Chemistry can take a team a long way. The 1998 Vols weren't as talented as the '95, '96, '97 or '99 teams, yet they won a national championship because of team unity, team spirit and teamwork.
Obviously, the 2010 Vols aren't going to contend for a national title but chemistry could help them maximize their potential. There were indications in spring practice that this group of defenders is going to work very well together.
"We had unbelievable chemistry in that system in spring practice," senior end Chris Walker said, "which is amazing (since we were) learning a new system under new coaches."
That chemistry has continued throughout the summer, which is cause for some optimism.
"I feel this year's defense is shaping up really well," Walker said. "Our chemistry has been great. We had great chemistry during the spring, so we're looking forward to building that chemistry even more in (fall) camp. Going into the season we know that if we play our kind of ball and everybody comes together we're going to be a really good defense."
Tennessee's No. 1 defense should be pretty good. The problem is that there are virtually no proven backups. Thus, a rash of injuries - like the one that hit the Vols' 2009 defense - could prove devastating.
"This is not a deep team at any position," senior linebacker Nick Reveiz conceded. "We know we're going to have to play well and injury-free."
Reveiz played well last season but not injury-free. He suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Game 4 vs. Ohio University. So, staying healthy in 2010 is a major issue for him.
"Last season I couldn't get that done," he said. "That's in the Lord's hands and I can't control that. All we can do is play as hard as we can, and we know good things will happen."
On a positive note, Reveiz noted that the injured knee is "doing great. It feels the best it's ever felt. It's 100 percent."
Like Walker, Reveiz believes the 2010 defense has a chance to be exceptional.
"We can be really good. We have a lot of potential," he said. "But, like my dad always says, 'Potential is something you haven't done yet. It's not worth anything.'"
Helping the Vols reach their potential is youthful defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who is in his first year with Tennessee after a spectacular run at Boise State.
"We're really excited about our possibilities. With Coach Wilcox and what he's bringing to the table, as far as fronts and schemes, it can be really good," Reveiz said. "But we have to work hard and go do that. It's not just going to be given to us. We know we're going to go against really tough offenses, week in and week out."