Willie Bohannon changes attitude to play defensive line

Tennessee  quarterback Tyler Bray (8) does a jump celebration with defensive end Willie Bohannon after setting a new school Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010 against Memphis in the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Tennessee won 50-14.

Photo by Michael Patrick

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray (8) does a jump celebration with defensive end Willie Bohannon after setting a new school Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010 against Memphis in the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Tennessee won 50-14.

Willie Bohannon comments after practice - April 12, 2011

When he was in his early years at Southern Cal, Tennessee defensive tackle Malik Jackson was in a situation similar to what Willie Bohannon faced through most of the 2010 season.

Bogged down on the depth chart behind the likes of Clay Matthews Jr. and Everson Griffen, both of whom played in the NFL last season, Jackson succumbed to what he described as inevitable complacency.

“That’s real tough,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to keep working and fight through it and one day you’ll get your chance and when your chance comes you’ve got to be ready for it.”

Bohannon wasn’t exactly bogged down on the depth chart behind “beasts” like Matthews Jr. and Griffen, but he had a salty veteran in Chris Walker clogging his way toward significant playing time. After an ugly performance in September against UAB, Bohannon admitted that he convinced himself he could do no better than fill in as a second-teamer, and his performance suffered even more.

“It was like ‘Chris Walker is there and I know I’m second team,’ instead of pushing myself and trying to get in there, even if I wasn’t going to start,” Bohannon said after Tuesday’s practice. “No matter what, you need to push yourself as if you’re fighting for the position and that’s not what I was doing last year.

“I was playing a second-teamer’s role and that’s bad.”

After a sophomore season that ended with just nine tackles in 11 games, Bohannon decided he needed a fresh approach.

He picked the right time.

Buoyed by a defensive line depth chart that lacks experience and bodies, Bohannon has primarily worked as a first-team defensive end throughout spring practice on the opposite side of Jacques Smith.

“I have been attacking and attacking and not accepted being second,” Bohannon said. “I have tried to be first at everything and to the best of my ability.”

Though he managed just the nine tackles, Bohannon picked up two sacks — one against Georgia and another late in the season at Vanderbilt. His light body and shifty speed made it tough for bigger tackles to stop him when he was able to peel off the edge and jet toward the quarterback.

But that was really the only situation where he was tough to block. He was too one-dimensional to garner much playing time behind a consistent player such as Walker who, despite an injury-plagued senior season, proved to be one of the more valuable cogs in UT’s depth-ridden defense in 2010.

Now, Bohannon is working toward earning that type of trust from his teammates and coaches by making his game less predictable.

“He’s not as finesse,” defensive line coach Lance Thompson said. “You can’t play finesse in this league at the defensive line. He’s gotten more physical, he pushes himself more and he’s had a nice spring for himself.”

Bohannon’s focus has been most heavily devoted toward stopping the run. At 246 pounds, up a bit from what he weighed last year, that’s not exactly the easiest thing to do, but he’s been fast to pick up on how to utilize proper technique and leverage to maximize his size and frustrate his opponent.

“We’ve all had to wrestle those guys growing up,” coach Derek Dooley said. “He’s a little guy but he knows how to use his strength. Some little guys get overpowered, some big guys don’t understand leverage, but he understands leverage so he plays a lot stronger than what his body type is.”

Bohannon is currently in the midst of the arduous process of adding weight to a frame that’s already close to maximum capacity. He topped out at 250 pounds during the offseason but has dropped four pounds during the spring.

He has carried that “first-team” mindset away from the field, though, and has made drastic changes to his diet.

The Bohannon who used to skip meals and skimp on the proteins, much like the Bohannon who settled for second-team status, is no more.

“The best players are going to play and I think they understand that,” Thompson said. “I think Willie is turning into a competitor and turned his game up a little bit. We’ll see what the freshmen do coming in the fall and having everybody compete.”

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

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Comments » 17

MothershipChip writes:

That's Orange Pride for you! Keep working hard and you will reach your goals! Be the best you can be everyday and the results will pay off in the end!!!!

Go Big Orange

VOLliven2it writes:

We need Bohanon but to be on our D-line, he needs to get bigger and still use strength and leverage. Go Willie, Go Big Orange!

MidTennVol writes:

Flame on, Willie. Flame on. Chew through concrete and spit out the other side. Can't man nor beast stop you when you wanna go some place.

TheOpinion writes:

Not often do you hear that a 6'3 246lb person is little.

givehim6 writes:

Your on first team now my friend pressures on, put on the weight get stronger and faster you will be fine.

born2ride writes:

Bohanon is a natural pass rusher. He needs more body strength and to work on stopping the run. Should have a big year.

Go Vols.

Mobbdeep4life writes:

I enjoy reading these articles about the players. I get to learn more about them but at the same time it reminds me how long it is until football season begins. I hope I can survive these next four months.
Hopefully both Bohannon and Hughes will become more consistent and take their game to another level.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

in response to Mobbdeep4life:

I enjoy reading these articles about the players. I get to learn more about them but at the same time it reminds me how long it is until football season begins. I hope I can survive these next four months.
Hopefully both Bohannon and Hughes will become more consistent and take their game to another level.

Right there with you!...I like to hear some personal stuff about the players so they're not just another number and helmet! Can't wait to see Wilcox' defense after the players have been in this d for a year now! I've been having FWA (football withdrawal attacks) since the Super Bowl ended!

ODA751 writes:

I wonder how he would do at the middle LB spot?

RashaadSalabeb writes:

Keep up the hard work. You keep this mindset and work ethic and you'll get playing time. We need several more guys to step up and exhibit this approach.

Go Vols!

