Defense developing

Tennessee held its first spring scrimmage today, and the Vols' best defensive player came away encouraged.

"The scrimmage went really well," senior defensive end Chris Walker said following a two-hour workout at Neyland Stadium. "It was fun to get back out in the stadium; we hadn't been out here in awhile. It was good to get back out here, and the competitive edge was awesome."

The leading tacklers in today's scrimmage were linebackers Austin Johnson (8 stops) and Herman Lathers (7). Linebacker Shane Reveiz, defensive end Willie Bohannon and defensive end Jacques Smith chipped in 6 stops each.

Tackle Montori Hughes contributed 5 tackles and Walker 4, including 2 sacks. (Complete scrimmage stats are at the end of this article.)

It's no secret that Tennessee lost some key starters from its 2009 defense - tackles Dan Williams and Wes Brown, linebacker Rico McCoy, cornerback Dennis Rogan and superstar safety Eric Berry. Based on six spring practices and one scrimmage, however, Walker believes the new-look defense is beginning to jell.

"It's coming together really well," he said. "Like Coach (Derek) Dooley said today: We have a lot of familiar faces on our defense. We have a lot of people that played last year, especially in the linebacker group, so we're really familiar with each other. Having that chemistry helps us out."

Several players say the new scheme being installed this spring by defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is simpler than the 2009 scheme and significantly simpler than the 2008 scheme. Walker agrees, and believes the simple approach is helping the stop unit progress faster.

"Exactly," he said. "It's a lot easier than last year. It's a lot easier for D-linemen to put our hands down and just go. It's also easier for a linebacker or a DB to just go."

Many observers expect a backward step on defense this fall, given the loss of marquee players such as Berry, Williams and McCoy. Walker understands the reasoning but says there will be no drop-off.

"We lost some really, really good players," he conceded. "All we're hearing is that we lost Eric Berry, we lost Dan Williams, we lost Rico McCoy. But we're trying to build our own identity. We still have a lot of great players and we're going to play really hard.

"We're going to be the defense that no one wants to play. That's the defense we're going to bring ... like the old Tennessee."

Here are the stats from today's scrimmage:

RUSHING LEADERS

Tauren Poole 9 for 94 yards, TD

David Oku 14 for 23 yards

Toney Williams 7 for 12 yards.

PASSING LEADERS

Nick Stephens 3-of-9, 6 yards

Matt Simms 6-of-20, 83 yards, TD, int.

Tyler Bray 8-of-13, 69 yards, TD, int.

RECEIVING LEADERS

Marsalis Teague 2 for 29 yards

Gerald Jones 2 for 16 yards

Matt Milton 2 for 11 yards

Zach Rogers 1 for 22 yards, TD

Kevin Cooper 1 for 18 yards

Ted Meline 1 for 14 yards, TD

Ben Lehning 1 for 12 yards

Todd Campbell 1 for 10 yards.

DEFENSIVE LEADERS

Austin Johnson 8 tackles, 2 TFL (-6) + sack (-4), int.

Herman Lathers 7 tackles, TFL (-1) + sack (-5), QB hurry

Shane Reveiz 6 tackles

Jacques Smith 6 tackles

Willie Bohannon 6 tackles, 2 TFL (-5), QB hurry

Montori Hughes 5 tackles, TFL (-1), 2 PBU

Chris Walker 4 tackles, 2 sacks (-13), QB hurry

Janzen Jackson 2 tackles, interception

OFFENSIVE STARTERS

Tackles Dallas Thomas and Ja'Wuan James, guards JerQuari Schofield and Jarrod Shaw, center Victor Thomas, tight end Luke Stocker, wide receivers Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones; fullback Kevin Cooper, tailback Tauren Poole, quarterback Nick Stephens

DEFENSIVE STARTERS

Ends Chris Walker and Gerald Williams, tackles Montori Hughes and Marlon Walls; linebackers LaMarcus Thompson, Herman Lathers and Austin Johnson; cornerbacks Eric Gordon and Nyshier Oliver, safeties Janzen Jackson and Darren Myles


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