Adams: Don't look for UT to get by on defense

John Adams

Tennessee's worst teams under coach Phillip Fulmer produced some of its best defenses. That's one of the statistical oddities of the Fulmer era.

His three teams that lost five or more games all ranked in the top 10 defensively. The 2008 team that cost him his job ranked third nationally.

Don't expect the trend to continue in Lane Kiffin's first season.

It wouldn't be surprising if Kiffin's first team lost at least five games. It would be surprising if his defense ranked in the top 10.

I realize that assessment might differ from the head coach's.

"We think we have a very unique first-unit defense," Kiffin said at the SEC football media days last week. "I think we have a great defensive staff coaching them up.

"They have a special look about them in the huddle. Barring injuries, this could be a special group."

The defense has obvious strengths. Strong safety Eric Berry is an All-American, defensive end Chris Walker is an emerging star based on his play in the spring, linebacker Rico McCoy is a second-team All-SEC pick in preseason, and tackle Dan Williams has proved himself in the middle of the line.

However, the shortcomings are just as apparent. The front four lacks depth, the linebacking corps is the smallest in the league, and the secondary will lack game experience in at least one position.

In the spring, freshman defensive tackle Montori Hughes had an immediate impact. And perhaps Marlon Walls, a former linebacker who has grown into a down lineman, can do the same in preseason camp. But depth still will be a concern with that unit.

You also have to wonder how UT's linebackers will hold up over the course of a season. Its three starters average 6-feet, 220 pounds.

Ole Miss has the next lightest group of linebackers. Its starters average 6-2, 222. Auburn's linebackers average 6-1, 227.

Most of the best teams in the SEC feature bigger linebackers. Florida's linebackers average 6-2, 239; Alabama's 6-4, 243; and LSU's 6-3, 237.

Just because those units are bigger, that doesn't mean they're slower. Regardless of size, you don't see many slow linebackers in the SEC. For example, remember Florida's 258-pound Brandon Spikes running down UT running back Arian Foster from behind last season?

McCoy should be improved this season, and Nick Reveiz is a heavy hitter, even though he's listed at only 5-11, 220. But their durability will be as significant as their ability.

The secondary is considered the strength of the defense, but that's mainly because of Berry. One of the most misguided rankings I've seen this preseason was in Athlon's national college preview. It ranked UT's secondary third in the country. At best, the Vols might have the third best secondary in the conference.

You can count on defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin maximizing what talent he has. You can hope that a heralded recruiting class contributes from the get-go. And maybe Lane Kiffin's commitment to running the ball will mean more rest for the defense. But you can't assume this defense will be as fortunate as last year's when it comes to injuries, especially since teams will have only one open date in a 12-game schedule.

When you think about the rebuilding job ahead for UT's first-year staff, offense first comes to mind. But there's work to be done on defense, too.

The extent of that rebuilding will become obvious if there's significant attrition.

Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 62

Kevinyaheard writes:

John you are a very glass half-empty kinda guy, aren't ya??

Jesus_Quintana writes:

First!

smashmouth98 writes:

I think Greg King & Askew will get some PT. I hope King is a STUD.

stayingorange writes:

I disagree with most all of this article. We'll see who is closer to correct in a few months. Adams if you're wrong will you write a piece telling us just how wrong you were?

CoverOrange writes:

I don't care if a guy is a heavy hitter. I care whether he can find the ball on the run and cover the receiver cutting through his zone and tackle tackle tackle.

UCFgradVOLatHEART writes:

I sometimes feel like John would rather write for another SEC school. Please show some support.

debaser11 writes:

UT cleaned house and upgraded its coaching staff. Now the KNS needs to do the same. What bovine tommyrot!

tdforvols writes:

I believe Athlon's assessment is a little closer to reality than yours Mr. Adams. There is no reason whatsoever why this defense can't meet or exceed last years results.

belayvol writes:

We now know that JA post's as TeamPenny on here.

acolvol#632266 writes:

in response to tdforvols:

I believe Athlon's assessment is a little closer to reality than yours Mr. Adams. There is no reason whatsoever why this defense can't meet or exceed last years results.

