Vols' defensive line looking for pressure first, sacks later

Pressure first is defensive line's mantra

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel
Tennessee defensive lineman Willie Bohannon, left, and Jacques Smith collide during practice Aug. 5 at Haslam Field. Smith and Bohannon are part of a unit tasked with keeping the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel Tennessee defensive lineman Willie Bohannon, left, and Jacques Smith collide during practice Aug. 5 at Haslam Field. Smith and Bohannon are part of a unit tasked with keeping the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel
Tennessee defensive lineman Willie Bohannon, left, and Jacques Smith collide during practice Aug. 5 at Haslam Field. Smith and Bohannon are part of a unit tasked with keeping the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011 // Buy this photo

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel Tennessee defensive lineman Willie Bohannon, left, and Jacques Smith collide during practice Aug. 5 at Haslam Field. Smith and Bohannon are part of a unit tasked with keeping the pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

In 2010, Tennessee had five more sacks than Florida, one more than Georgia, the same as Mississippi State and just one fewer than Alabama.

Unfortunately for the Vols, there was no direct correlation with wins and losses.

Derek Dooley was the first to address that throughout the year, and he did so again Tuesday. Not even when the Vols racked up 16 sacks in their final five games was he ready to anoint UT's defensive line as a mildly disruptive force.

"I don't think we ever affected the quarterback," Dooley said.

The Vols racked up 26 sacks in 2010. That's five more than they did in 2009, nine more than 2006 and the most since they posted 33 in 2005.

They also notched 44 quarterback hurries, a stat that sometimes can be tabulated subjectively, but also provides an indication of just how much duress the opposing quarterback is facing in a game.

"Our goal is affect the quarterback every game," Dooley said. "You can affect him a lot of ways. You can hit him. If a guy gets hit and doesn't get sacked, but he gets hit and knocked on his tail 15 times, there's a good chance the accuracy is going to diminish.

"Hitting him, sacking him, disguising coverages, confusing him, all those things contribute to affecting a quarterback in a negative way. That's what our goal is on defense."

That's exactly what the Vols will try to do in their season opener against Montana on Saturday (TV: pay-per-view, 6 p.m.). They just won't be shooting to clear last year's sack total in a single game, as the Grizzlies' fast-paced, spread offense can, and will, dupe overzealous pass rushers who forget that there are other ways to play sound defense without sacking the quarterback.

"It's really tough, especially when you get into the two-minute (drill) and you're thinking pass, pass, pass," sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith said. "The next thing you know they hit their draw or something of that sorts. It's really tough and we practice it every day.

"Day in and day out and that's something we've really been emphasizing in our practices, so I think I'll be prepared for it."

Despite losing ends Chris Walker and Gerald Williams to graduation and not exactly replacing them with ready-made bodies for 2011, UT's defensive line has been a source of cautious optimism throughout August.

The consistent pressure brought by UT's four-man front, which simply wasn't there in 2010 unless linebackers were involved, was brought up by Dooley after all three of UT's scrimmages.

Players such as Smith and defensive tackle Malik Jackson are expected to anchor the unit. Fifth-year senior Ben Martin, back from his second Achilles tendon tear since posting 3.5 sacks in 2009, has been one of the best comeback stories in the SEC. Willie Bohannon (for his pass-rushing abilities) and Marlon Walls (for run-stuffing situations) each appear to have found a specific role within the unit.

Tack on freshman linebacker Curt Maggitt, who will play defensive end on obvious passing downs when the Vols implement their nickel package, and the Vols appear to be deeper, if nothing else, than last season.

"That's going to help," Dooley said. "We don't have to blitz all the time."

Smith, at the left end position, is expected to be the cornerstone player on the line. A player former defensive line coach Chuck Smith once described as a future NFL first-round draft pick, Smith never started as a freshman, but he picked up valuable snaps throughout the year and finished with two sacks.

Even in those two moments, Smith immediately noticed what kind of impact he had on the rest of the game.

"The offense is totally affected," Smith said. "The quarterback doesn't make as clear of decisions as once before. You can definitely tell he's more hesitant in the pocket, he's not that much more likely to scramble and things like that. He's easily going to cough up the ball."

Smith's sack goal for himself and his fellow defensive linemen is a modest 15, which is five fewer than what UT's front four mustered last year.

Of course, that final sack tally won't tell the complete story.

