Deeper defensive line important, especially against spread offenses

Rotation, depth key for defensive line

Derek Dooley previews the matchup against Cincinnati

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel
Tennessee defensive lineman Curt Maggitt, left, puts pressure on Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson during the teams' game Saturday night at Neyland Stadium. Maggitt is a linebacker, but he moves to the defensive line in passing situations.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel Tennessee defensive lineman Curt Maggitt, left, puts pressure on Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson during the teams' game Saturday night at Neyland Stadium. Maggitt is a linebacker, but he moves to the defensive line in passing situations.

Jacques Smith didn't believe his eyes when he saw how many snaps he played in Saturday's season-opener against Montana.

In the sophomore defensive end's mind, there was no way he was on the field that much.

Smith's muscles weren't aching as much as they should have been and his brain certainly wasn't fried. This wasn't how he was supposed to feel after his first career start, especially one that came against a fast-paced spread offense such as the Grizzlies'.

Of any of the nine defensive linemen who saw a decent chunk of playing time Saturday, Smith probably was on the field the most, but even he wasn't as heavily relied upon as those who were in his position last season.

It's yet to be seen if the Vols are better on the defensive line, but they certainly appear to be deeper — for now, at least.

"That just goes to show we're doing a great job in our substitutions," Smith said. "That's something that is going to help us in the long run this year."

Even after a Week 1 tuneup against the Grizzlies, the Vols already are seeing just what the ruthless grind of "life in the trenches" can do to a previously healthy defensive line.

Junior-college transfer Maurice Couch is nursing a sprained MCL and is "day to day." Defensive end Ben Martin said he wasn't hurt, but was icing down his ankle during the final quarter of Saturday's victory.

Defensive tackle Malik Jackson missed Tuesday's practice with a stomach virus.

"When those lights come on, you just get in a different zone," defensive end Marlon Walls said. "You focus on your job. You don't try to count the plays or how many series you play. You focus in on the game and what you've got to do."

When asked about the means behind the madness to UT's defensive line rotation, defensive tackle Daniel Hood, who swapped in and out with Couch and Joseph Ayres against Montana, couldn't help but laugh.

"I think Coach (Lance) Thompson was just doing it based on his head count," Hood said. "I'd be in three or four plays, I'd come out and get a drink of water. Mo would go in, then he'd come out and Joe would go in.

"I think it's just how he felt during the game."

Of course, there's more to it than just head counts. A lot more.

"It just depends on a lot of things," coach Derek Dooley said. "What the offense is doing, tempo of the game, number of plays, lot of things. It's still early. So we're kind of seeing how these guys perform.

"Lot of new faces in there."

Those new faces will see a similar, sped-up tempo that Montana used when it faces a physically enhanced version from Cincinnati on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 3:30 p.m.). It's expected to be a steep test for UT's defense as a whole, but especially the defensive line, which will have to be wary of quarterback Zach Collaros' mobility and a running game that produced 387 rushing yards in its season-opening romp against Austin Peay.

The onus goes beyond the starting line of Smith, Hood, Jackson and Martin. Players such as Miller, Ayres, Couch, Walls, Willie Bohannon and even linebacker Curt Maggitt, who plays on the defensive line in UT's pass-likely nickel package, all will have a hand in trying to limit an offense that Dooley has heaped endless praise upon throughout the week.

"You've got to have at least eight guys ready to go into battle each week," Miller said. "We have to prepare ourselves and be ready to work."

Even after a performance where the defensive line put a steady dose of pressure on Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson and didn't surrender much of anything on the ground, Dooley said he wasn't ready to anoint UT's group as one that can be relied upon week in and week out.

There's strength in numbers, sure, but numbers, alone, don't always mean that it's a strength.

"It helps us to have a lot of guys, but part of the reason we do that is because we don't have a lot of really good guys," Dooley said. "It allows you to play more. Especially with these spread teams, there's so much lateral running and chasing the ball.