I know they will be better on third and long.

volfan2002 writes:

I don't think we'll see many linebackers running down Bryce Brown from behind and hopefully they get their chance to try from behind him.

Voluvr writes:

We will beat Florida.

belayvol writes:

in response to volfan2002:

I don't think we'll see many linebackers running down Bryce Brown from behind and hopefully they get their chance to try from behind him.

I don;t think we want any gator's trying our players from behind. You know how they roll.

ETownVol writes:

John's been pretty positive during the offseason. Now as the season draws near and gets underway, he'll be increasingly negative as the season progresses. And I was just beginning to enjoy his columns again. Guess you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

ETownVol writes:

in response to Voluvr:

We will beat Florida.

Eventually, but not this year. Just being realistic.

nmbr1vol writes:

Adams - you do more to support the opposition during recruiting season than the sum of the SEC coaches for the compition. Do you ever have anything positive to say? You are beginning to remind me of Paul Feinbaum.

Hounddog writes:

Perhaps if the defense maintains status quo and we add an improved offense that scores once in a while we can have a more winning formula? Let's play football. Hounddog

tdforvols writes:

in response to acolvol#632266:

I know they will be better on third and long.

Yes, I certainly won't miss the Chavis "Prevent" or whatever you want to call it. You know the one where they give the receiver a 10 yard cushion and then wait for the receiver to run to them before doing any tackling. That's what killed us in the UCLA game last year.

mbible1utk#324980 writes:

for our defense... i agree that we'll be a tad thin in the front seven, moreso in the linebackers than the D-Line. Our D-Line will be undersized, that's the biggest thing I notice. That will mean that the linebackers will need to be a little more aggressive. The good thing in that is that our secondary will be stout. We have a loaded secondary that I think will be strong all the way through. Considering that guys like Marsalous Johnson and Dennis Rogan are looking at being second string, we're in good shape because those guys have started before. If Crompton will look like he did against LSU that one time, we'll be a pretty strong team this year... but the QB play is going to be the kicker for us. Can we get Lamaison in a little sooner? If he can go ahead and enroll now, and get in practice, he might be the best option available.

hotrodvol writes:

in response to BIGGEST_UT_FAN:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

BINGO!

IndyVolFan writes:

Our linebackers in Indianapolis aren't much bigger than the Vols and they do an ok job. They are fast as hell. The thing that has killed us here in the past is a small D-line (changing this year though).

chad_t31 writes:

I bet JA isn't the third best sports writer in his own house (and no, you're not first or second either).

CoachFulmer writes:

Your just one ray of sunshine Mr. Adams. The defense can't carry the team like it did last year. Our defense kept us in so many games when we should have got stomped badly (for the most part, we did). Theres only way this team can go from last year, up.

GO VOLS!

xvolx writes:

what a stupid article. who in their right mind would compare chavis to monty kiffin or fulmer to anyone. I saw lineman run down foster from behind. So what. He was always running east-west anyway. Tenn. doesn't need any enemies. It has you.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

in response to UCFgradVOLatHEART:

I sometimes feel like John would rather write for another SEC school. Please show some support.

I hope I am wrong but I think the hype and the excitement created by the new coach has gotten a lot of people overly optimistic. You have also got to be realistic and being realistic doesn't mean you are negative or a "troll

Realistic expectation is 8-4. People, we are not gonna beat Fla, Ala. or Ole Miss. That's not negative, just realistic!!!!! I love the big Orange and support them, regardless of who is the coach, but I am also realistic.

seaplane#216536 writes:

Reality sometimes hurts. I have to agree with Adams. There are not 4 Eric Berrys in the secondary, only one.

blitzshoot writes:

This is going to be long term projct in motion for a few years. Until the QB issue is handled, some pieces will be hard to fit into place.

littlec195360#215853 writes:

I suspect our defense and offense will be pretty well balanced.