"Everybody's getting really good," Smith said. "We have a lot of good outside rushers we can rotate. That's always a good thing.

"That keeps fresh bodies on the field and keeps pressure on the quarterback so he's not sitting back there and just picking us off."

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 » 16

givehim6 writes:

All this is true but a sack usually means the offence is going backward right? But puting pressure on a QB might make him throw a pick.

Ga_Dave writes:

Gosh, I can't wait until Saturday. I'm driving to K'town for the game and spend time with family there for holiday. I'm really excited to see what this team can do after running through the T. I hope to arrive in time for VOL WALK. See you all there, let's make some noise and let the Griz find oiut what game day in Tennessee is all about. GBO & long live Queen Pat!

PumpGuy writes:

in response to InDestruCtible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I assume you are speaking of the picture of Charlie Weis and then the link to 75 fried foods at the bottom.

The_Real_Orange writes:

in response to PumpGuy:

I assume you are speaking of the picture of Charlie Weis and then the link to 75 fried foods at the bottom.

If the two OCs decide to have an eating contest, my money is on the Vols OC. Chaney is younger and just as fat, plus he looks like he is still growing. Just saying....

linebam writes:

in response to PumpGuy:

I assume you are speaking of the picture of Charlie Weis and then the link to 75 fried foods at the bottom.

Now I don't care who you are... that's funny right there!

Digital5000 writes:

I can’t wait to see some of the shots the D-Line is going to put on folks.

Charlie Weis will be saying that’s the best D-Line he’s ever played against after we put Brantley on his tail repeatedly.

Who Dat...We Dat
-Enjoy Yoselves

NOthgif writes:

Interesting trivia note here: I wonder how many of last year's sacks were in the 1st half of games? I have said before TN's biggest thing last year was NOT talent. It was lack of depth. By the 2nd half they were tired and played tired. Much easier for the opposition to start executing more effectively. Well, it looks like Tennessee has rebuilt that depth so I'm thinking that the 3rd and 4th quarters this year should be more competitive. Although I still don't see Tennessee as a threat this year, next year and the year after they will be beasts! However, I digress and will continue to Fight ON!

MusicCityVol writes:

Young, fast, and talented. Our DE's and OLB's are going to be awesome for years to come.

This is Why I Love Tennessee Football: State Pride
http://www.checkerboardchatter.com/20...

FearTheVols1252 writes:

in response to InDestruCtible:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wow... they're fast. Guess what... they were fast last year too. whoop-di-doo. This isn't anything new. What should scare the heck out of you is that they combined for a little over 900 yards last season behind a more seasoned O-line.

Fail... keep trying.

nwcs writes:

The sack is a highly overvalued stat. Pressures are better because they usually lead to bad decision making which benefits the defense.

Digital5000 writes:

in response to FearTheVols1252:

Wow... they're fast. Guess what... they were fast last year too. whoop-di-doo. This isn't anything new. What should scare the heck out of you is that they combined for a little over 900 yards last season behind a more seasoned O-line.

Fail... keep trying.

Haha, good point. Poole had more yards than both those mini-me's behind a freshmen led line. He’s going to run wild this year.

Who Dat...We Dat
-Enjoy Yoselves

Volunatic writes:

in response to PumpGuy:

I assume you are speaking of the picture of Charlie Weis and then the link to 75 fried foods at the bottom.

If I lived in Florida, I'd be worried that the sheer mass of Jabba the Weis would break the peninsula off the mainland.

hueypilot writes:

One more than one occasion last year, the ends sold out wide on the pass rush and the running back stepped inside them for big gains off tackle. I hope Smith brings a strong "rush the quarterback on the way to the running back" mindset. In the SEC, it's stop the run first.

Consequently, Bray will see lots of 8 men in the box daring the kid to play more like a senior than a sophomore. Least that's the way I'd defend us.

Volunatic writes:

in response to The_Real_Orange:

If the two OCs decide to have an eating contest, my money is on the Vols OC. Chaney is younger and just as fat, plus he looks like he is still growing. Just saying....

The term "FUPA" was invented to describe a photo of Weis.

Colliervol writes:

in response to PumpGuy:

I assume you are speaking of the picture of Charlie Weis and then the link to 75 fried foods at the bottom.

Classic.

SIMSVOL writes:

Can'tStandSaban is a sad soul...no where to go and spout his ignorance so it unloads it on us. Just let him yammer, he doesn't know any better, poor sap...
Go VOLS!

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