Justin Wilcox, Vols make the most out of defensive options

Wilcox, Vols make most of defensive options

Malik Jackson on defense

Willie Bohannon on the pressure by the defense

There are former offensive players starting at two critical positions for his defense, and another comes off the bench.

Tennessee's most consistent defensive lineman started at end, moved inside to tackle and now rotates between both depending on the situation.

The Vols playing in the secondary are subject to change almost every week, starting with the seemingly constant shuttling between safety and cornerback for perhaps their best playmaker in the backfield.

At every level it can be tempting to look at what Justin Wilcox has to work with and write the roster off as a collection of spare parts. And by comparison, the UT defensive coordinator obviously isn't working with the most talented or deepest bunch of athletes in the conference.

But seemingly just by making do with a group of newcomers and whatever else was laying around, Wilcox and the rest of the staff have built a more than serviceable unit — tinkering and tweaking, tightening and testing by using all the defensive tools they've got in the box. And while ultimately UT might be better off if it didn't have to be so creative with its personnel heading into a trip to No. 8 Arkansas (8-1, 4-1 SEC) on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 6 p.m.), that trait might serve it even better down the road.

"I mean, I think the key to playing defense is you find out what you do well, what your strengths and weaknesses are," Wilcox said. "Then you have to put guys in position to use their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. That's really our goal, and that should be the goal of any defense.

"We have to find out who we think our best guys are to help us win the game, whether we play 11 guys and rotate three or four or whether we rotate another 11. It changes from year to year on who you've got, and we're trying to use the guys we've got as best we can."

In his second season with the Vols (4-5, 0-5), that process has continued well into the final month of the regular season as Wilcox keeps searching for matchups each week as the program hunts down enough wins for another bowl appearance.

The preseason dismissal of star safety Janzen Jackson has had a lasting impact on the secondary, which has led to a couple more position changes for versatile defensive back Prentiss Waggner. But the Vols were already moving puzzle pieces around long before training camp to maximize the talent on hand defensively.

Daniel Hood transitioned from a reserve offensive lineman to a regular in the starting lineup at defensive tackle. Before that, Malik Jackson began his emergence with the program last fall after UT slid him inside to tackle from end — and he's now capable of lining up in either spot.

Two years ago Austin Johnson was a fullback, sparking one victory with a touchdown catch. Last week the senior middle linebacker made his second interception of the season to help lead another and boost a unit still in the midst of a rebuilding effort to No. 28 in the nation in scoring defense.

"Justin has done a great job," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "We've really been this way on both sides of the ball, since the roster did not lend itself to just putting in 11 guys and go play. We've had to try to make the best of what our roster situation was in all three phases, and sometimes we don't do as good a job as we need to do as coaches and we can do better.

"Sometimes you do everything you can do and it's not working, and sometimes it works."

There have still been times where it has been more of the former than the latter for the Vols this season.

There have been long drives marred by an inability to make crucial tackles or get third-down stops that cost the Vols dearly. In other games, they've been burned through the air with breakdowns in coverage. Against LSU and Alabama they were able to put together strong outings early before getting overpowered after halftime.

But UT has also only allowed 14 points total over the last two games and is coming off a shutout a week ago. And the highest-scoring offense in the conference will provide another barometer of how much progress the Vols have really made.

"It's just about everybody buying into that blue-collar approach," Hood said. "We've said all year that we're a blue-collar group.

"We're not going to out-athlete anybody."

That hasn't prevented the Vols from stopping a few folks along the way.

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.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2011 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 29

mercuryvol writes:

And Hood has summarized the whole problem at UT...."we're not going to out athlete anybody." Until we have the athletes in Knoxville,times will be tough. This disaster will continue until CDD gets the horses for the engine. And that takes time.

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

Once we get the horses for the engine(as the previous poster said),you should see a much improved defense..That will make a HUGE difference because Justin will have so much to work with.

Smokey says HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO COACH WILCOX..Hope the Vols can give a win as a present..

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

in response to MerlOT_GoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Bunch of worthless troll speak.

Smokey says typical coming from you..

SummerfieldVol writes:

How about trying James Stone at defensive tackle. He sure has the size and he suppose to be very intelligent, so he should not have any problems learning the defensive schemes. We sure could use another defensive lineman.

ScottEmge writes:

Wilcox, does Boise State's defense wrap up when they tackle? Cause you sure haven't coached our D to do it.

allvol8 writes:

in response to ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog:

Bunch of worthless troll speak.

Smokey says typical coming from you..

Agree with ya...more diagnosa rhetoric

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to NachoPappy_76:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Nacho,

Not too sure Nancy is the troll's real name. More like Bret. No, his plan.........and his fantasy, is to bring Phil back out of the moth balls. Derek owns this troll and that is so comical.

Bret won't face Dooley in person with his whining...........as you said, he just flaps his gums here over his keyboard, then heads for the wine cellar
( basement ) and the Fulmer photos.

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

in response to ScottEmge:

Wilcox, does Boise State's defense wrap up when they tackle? Cause you sure haven't coached our D to do it.

And how do you know he isn't teaching it?? Are you at the practices?? He can teach and teach and teach until he's blue in the face,but it's up to the player to follow thru with it.

