Shuffling the defensive line has its benefits

Tennessee warms up prior to a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium Saturday, April 2, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee warms up prior to a scrimmage at Neyland Stadium Saturday, April 2, 2011.

Derek Dooley talks after practice Wednesday

Tennessee needs more productivity at both defensive end and tackle.

And the Vols are turning their roster inside-out to find it.

Guys on the interior are sliding to the outside and players that used to be on the edge are moving closer to the ball, giving the Vols consistently different looks up front throughout spring practice — and perhaps an option to continue shaking things up throughout the season this fall.

“Well, we’re just trying to find the best combination of players,” defensive line coach Lance Thompson said after practice Wednesday. “We’re very young, we’re a little undersized, so we’re just really trying to find the best combination of players.

“The first two weeks we tried one batch of things, and this last two weeks we’re going to try another.”

The Vols kicked that process off by giving Corey Miller some work at tackle and Marlon Walls some reps at end, which aren’t the positions they were generally expected to be playing when camp opened.

But versatility and cross-training have been among the leading themes for coordinator Justin Wilcox and the defensive staff since UT reported for its 15 workouts this spring, and it’s now clearly showing up on the line. And hardly anybody has been spared snaps at a position other than the one they normally might fill.

“Marlon will be moving inside-outside, Corey Miller the same way, Malik (Jackson) the same way, me the same way, everybody kind of has done it — except our big guys like Montori (Hughes) and Arthur Jeffery,” sophomore Jacques Smith said. “It just shows how everybody on our defensive line is athletic.

“I mean, there were times last year we’d have our tackles at end and our ends at tackle, then we would run stunts to get our ends outside and then the tackles would come pick for us inside. It’s really just like our defensive line as a whole, we’re really athletic and we’re really good defensive linemen that can play at all positions.”

Ideally, UT would figure out which one best suits each player, and it’s taking full advantage of some time to tinker and come up with a few answers.

Along the way the linemen stand to benefit from experience at other positions, absorbing the playbook from other angles and picking up a better understanding of the roles of the rest of the unit. And the coaches could get a boost by having more flexibility when they’re putting together a rotation.

“Marlon played inside some last year when we first got here, and we think he’s probably better suited to play outside,” Wilcox said. “But there might be a necessity where both he and Corey need to play inside for us.

“We’re trying to get both of those guys some work both inside and outside so you’re not stuck with the second defensive tackle, your next-best player is always in the game. So you’re teaching them how to play the position so if somebody ever goes down, the next guy is in — not necessarily the second player at that position.”

Clock Is Ticking: Derek Dooley didn’t necessarily need to remind his team about the importance of a four-minute offense to close out a game. The Vols surely won’t ever forget the games where it didn’t work a year ago.

“Last year we were 2-2 in four-minute (situations),” Dooley said. “We did a great job at Vanderbilt, we did a great job against Kentucky and we won the games.

“We didn’t get it done in the bowl game and we didn’t get it done at LSU, and it put our defense in a two-minute situation and we lost the games.”

The Vols dropped both of them in brutal, heart-breaking fashion thanks to bizarre finishes at the end of regulation with the defense on the field — scenarios which potentially could have been avoided by simply hanging onto the football.

“I told the team, we couldn’t have changed anything about last year, and if we had just executed the last two minutes of two games, we’re 8-5,” Dooley said. “So it was good to get that work in.”

Clean Slate: If Tyler Bray’s underwhelming scrimmage got him down, the sophomore quarterback has apparently hidden it well from his position coach.

And that ability to move on quickly from a rough patch might just be his best quality.

“The one thing we talk about is having a white sheet of paper after every play,” Darin Hinshaw said. “Forget what you did and get ready for the next play. Then take one play at a time.

“A lot of that mentality is him doing that, then we go back and watch the film and study what we did wrong. We did a lot of things wrong on Saturday, but we correct those things, we learn from those things and we move on.”