EMBuckles writes:

If I was talking to the Tennessee defense players, I would quote Coach John Cropp, of Bristol Tennesse High School in the late 1960s to mid 1970s. Coach Cropp, a former Army Captain who had also coached some Army base football teams and who also took Bristol Tennessee High School's football teams to some State Championships and, one year, to the high school National Championship, asked the Bristol Tennessee High School football defense players if they realized the PRIMARY OBJECTIVE of a football defense player. Nobody got the right answer. So, Coach Cropp told them - the PRIMARY OBJECTIVE OF A FOOTBALL DEFENSE PLAYER IS TO SCORE A TOUCHDOWN!!! The number one objective of a football defense player is to pop the ball loose from an opposing offense player, or to intercept an opposition pass, and run it in for a touchdown! Tackling a quarterback in his own endzone for a safety is good too! The defense guys can still score points and that needs to be their primary goal! Seems to me that a former offense player would be particularly able to achieve that goal! GO VOLS!! GO VOLS DEFENSE!!! RUN UP THE SCORE!!!

jandjhome#228397 writes:

He has been listening to Johnny Majors ATACK! ATACK! ATACK!

FarmerVol writes:

in response to ODA751:

I wonder how he would do at the middle LB spot?

I think you are on to the right thought. If he is fast enough to be a pass rusher, he probably can play MLB. He can probably play FB or HB on the other side of the line also. He isn't big enough to be a DT in the SEC or NFL. But he could put on 20 pounds of rock this summer and be big enough for both. GBO

Biggie writes:

in response to EMBuckles:

If I was talking to the Tennessee defense players, I would quote Coach John Cropp, of Bristol Tennesse High School in the late 1960s to mid 1970s. Coach Cropp, a former Army Captain who had also coached some Army base football teams and who also took Bristol Tennessee High School's football teams to some State Championships and, one year, to the high school National Championship, asked the Bristol Tennessee High School football defense players if they realized the PRIMARY OBJECTIVE of a football defense player. Nobody got the right answer. So, Coach Cropp told them - the PRIMARY OBJECTIVE OF A FOOTBALL DEFENSE PLAYER IS TO SCORE A TOUCHDOWN!!! The number one objective of a football defense player is to pop the ball loose from an opposing offense player, or to intercept an opposition pass, and run it in for a touchdown! Tackling a quarterback in his own endzone for a safety is good too! The defense guys can still score points and that needs to be their primary goal! Seems to me that a former offense player would be particularly able to achieve that goal! GO VOLS!! GO VOLS DEFENSE!!! RUN UP THE SCORE!!!

Yeah all that's cool, but I'd rather our guys make definitive STOPS than miss a tackle cause they're trying to knock the ball loose.
Basic blocking and tackling is what this team needs to improve on. We have the skill players!

Mobbdeep4life writes:

in response to BigVolFaninSC:

Right there with you!...I like to hear some personal stuff about the players so they're not just another number and helmet! Can't wait to see Wilcox' defense after the players have been in this d for a year now! I've been having FWA (football withdrawal attacks) since the Super Bowl ended!

Sadly for me FWA began after the National Championship Game. College was over and I knew the NFL season was almost over.
My friends and family don't like me as much from March to August.

FarmerVol writes:

in response to EMBuckles:

If I was talking to the Tennessee defense players, I would quote Coach John Cropp, of Bristol Tennesse High School in the late 1960s to mid 1970s. Coach Cropp, a former Army Captain who had also coached some Army base football teams and who also took Bristol Tennessee High School's football teams to some State Championships and, one year, to the high school National Championship, asked the Bristol Tennessee High School football defense players if they realized the PRIMARY OBJECTIVE of a football defense player. Nobody got the right answer. So, Coach Cropp told them - the PRIMARY OBJECTIVE OF A FOOTBALL DEFENSE PLAYER IS TO SCORE A TOUCHDOWN!!! The number one objective of a football defense player is to pop the ball loose from an opposing offense player, or to intercept an opposition pass, and run it in for a touchdown! Tackling a quarterback in his own endzone for a safety is good too! The defense guys can still score points and that needs to be their primary goal! Seems to me that a former offense player would be particularly able to achieve that goal! GO VOLS!! GO VOLS DEFENSE!!! RUN UP THE SCORE!!!

In a game of inches, you can't afford to let the runner drag you for 3-8 yards while you try to rip the ball out. The odds are, it ain't gonna happen but 1 time per game. Check the stats. When your offense is as anemic as our has been every 3 and out our D puts on their O helps us a ton. Jus sayin. GBO

Juzkruzin writes:

in response to Biggie:

Yeah all that's cool, but I'd rather our guys make definitive STOPS than miss a tackle cause they're trying to knock the ball loose.
Basic blocking and tackling is what this team needs to improve on. We have the skill players!

I must be Rip Van Winkle during that time period. I lived in Bristol and it was always Kingsport (DB)that killed Bristol each year and I never heard of a National Championship game for high school. How do you qualify for that? Because either Maryville or Alcoa surly would have gotting into it with 7 state champioships in a row and I know Bristol didn't win no 7 stright or 2 stright for that matter. You are trying to BS someone here and I will meet you any time at Bristol High School for you to show me all the state titles and the National Championship Game Trophy. I call your info, now when you want to meet to prove it? Also the primary objective of a football defense is to stop the ball carrier, if a running game or back up a pass it it is a pass play. The real objective is not to let the offense score!! I don't know where you got your info, but I am sure it is listed in the dictionary under BS. If we have to depend on the defense to score points for us this year or any year we are in trouble. Waiting for an answer when you want to meet at Bristol High. I will meet you at the main gate of the Stone Castle Stadium!!

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