BuckFama writes:

in response to Kevinyaheard:

John you are a very glass half-empty kinda guy, aren't ya??

His writing usually points to him having emptied SEVERAL glasses.

punkin writes:

in response to seaplane#216536:

Reality sometimes hurts. I have to agree with Adams. There are not 4 Eric Berrys in the secondary, only one.

Having one Eric Berry in the secondary is like having two. He's that good.

Hey Adams, you compared height and weight, you left out guts.

lomas98 writes:

I agree that last years defense was good, but I don't think they were as good as 3rd nationally. Yes statistically, but not reality. I think it is misleading because the opposing offenses got really vanilla once they got a 2 possession lead. They knew our offense could not score and played not to lose. When it mattered for a stop against UCLA, didn't deliver. FL scored on their opening possession. GA drove 90+ yards right before the half for a momentum killing TD against TN. 3rd and 9 against Auburn, playing 10 yards off the receiver to ice the game. I do think the defense will be good, but I do believe they will struggle at times due to some reasons in this article. The 2005 defense was the best TN has had and it was wasted by flip flopping QB's. They were not as good statistically as last years team but they do not compare in ability.

lildhoss76ut#638162 writes:

I would guess that Athlons assesment was when D MO was still in the mix so our secondary probably isnt quite as good now.However I feel that CMK will get a quality unit installed.I wonder how long it will be before we hear about some RB's changing sides to help out our LB's.GO VOLS!

RockyTop1_old writes:

in response to Voluvr:

We will beat Florida.

What year?? 2010, 2011, ??? Just wondering!!

hueypilot writes:

in response to lomas98:

I agree that last years defense was good, but I don't think they were as good as 3rd nationally. Yes statistically, but not reality. I think it is misleading because the opposing offenses got really vanilla once they got a 2 possession lead. They knew our offense could not score and played not to lose. When it mattered for a stop against UCLA, didn't deliver. FL scored on their opening possession. GA drove 90+ yards right before the half for a momentum killing TD against TN. 3rd and 9 against Auburn, playing 10 yards off the receiver to ice the game. I do think the defense will be good, but I do believe they will struggle at times due to some reasons in this article. The 2005 defense was the best TN has had and it was wasted by flip flopping QB's. They were not as good statistically as last years team but they do not compare in ability.

A spot on assessment lomas. Opponents realized all they had to do to beat us, once up by more than a score, was not give us a cheap td, so they went vanilla and knew we couldn't score. I think Adams article is right on. I also think Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and UCLA will have high powered offenses. How many 10-7 games do you see in college ball these days? Right. Offenses are too good and the rules almost prohibit DB's from playing tight on receivers. Can't get by on d alone, like lots of SEC teams did in the 70's and 80's.

abnerPeabody writes:

in response to IndyVolFan:

Our linebackers in Indianapolis aren't much bigger than the Vols and they do an ok job. They are fast as hell. The thing that has killed us here in the past is a small D-line (changing this year though).

Just how fast is Hell? I don't believe I have ever heard of a player by that name.

seventysevenvol writes:

Adams writes articles to stimulate reponse- create reactions and gain an audience. He has some good points, but has accomplished his mission by getting a rise out of some who want to nuke anyone- columnist or poster- who dare writes anything controversial about the Vols. We will fall somewhere between 7-5 and 9-3. Injuries and breaks will determine.

lanetrain0522 writes:

Thanks for another fine waste of time i mean article. Wow I'll never get that 5 minutes back in my life. You know John you actually dont have to cover Tennessee athletics there are plenty of other schools that you could hate on that you do so well. I know there are other web sites too do us all a favor and find one. Go Vols!

NashvillePreds writes:

Screw JA.

Orangeblood13 writes:

in response to hiresanders:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

didn't you flush with the others?

just can't stay down hhuh?