"You've got to keep fresh guys in there."

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 » 22

ThaiVolFan writes:

"There is strength in numbers, but numbers aren't always a strength"
Gotta love coach Dooley.
We are better this year on the defensive line, how much better is the question. We will find out how much better on Saturday. I hope we have a good showing on national television. GBO

nocleats writes:

All the more reason to go and recruit more D tackles, as in 3-5 of em

dvols writes:

like Montana's D-line

VOLliven2it writes:

Hey no matter who the opponent is, spread o or not, defensive players were made to get after it every play every time they are in the game. I hope we see that and see the qb on his hind side numerous times. GO BIG ORANGE!

xvolx writes:

They better improve, because; Cinn. is a much better team than Mont.. Collaros is a very good QB. Can pass or run. I'm afraid the def. I saw Sat. can't handle Cinn. Just my opinion. Hope I'm wrong.
The good news is that we have cannon for QB and very good receivers. Just have to outscore them I'm afraid.

tovolny writes:

Teams have learned to play the spread on first & 10 and 2nd & long or 3rd & long. Defending short yardage where the QB can opt to run and dive, or flip the 3 to 4 yard gainer makes life difficult along the line of scrimmage. Cases in point: what were the odds of Tebow or Cam Newton picking up 3rd and short against anybody? Every single person in the stadium and watching on TV knew who would carry the ball or successfully flip the ball like a wad of paper in the trash can. Any decent athletic QB can execute the dang thing about as easy as Tim and Cam. What made Tim and Cam standout was the fact that they might turn the short yardage play into a 49 yard romp. If it is 3rd and short, the defense might be better off just to let it go and defend against the romp. Bringing extra people to the front will just compound the difficulty. John Adams of KNS is probably the only body in Knoxville that knows how to defend 3rd and short. Chief Chavis explained it to him but John ain't telling nobody. He gets off on watching the Vols screw this up. Rushing the QB and blitzing doesn't matter, because with the spread, the QB is in a hurry as soon as the ball is snapped anyway. It is usually best to try to keep as many people as possible to the outside and attack from the flanks. The bad thing with this is that it gives the QB just enough time to hit that 15 to 20 yard toss down the middle. The spread doesn't need much reading of the defense involved and the right reactions just happens almost like magic.

Does anybody have any ideas on how to stop the 3rd and short? My suggestion is to line up anywhere and attack the spread guys with brute force . Since we are more athletic, bigger, faster, more talented, and better coached --- we need to play like a bunch of ticked off red necked hillbillies. Hit somebody, tackle somebody and make them feel the LARGE ORANGE...doesn't matter if a player has the ball or not....just hunt down the first opposing player you come to tackle him as hard as you can. If all eleven of us each tackle somebody, then the defense is simplified. If each defender were assigned a particular opposing player to tackle the odds would be on our side. If the tackle is missed, the odds are 11 to 1 that he didn't have the ball anyway. Lets call this the Simplified Defense. Two options: (man to man) or (anybody).

Red Necks RULE !!!!!!

BruisedOrange writes:

in response to xvolx:

They better improve, because; Cinn. is a much better team than Mont.. Collaros is a very good QB. Can pass or run. I'm afraid the def. I saw Sat. can't handle Cinn. Just my opinion. Hope I'm wrong.
The good news is that we have cannon for QB and very good receivers. Just have to outscore them I'm afraid.

Biggest improvement in a season at all levels is from game 1 to game 2. You can multiply that by a factor because of how young we are at every position. Also because of that youth, we will continue to improve throughout the season (as injuries allow).

There's little more satisfying to watch than a rebuilding season with young, talented studs. Watching low expectations be exceeded is always more fun than seeing high expectations barely met.

