pair of quarterback hurries. The loss of middle linebacker Nick Reveiz to a Game 4 knee injury was supposed to cripple the 'backer corps. It hasn't. Savion Frazier stepped in at MLB and has done a commendable job. Despite just two starts, he ranks fifth on the team in stops (24), with 3 tackles for loss, 2 hurries and a fumble recovery. LaMarcus Thompson, a concern entering the season, has been a pleasant surprise. Despite missing Game 4, he has 20 stops, 5 tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. Freshman Greg King stepped in for Thompson in Game 4 and showed great promise. Freshman MLB Nigel Mitchell-Thornton has turned some heads, as well. Herman Lathers, slowed by injury to date, could be a real factor the second half of the season The absence of Reveiz showed in Games 4 and 5, but the 'backers have been a bright spot otherwise. RATING: 7.5

SECONDARY: Rating this area is interesting because strong safety Eric Berry has been playing more of a linebacker position than a secondary position. Whatever he's playing, though, he's being incredibly productive. He's second on the team in stops (50), third in tackles for loss (4.5) and tied for the lead in pass breakups (4). He has just one interception to date but he registered a 46-yard fumble return in Game 6 vs. Georgia. Cornerback Dennis Rogan's value became evident when he missed the Ohio U game on an administrative suspension and the Vols promptly surrendered a season-high 319 passing yards. Even missing one game, Rogan ranks fourth on the team in stops (27) with 2 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception, a pass breakup and a 35-yard fumble return. Freshman free safety Janzen Jackson has started the past five games and is growing into the role. He has a pass breakup and a fumble recovery, along with 22 tackles. Corner Art Evans has 21 tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. Brent Vinson has been up and down, as have fellow backups Marsalous Johnson, Darren Myles, Stephaun Raines and Mike Edwards. This group has allowed just 161.8 yards per game and three passing touchdowns to date. That's strong. RATING: 8.0


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