How appropriate that two of Tennessee's three student-athlete representatives at SEC football media days play defense.
If you want to be the least bit optimistic about UT's upcoming football season, you turn to the defense. Until a new quarterback can find his way and a new offensive line can synchronize its efforts, that defense might be all that stands between UT and a full-scale collapse against an imposing early-season schedule, which includes Oregon and Florida in the first three weeks of the season.
History is in the Vols' favor. In the worst of seasons, the defense rarely has sunk below a respectable level. So perhaps it can now hold its ground despite all the changes that have rocked a once-sturdy program.
As unsteady as the offense might have been amidst all the coaching changes and player attrition of the last few years, the defense has held its ground, even when the ground was shaking.
Longtime UT defensive coordinator John Chavis and last year's defensive coordinator, former NFL guru Monte Kiffin, might have been markedly different in their background and approach. Yet players responded to both of them.
And maybe they will do the same following an extreme western shift. Up next: Justin Wilcox, a bright, young coordinator who left national championship contender Boise State to head up the defense of new UT coach Derek Dooley.
An encouraging sign: Wilcox quickly gained the confidence of senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz, whose close connection with Monte Kiffin hardly qualified him as an easy convert.
"I owe (Monte Kiffin)," Reveiz said. "He taught me a lot about football.
"One of the biggest things he taught me, the first rule of just getting better is just showing up. If you do that, and get everyone together at the same time, you're going to learn. He was just a big team guy."
For an example, take the viewing habits of UT's defense under Kiffin. When the players reviewed the video of the previous game, they didn't do so as individual units, but as an entire defense.
"We had to be accountable to each other," Reveiz said. "That was the big thing.
"There have been years on this team where we had individuals who wanted to do their own thing. They wanted to get their work in but they wanted to do it by themselves.
"This is the ultimate team sport. So if we can get everybody together, moving in the right direction, that's a start."
The direction hasn't changed under Wilcox, according to Reveiz.
"I think the biggest thing about Coach Wilcox, he's such a good communicator with his players. He's a player's coach.
"Monte was the same way. He was a player's coach. He'd talk to anybody as long as you needed to."
Kiffin also often relied on decades worth of NFL experience. Wilcox can't match that, but his background with spread offenses is welcome.
"He's gone against spread offenses all the time," Reveiz said. "So he knows a ton. It's pretty cool to see his 3-4 defense and how he brings different packages. It's not traditional stuff. It has been really helpful to see that.
"He's specialized in stopping the spread. And that's something we're going to see a lot."
Strategy can't resolve all of the defense's issues. While there's obvious talent on hand, the defense is way down in numbers.
The problem of depth was underscored when starting safety Darren Myles was kicked off the team this month for his role in a barroom brawl, which involved a number of other defensive players. If more players are dismissed or suspended, you can imagine what that will do for a thin defense.
Reveiz takes an analytical, but optimistic, view of that defense as well as the entire team.
"Are we young?" he said. "Yes. Do we have much depth? No, we don't.
"But if we've got 60 guys who are bonded, compared to 100 who aren't, I'd rather take the 60.
"That's where we're at right now."
John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.