Willie Bohannon's competitive instincts help him earn co-starting role

Willie Bohannon on the pressure by the defense

Vols focus on Kentucky, not possible bowl games

Lance Thompson noticed it almost immediately after he switched from Tennessee's linebackers coach to defensive line coach during the offseason.

Junior defensive end Willie Bohannon, long considered a pass rush specialist because of his speed and 225-pound frame, wasn't happy being bogged down on the depth chart behind Jacques Smith, a sophomore with seemingly unlimited promise.

Thompson loved it.

"When you're a competitor and you want to play, you're going to do the little things, you're going to do the little extra to be a special player," Thompson said. "When you know, 'Hey, I'm better than that guy and I don't have to do the little things' then you're never going to be what you could be."

Bohannon's hard work throughout the spring and summer might not have paid off the way he expected when the season started, but his consistent approach during the fall has helped mitigate a lack of production from Smith. Bohannon and Smith are listed as co-starters at left defensive end for the Vols (5-6, 1-6 SEC) heading into Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.) at Kentucky (4-7, 1-6), but Bohannon has started the past two games and has been on the field for the majority of critical downs.

"I've seen a lot of guys who were not even thought of at one point and became a starter or had a chance to become a starter," Bohannon said. "I looked at that and I just kept working. I knew my opportunity was going to come. It was just what I did when I got the opportunity."

Against Vanderbilt last Saturday, Bohannon had what defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox called "one of his best games that I've seen him play." There weren't many eye-popping statistics — two tackles, three quarterback hurries — but there weren't the mistakes or blown assignments that have hindered Smith, whom coaches have said tries too hard to make a big play on every snap.

Bohannon has provided a stabilizing presence.

"We expect Willie to continue to do that," Wilcox said. "He doesn't have a lot of wow-type plays sometimes, but he's a very solid guy and he shows up."

He's showed up most behind the scenes, said Thompson, who laughed when describing how many questions Bohannon asks during defensive line meetings.

Bohannon said he knew he was playing well when he finally heard Thompson say "good job" to him because "he's not one of those people that's going to sugarcoat anything."

"After the Montana game (in the season opener), I played really bad, and he sat down and talked to some of the other guys who played bad, and he questioned us, if it was important to us or not," Bohannon said. "I've always thought it was important to me, so it was obviously something I'm not doing right."

The wrongs have certainly been righted, as Bohannon is one of a number of players on UT's defensive line who have, perhaps, overachieved during a season in which little was expected from the unit.

"He plays with a lot of discipline," coach Derek Dooley said. "He's where he's supposed to be and that's good. We've got to keep getting better there."

New to Him: In all of his years as a college assistant and offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney had never installed a Pistol formation before last week.

In the abrupt preparations, Chaney said he analyzed what Nevada, which runs almost all of its plays out of the formations, has done over the past few seasons.

"It was just kind of a, 'Hey, (quarterback) Tyler (Bray) might be able to play. But he can't hardly take a snap, so, duh, let's put him in the gun and see what we can get done,' " Chaney said. "And it just tied into what we're trying to get done."

A number of players, most notably senior running back Tauren Poole, have raved about the package. Dooley, meanwhile, has said the offensive line deserved the credit for one of UT's most productive ground performances of the season.

Chaney falls somewhere in the middle.

"The production is a little bit better than it has been, so you can't say that was all of it, but you can't say that wasn't the reason, either," Chaney said. "I'm comfortable with it. It seemed like it worked good, and we'll continue down that path a little bit, as long as production stays there.

"Right now, I'm up for anything if it'll help us run the football."

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 » 5

mgdchvol writes:

Endeavor to persuvere!

dvhill100 writes:

in response to mgdchvol:

Endeavor to persuvere!

I liked "The Outlaw Josey Wales" too.

I don't care what they run so long as we win.

allvol32 writes:

in response to mgdchvol:

Endeavor to persuvere!

"I reckon so..."

pcorange writes:

"Right now, I'm up for anything if it'll help us run the football."

Maybe an O-line coach would be a good place to start.

notnegativenotstupid writes:

Jacques Smith shoud be a linebacker

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