I think you and Adams are from the same pile.

Ralph_Crampton writes:

Guys, some of us are always attacking the messanger...sure swe like writers who praise our Vols, all the time. But John in recent years has been pretty much close to hitting the mark on most occasions. The truth is, the Volunteers in recent years are rarely mentioned..if ever.. on national talk shows. This indicates that the Vols are no longer regarded as respectful among the talking heads on the big time sports shows. And Adams is merely reporting the truth.

bUTchVFL writes:

in response to Kevinyaheard:

John you are a very glass half-empty kinda guy, aren't ya??

You are a drink the orange koolaid kinda guy, aren't ya??. John gives an unbiased view of UT football. We are coming off a 5-7 year where our coach gets fired, and every publication has us unranked nationally and nothing better than 3rd in the SEC East. At this point it's all predictions. What would you rather him do predict us #1 and to win in the swamp? Go Vols! Here's to supporting Coach Kiffin through this rebuilding process.

murrayvol writes:

in response to acolvol#632266:

I know they will be better on third and long.

We can hope.

murrayvol writes:

in response to volblueraider:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

If he can run down Brown or Oku, then we have a problem.

murrayvol writes:

in response to DestinVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

"or two"?? Let me have a shot of whatever you've got in that brown bag Expat. :)

johnlg00 writes:

in response to UCFgradVOLatHEART:

I sometimes feel like John would rather write for another SEC school. Please show some support.

Adams has been a lightning rod for a sizable segment of the UT fan base since he first arrived at the KNS. He is of a breed of sportswriter who values objectivity more than obvious support of a given team. I surely don't agree with everything he writes, especially when he seems to savor the negative. On the other hand, when he writes something positive about the Vols, which he has done fairly often in recent months, it means more to me than it would coming from an obvious homer.

His view, and mine, is that if all he wanted to write were puff pieces on the Vols, he would be working for the UT Sports Information Office and not a newspaper. We all laugh at the slanted puffery presented by some writers in the towns of other programs; why would we want the same in our hometown paper?

Besides, not everything is completely positive with every sport and coach all the time, anyway. If there are things really WRONG with UT sports, I would rather know about them so we can try to fix them rather than rely on people who we KNOW are spin-meisters to pull the wool over our eyes.

VolunteerLifer writes:

There are reasons for optimism and reasons for pessimism in looking ahead to the season. I choose optimism for one overriding reason: Better Coaching.

Bloodrunzorange writes:

in response to acolvol#632266:

I know they will be better on third and long.

Good post. That UCLA game last year killed me! Go Vols!

murrayvol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Adams has been a lightning rod for a sizable segment of the UT fan base since he first arrived at the KNS. He is of a breed of sportswriter who values objectivity more than obvious support of a given team. I surely don't agree with everything he writes, especially when he seems to savor the negative. On the other hand, when he writes something positive about the Vols, which he has done fairly often in recent months, it means more to me than it would coming from an obvious homer.

His view, and mine, is that if all he wanted to write were puff pieces on the Vols, he would be working for the UT Sports Information Office and not a newspaper. We all laugh at the slanted puffery presented by some writers in the towns of other programs; why would we want the same in our hometown paper?

Besides, not everything is completely positive with every sport and coach all the time, anyway. If there are things really WRONG with UT sports, I would rather know about them so we can try to fix them rather than rely on people who we KNOW are spin-meisters to pull the wool over our eyes.

That's about right.

As it turned out there was a lot worng with UT football in recent years and many among us didn't want to go there. John didn't mind making that journey and paying for it.

Volunatic writes:

in response to stayingorange:

I disagree with most all of this article. We'll see who is closer to correct in a few months. Adams if you're wrong will you write a piece telling us just how wrong you were?

It would be pretty uncharacteristic for Adams to do that.

Volunatic writes:

in response to hiresanders:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Sure, but no one else here is talking about Kentucky.

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