Smokey says that CDD should send Coach Wilcox out there to do all the tackling..

jawga writes:

in response to SummerfieldVol:

How about trying James Stone at defensive tackle. He sure has the size and he suppose to be very intelligent, so he should not have any problems learning the defensive schemes. We sure could use another defensive lineman.

"Hands of Stone" sure perfected the deep snap quickly so he probably could p/u the Wilcox D...as long as he wasn't expected to "out-athlete" anyone.

VOLPhan writes:

in response to ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog:

Bunch of worthless troll speak.

Smokey says typical coming from you..

Agreed... Go away...

shorttail writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

Nacho,

Not too sure Nancy is the troll's real name. More like Bret. No, his plan.........and his fantasy, is to bring Phil back out of the moth balls. Derek owns this troll and that is so comical.

Bret won't face Dooley in person with his whining...........as you said, he just flaps his gums here over his keyboard, then heads for the wine cellar
( basement ) and the Fulmer photos.

now thats where the rubber hits the road

VOLliven2it writes:

They have been trying to make do with what we have. It is a tall task. But wait until we really have a full roster and some better players. We will have them. Meanwhile, there is nothing we can do but wait.

VolinCalif writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

Nacho,

Not too sure Nancy is the troll's real name. More like Bret. No, his plan.........and his fantasy, is to bring Phil back out of the moth balls. Derek owns this troll and that is so comical.

Bret won't face Dooley in person with his whining...........as you said, he just flaps his gums here over his keyboard, then heads for the wine cellar
( basement ) and the Fulmer photos.

Well Orane I thought the trolls name was Nellie.

underthehill writes:

Wilcox has done a fabulous job and anyone with a lick of football sense would know it if they watch UT play..All you hear on the offense is reasons why they don't get it done..

HooRay_Vol writes:

Anyone know who is kicking butt in the TN HS football playoffs? I assume Maryville is. There was a big game with I'Tavius Mathers' team getting another shot against Riverdale.

OldNumber7 writes:

in response to underthehill:

Wilcox has done a fabulous job and anyone with a lick of football sense would know it if they watch UT play..All you hear on the offense is reasons why they don't get it done..

Agree. I'm surprised with some of the recruits coming in anyone would bad mouth Wilcox. We are playing freshmen at linebacker for heaven's sake. I can't wait until those freshmen are Juniors. Just hope Wilcox is still around.

volsfannsc writes:

in response to MerlOT_GoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Worthless poster speak. Find a team to actually pull for. It's been a lifetime.

smokey-vol writes:

in response to mercuryvol:

And Hood has summarized the whole problem at UT...."we're not going to out athlete anybody." Until we have the athletes in Knoxville,times will be tough. This disaster will continue until CDD gets the horses for the engine. And that takes time.

Yhe problem is they do not "out tough" anyone. They need to play with wreckless abandon.

SouthPaVol writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

Nacho,

Not too sure Nancy is the troll's real name. More like Bret. No, his plan.........and his fantasy, is to bring Phil back out of the moth balls. Derek owns this troll and that is so comical.

Bret won't face Dooley in person with his whining...........as you said, he just flaps his gums here over his keyboard, then heads for the wine cellar
( basement ) and the Fulmer photos.

his "whine" cellar

brokendownoldvol writes:

in response to SummerfieldVol:

How about trying James Stone at defensive tackle. He sure has the size and he suppose to be very intelligent, so he should not have any problems learning the defensive schemes. We sure could use another defensive lineman.

Someone who is bad in the offensive line for sure isn't mean and aggressive enough to play on the defensive side. Alot of coaches only recruit d lineman and put the P^ssies of that group on the O line. Worked for Bear and Jimmy Johnson.

GoSmokeyGo writes:

in response to ScottEmge:

Wilcox, does Boise State's defense wrap up when they tackle? Cause you sure haven't coached our D to do it.

Lol...and noise ain't playin the athletes we play on a weekly basis either!

brokendownoldvol writes:

in response to mercuryvol:

And Hood has summarized the whole problem at UT...."we're not going to out athlete anybody." Until we have the athletes in Knoxville,times will be tough. This disaster will continue until CDD gets the horses for the engine. And that takes time.

Especially when you get pancaked by a Murfreessboro guard.

y9since80 writes:

in response to ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog:

Bunch of worthless troll speak.

Smokey says typical coming from you..

Always enjoy your posts,keep prowlin and growlin

hikerdude writes:

Given and underwhelming amount of talent, Wilcox has done and outstanding job.

cooper65#432178 writes:

in response to ScottEmge:

Wilcox, does Boise State's defense wrap up when they tackle? Cause you sure haven't coached our D to do it.

Considering our lack of depth and speed on defense in addition to the injuries and loss of Jackson the defense has played very well. Coach Wilcox must be doing something right.

givehim6 writes:

in response to MerlOT_GoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Which team do you think shows the least love fo there coachs UT or UF?

givehim6 writes:

in response to givehim6:

Which team do you think shows the least love fo there coachs UT or UF?

Wonder how many at UF are yelling for Muscamps head? Is UF wanting Steve back?

GetSimmsandTeagueout writes:

Vanderbilt"s well coached 2 stars will destroy our lost 4 star team.

Maverickman writes:

Mike Leach...<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/DDUhy2yP... frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features