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 20

Mtnbiker writes:

GBO can't wait for the 16th!

volbob writes:

I don't care if they wear skirts and sing chorus lines...it's (kinda close to) football time in Tennessee! Can't wait for the season to start. By the way, pretty good article. Didn't catch any negative stuff, which is refreshing. GBO!!

taylorsvolfan writes:

Steven Cherry Garcia at USC suspended for the fifth time today. He is gone indefinitely. Maybe Spurrier might finally punt him.

zigvol writes:

Will Ben Martin be back this year?

VolMoment writes:

in response to PrideOfTheSouthlandBanned:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Your lack of brains is evident in your remarks blaming Hamilton. Schedules are made years in advance and do you think everybody says well let UT make their choices in the SEC and then we will make everybody else take what is left. What a jerk!!!!

VOL03_NC writes:

in response to taylorsvolfan:

Steven Cherry Garcia at USC suspended for the fifth time today. He is gone indefinitely. Maybe Spurrier might finally punt him.

This is what I read on the ESPN site for UsC:
YazooCityCock (4/6/2011 at 9:42 PM) Report Violation This is such a bunch of bull. Garcia was being disruptive/cutting up at a Lifeskills Leadership Meeting that AD Eric Hyman's wife teaches. He was acting stupid and got called out by an Athletic Department official for acting stupid and then the AD official accused him of being drunk. All the players said that he wasn't and the AD official completely was out of line accusing Garcia of something he had no idea about. The players have all rallied to Garcia's side and Spurrier is pissed that Hyman micromanaged the situation and blew it all out of proportion. Basically, Garcia was acting stupid, but nothing deserving of being suspended for the rest of the semester.

everydayisorange writes:

I really like the idea of moving the interior and exterior guys around. This will help alot over the course of the season with injuries and substitutions.(sp) This has been done for years on offense, but I don't know that it has been done much on the defensive side. Great coaches always search for innovative ways to help the team to grow. Good job guys, I am looking for a good year this season. GBO!!!

DrivingMsDooley writes:

Can't wait until Mo Couch is added to the rotation.

volsfannsc writes:

in response to VOL03_NC:

This is what I read on the ESPN site for UsC:
YazooCityCock (4/6/2011 at 9:42 PM) Report Violation This is such a bunch of bull. Garcia was being disruptive/cutting up at a Lifeskills Leadership Meeting that AD Eric Hyman's wife teaches. He was acting stupid and got called out by an Athletic Department official for acting stupid and then the AD official accused him of being drunk. All the players said that he wasn't and the AD official completely was out of line accusing Garcia of something he had no idea about. The players have all rallied to Garcia's side and Spurrier is pissed that Hyman micromanaged the situation and blew it all out of proportion. Basically, Garcia was acting stupid, but nothing deserving of being suspended for the rest of the semester.

Not sure where ESPN gets their comic-book style of reporting, but this one is bad. Other players who attended the required class admitted they smelled alcohol on Garcia but still wanted him to be their QB. Also,Spurrier said he, Hyman and USC president Harris Pastides were involved in the decision to suspend Garcia. He will not return to football activities this semester and his status with the team will be determined later, the coach said. This comes after the suspension was lifted from an incident concenrning last year's bed check before their bowl game. Seems there were two girls in the bed with him. (The kids got bravado if nothing else)Spurrier is ready to write him off saying the indefinite suspension and Garcia being gone is nothing more than a player turning pro and not returning for the next season. Per Spurrier "It happens". Even if they should let Garcia come back prior to the begining of next season, it will be just a matter of time before Garcia screws up again. His freshman year started out with two drunk and disorderlys before he even took the first snap.Still the gamecocks have a lot of talent but it looks like the East is wide open.

