Tennessee Stat Book
The Nick Saban connection on Tennessee's staff runs beyond the obvious links of head coach Derek Dooley and linebackers coach Lance Thompson, both of whom served directly under the Alabama coach at one point in their respective careers.
UT defensive line coach Chuck Smith worked for Saban, albeit for brief amounts of time, at both LSU and Alabama, serving as the teams' motivational speaker whenever Saban thought his players needed to hear from the fiery ex-NFL defensive end.
"It was cool," Smith said. "Nick is cool, real attention to detail. Kind of like Derek. He takes notes on everything you say.
"We go way back."
Smith, who played at UT before spending nine years in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, and Saban first met through a mutual friend and colleague, powerful agent Jimmy Sexton. After he made the move from Michigan State to LSU in 2000, Saban invited Smith to speak to the team before its first spring scrimmage. Saban liked what he heard so much that he brought Smith back on two occasions at Alabama before Smith landed with Dooley and the Vols.
"He was a high-motor player when he was in college," Saban said on Wednesday's SEC teleconference. "He's a very inspirational guy in terms of his passion and energy for doing things the right way. That's pretty much what he talked to the players about."
Smith has spoken for plenty of other coaches around the country, which makes Saturday's game against Alabama (TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.) the first of what likely will become a number of occasions where he faces off against an old friend.
"They're football people and I'm a football person," Smith said. "Football transcends rivalries when you're not at Tennessee."
Short Answer: Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox didn't mince words when he was asked if he'd ever planned to face a better tailback combination than Alabama's Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
"No," he said before shrugging off a chance to compare Ingram and Richardson to the former Auburn duo, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown.
"Those guys were good but you can put these two up against anybody," Wilcox said. "I haven't been around that long but I've never seen that."
Questionable Stats: UT's players and coaches aren't buying into the belief that Alabama's defensive line is slacking because of its lack of sacks.
The Crimson Tide ranks last in the SEC and sits at 104th of 120 teams in the FBS, averaging 1.14 sacks per game. Matt Simms, one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the nation this season, isn't preparing to take any less Tylenol on Sunday.
"They do a good job of collapsing the pocket around the quarterback and at least making the quarterback feel uncomfortable, even if they're not getting rewarded with sacks," Simms said. "I think they are still doing their part disrupting the pocket."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said he saw plenty of instances on film where an Alabama player should have recorded a sack, but the opposing quarterback was able to throw it away or escape for a minor gain.
"The pressure is there, the altering of the throwing motion is there," he said. "I do believe that can be a little misleading."
Good Bye: The week off likely didn't do enough to bring back defensive tackle Montori Hughes (ankle) or offensive lineman JerQuari Schofield (foot) to full strength, but it appears to have paid off for left tackle Dallas Thomas.
Thomas played through pain in a sprained ankle against Georgia on Oct. 9, and likely would not have played if UT had a game last week, Dooley said. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said Wednesday that Thomas, who worked in full capacity at practice this week, was "doing a lot better."
"He's full-speed now and feeling a lot better, not missing any reps," Hiestand said. "That's a plus."
Andrew Gribble can be reached at 865-342-6327.