Knowing and growing

Knowledge is power ... which is why one Tennessee defensive end may be poised for a powerful 2010 season.

That would be Willie Bohannon. He admittedly didn't know what he was doing in 2008 but now feels he has the know-how needed to be a major contributor for the Vols 2010 defense.

Signed out of Blount High School in Mobile, Ala., where he set the school record with 18 sacks as a mere sophomore, Bohannon struggled mightily in his first season with the Vols.

"It was a big adjustment that first year," he recalled. "It was kind of hard to learn the plays from Coach Caldwell and them ... their playbook."

Bohannon was so confused during his lone season working under defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell that he wound up sitting out the season as a redshirt.

Tennessee hired an entirely new staff following the '08 season, so Bohannon spent 2009 learning from Ed Orgeron. Things went much smoother last fall as he recorded 7 tackles, 7 assists, a sack, a hurry, a fumble forced and a fumble recovered. Things are going smoother still in 2010.

"Last year was a lot easier," Bohannon recalled, nodding emphatically, "and this year is real easy."

No longer having to think before reacting, he is better able to exploit his extraordinary quickness. Bohannon believes that is making quite a difference this spring.

"It helps a lot," he said. "I watch guys like (freshmen) Corey Miller and Jacques Smith - and they're good players - but you can see all the new stuff swimming in their hands. I know how they feel. When I was a freshman I was like, 'I'm having to learn this on the go. I'm not used to learning stuff like this.'"

They say experience is the best teacher, and Bohannon isn't inclined to argue.

"It helps you go so much faster," he said, "because you know what you're doing."

Even as a redshirt sophomore, however, he finds himself learning new tricks every day.

"This is my first time dropping (into pass coverage) in my life," he noted, "so I'm like: 'OK, what am I supposed to do?'"

Whenever such a question arises, Bohannon turns to Vol assistant Chuck Smith. A former UT and Atlanta Falcon defensive end, Smith is Bohannon's third position coach in his first two years on The Hill. Apparently, the two have really clicked.

"I feel like, out of the D-line coaches I've had, he's the easiest to relate to," Bohannon said. "Even though he played a while back, it still feels like he just came from playing here. He knows a lot, and it's real helpful to have someone that relatable."

Because Smith played for Tennessee, he has an affection for the program that seems to be rubbing off on his troops.

"After last year, you realize how good it is to have someone from this school who respects it a whole lot," Bohannon said. "I'm not saying the last staff didn't respect Tennessee, but you feel the passion from him (Smith) for the school."

At 6-2 and 240 pounds, Bohannon is almost exactly the same size Smith was when he played for the Vols. That's small for an SEC defensive end but it still represents an improvement over Bohannon's 2009 playing weight.

"I was 225 all of last season," he recalled. "I worked out just about every day (since then). Last spring I had a meniscus injury, so this was my first full offseason."

Bohannon says he has grown just as much mentally as physically in the past year.

"The thing that has helped me most is recognizing pass and run," he said. "Coming in as a freshman, it was hard to recognize. I redshirted as a freshman, so I didn't get to do it in a game. My improvement in recognizing plays has gone way up since then."

After a 5-7 season in 2008 and a 7-6 season in 2009, Bohannon sees brighter days ahead for the Vol program as a whole and for himself individually. He believes he has matured considerably.

"I'd say the biggest lesson for me was learning to play through adversity," he said. "No matter what's going on - no matter how bad you did on the last play - just go hard at all times and do your job. Don't worry about things on the outside. Just go hard at all times and do your job. Don't think about anything other than what your assignment is.

"I think the biggest improvement I made was focusing on my man and play off him, then get to the play."


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