Light but lethal

At 6-3 and 238 pounds, Tennessee defensive end Willie Bohannon isn't going to beat 330-pound offensive tackles with power. So, you'd figure he'll try to beat them with finesse.

At least, that's what you'd figure until you talk to Vol defensive line coach Chuck Smith.

"The misconception is that you want to teach undersized defensive linemen to play finesse, to run around (blocks)," Smith said. "That's the last thing you want. You've got to teach undersized guys to strike and be aggressive."

Bohannon, a sophomore from Mobile, Ala., concedes the point.

"That's what I've been working on all camp," he said. "Coming out of the spring I guess I was considered more of a finesse guy. I've been working on coming off the ball and being a hard-nosed player."

His position coach has noticed.

"Willie's 230 pounds," Smith said, "but I'm going to tell you: He's everything you look for in a Tennessee Vol; he's strong on the field and off."

Strength alone isn't enough to compensate when a 238-pound end is battling a 330-pound offensive tackle, however. You need more.

"It's all technique," Bohannon said. "No matter how big you are, if you don't have the technique you're not going to play at all. I strike with my hands and I make sure I have a balanced stance - like Coach Chuck (Smith) and Coach (Steve) Caldwell and Coach (Ed) Orgeron taught me.

Caldwell was the defensive ends coach when Bohannon redshirted as a freshman in 2008. Orgeron was the defensive line coach when Bohannon played a backup role at end in 2009.

Although he played in all 13 games last fall - starting vs. South Carolina - Bohannon says he's a much more polished player now than he was then.

"I've got more experience now," he said. "You know what to expect. You go out there on Saturday and you know there's going to be 100,000 out there guaranteed - cheering, screaming, everything - even on away games. It gets you prepared for that."

Tennessee plays a four-man front consisting of a nose guard, a 3-technique tackle, an end and a rush end. Bohannon is the backup rush end behind senior standout Chris Walker.

"The rush is the guy who'll be in coverage more," Smith explained. "The end is rarely in coverage. Willie Bohannon has done an excellent job. He's consistent at what he does. He's a great talent."

Naturally, Bohannon relishes that type of praise coming from a guy like Smith, who starred at Tennessee, then spent 10 years in the NFL.

"I feel good. I know that he has a lot of faith in me," the player said. "I just come out and do what I need to do, try to be consistent. That's what a lot of the coaches say they like about me, so I try to be consistent."

Tennessee has a pass-rush package it will use in obvious passing situations this fall, and Bohannon projects to be a part of it.

"I think I'm going to be one of the pass rushers in our pass-rush set," he said.

When asked his reaction to being viewed as a pass-rush specialist, he smiled.

"It feels good," he said. "It helps along the road and gets you ready for the NFL."

Bohannon is pleased to have a role of any kind at defensive end, which is Tennessee's deepest and most talented position.

"Everybody's got some kind of strength and everybody's got some kind of weakness," he said. "It all balances out because we learn things from each other."

The Vols would be even stronger at end if 2009 starter Ben Martin hadn't suffered a season-ending Achilles injury two weeks ago.

"Not having Ben hurts because you want that extra player," Bohannon said. "We just have to roll with the guys we have."

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