Biggie writes:

in response to volsfannsc:

Not sure where ESPN gets their comic-book style of reporting, but this one is bad. Other players who attended the required class admitted they smelled alcohol on Garcia but still wanted him to be their QB. Also,Spurrier said he, Hyman and USC president Harris Pastides were involved in the decision to suspend Garcia. He will not return to football activities this semester and his status with the team will be determined later, the coach said. This comes after the suspension was lifted from an incident concenrning last year's bed check before their bowl game. Seems there were two girls in the bed with him. (The kids got bravado if nothing else)Spurrier is ready to write him off saying the indefinite suspension and Garcia being gone is nothing more than a player turning pro and not returning for the next season. Per Spurrier "It happens". Even if they should let Garcia come back prior to the begining of next season, it will be just a matter of time before Garcia screws up again. His freshman year started out with two drunk and disorderlys before he even took the first snap.Still the gamecocks have a lot of talent but it looks like the East is wide open.

I hate to say it but I think USC will be better without Garcia. He lost a few games for them last year and granted, he won a few for them. His inconsistancy and off filed theatrics are a major distraction. Any decent QB with his head in every game will give the team confidence.

jdcdjc writes:

in response to VolMoment:

Your lack of brains is evident in your remarks blaming Hamilton. Schedules are made years in advance and do you think everybody says well let UT make their choices in the SEC and then we will make everybody else take what is left. What a jerk!!!!

Kinda hard on him aren't you sport. What makes you so perfect??? I believe some of you jerks just get on here to spout off!!

jdcdjc writes:

in response to VOL03_NC:

This is what I read on the ESPN site for UsC:
YazooCityCock (4/6/2011 at 9:42 PM) Report Violation This is such a bunch of bull. Garcia was being disruptive/cutting up at a Lifeskills Leadership Meeting that AD Eric Hyman's wife teaches. He was acting stupid and got called out by an Athletic Department official for acting stupid and then the AD official accused him of being drunk. All the players said that he wasn't and the AD official completely was out of line accusing Garcia of something he had no idea about. The players have all rallied to Garcia's side and Spurrier is pissed that Hyman micromanaged the situation and blew it all out of proportion. Basically, Garcia was acting stupid, but nothing deserving of being suspended for the rest of the semester.

Or on drugs!!!

trubleoj#657755 writes:

I want to see a DT walk in a pick 6 against UF like that fat man did for GreenBay in the Supabowl. Keep that line keeping them guessing Coach Wilcox.

orangeman1 writes:

I have alot of enthusiasm for the DL this year. They are returning a few guys with experience and also adding some sophomores that were highly recruited as freshmen so they should be able to make an impact.

givehim6 writes:

in response to PrideOfTheSouthlandBanned:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I fill for ya pride, yes you can be trying to make a point about something. But some on here are so quick to SLAM someone eles, but most times there the ones looking like D'butt. Anyway, Im glad the staff is moving players around, every one know the others job which is good if you have a depth problem as injuries happen.

Crutch writes:

in response to PrideOfTheSouthlandBanned:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You are right Tennessee does have control over their nonconference schedule, but they don't have control over the SEC schedule or bye week. That is determined by the SEC office. You should do more research.

AC_84 writes:

hopefull that d line can geta lil more sacks this season. i dont remember many sacks last year. does any one have the stats on that?

jawga writes:

in response to everydayisorange:

I really like the idea of moving the interior and exterior guys around. This will help alot over the course of the season with injuries and substitutions.(sp) This has been done for years on offense, but I don't know that it has been done much on the defensive side. Great coaches always search for innovative ways to help the team to grow. Good job guys, I am looking for a good year this season. GBO!!!

In other words "I wish we had recruited at least one 4* DT. Maybe Wilcox & Co can "Coach 'Em Up".

harveyupdyketreehugger writes:

in response to jawga:

In other words "I wish we had recruited at least one 4* DT. Maybe Wilcox & Co can "Coach 'Em Up".

Mo Couch...How does it feel to have the new Phil Fulmer...5 starts playing like 2 stars...Fulmer cup champions, and runner up to the Golden Nights in the Liberty Bowl. Woof! Woof! Woof!

everydayisorange writes:

in response to jawga:

In other words "I wish we had recruited at least one 4* DT. Maybe Wilcox & Co can "Coach 'Em Up".

I don't think it is a quality issue, but a numbers issue. A few more quality d linemen would help, but another recruting class will cure that. I still like versital (sp) linemen will help this season! GBO!!!

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