This season and next could be the most enjoyable Vol fans will have for the next 20 years. The season after that, when all these sophomores are seniors... our expectations will be so high that we'll be more nervous than excited, and every win will merely earn a "Whew" instead of a "YahHoooo!"

hateNCloveTN writes:

Cincinnati is probably a better ball team but, Montana had some quality linemen on both sides of the ball. That was obvious in the lack of success in our running game. Their defensive line was not only large but experienced. I think our running game will improve on Saturday.

gatorstomper writes:

STOMP A BEAR CAT. GO BIG ORANGE! SMITH is a man and he anit even 40.

gatorstomper writes:

in response to SpongeBobOrangePantz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I think I like it. Man oh Man nothin like getin to sing rocky top a the Generals place!

govolsrpa writes:

Cincy playing Austin Peay hurts them, Cincy scout team is better. They give up over 50pts a game in OVC. We should see this play out Saturday when TN keeps hitting them in the mouth all game long.

BigOrange37825 writes:

I gues I'll add my 2 cents worth also. I saw a lot of good things from the Montana game amd some things that made me wonder.Why did we have such a hard time running the ball? Maybe because of Montana putting 8 in the box..having experienced linemen...decent linebackers..all of the above? Maybe I saw a young defense make good, fast plays, running to the ball well and gang tackling. Also saw many mistakes from the D-line against the spread. Several times J. Smith and C. Maggit were fooled into going after the running back hitting the line as the quarterback ran past them to the outside. Inexperience...a little too fired up...maybe As someone said earlier this is a young team and is going to be fun watching them grow up. I think this Cincinnati team will be a much better measure of where we are, not only because of them having more talent than Montana but because it is game 2. We need to see an improvement from game 1 to game 2...and I think we will. GO BIG ORANGE

NOthgif writes:

I was able to get the Montana game online. Judging by what I saw there was nothing to be alarmed about. It looked like a typical first game to me. I watched alot of college football Saturday and not too many teams blew away the competition. Even my beloved Trojans struggled with Minnesota. Cincy scored alot of points against a very very very weak opponent. I don't see Cincy doing very much against your defense. As long as your DB's play smart you will do fine. Your DL should be strong enough to stop the run, however, they need to apply the pressure. Maybe TN defense didn't open up the books against Montana because I didn't see too many blitz's dialed up, and when they did blitz they disrupted Montana. So as a whole I don't see a problem this week against Cincy. However, I digress and will continue to Fight ON!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to NOthgif:

I was able to get the Montana game online. Judging by what I saw there was nothing to be alarmed about. It looked like a typical first game to me. I watched alot of college football Saturday and not too many teams blew away the competition. Even my beloved Trojans struggled with Minnesota. Cincy scored alot of points against a very very very weak opponent. I don't see Cincy doing very much against your defense. As long as your DB's play smart you will do fine. Your DL should be strong enough to stop the run, however, they need to apply the pressure. Maybe TN defense didn't open up the books against Montana because I didn't see too many blitz's dialed up, and when they did blitz they disrupted Montana. So as a whole I don't see a problem this week against Cincy. However, I digress and will continue to Fight ON!

Good points. Other articles on Cincy say that they have always scored a lot of points, but, last year especially, they also give up a lot. In that regard, having all their starters back on defense could be a worrisome sign, in that they will be more experienced and have more cohesion in their second year under the--I guess--new defensive staff. The other side of that coin is that they have a lot of guys back who gave up a lot of points! I think Cincy will be hard to stop if they have the ball a lot, so the onus is on the Vol offense to keep the ball and score a lot themselves. In this, an improved running game is crucial.

gatorstomper writes:

The O-line I watched saturday was much improved. Remember last year? Tyler does'nt cause he was getting his brains beat in. They had two sacks because Tyler was wanting another TD! and did'nt get rid of the ball. But the running game needs to improve I will give yall that. Just one thing at a time O.K.? I do'nt care what you say im not scared of a bear/cat. VOL FOR LIFE

givehim6 writes:

in response to govolsrpa:

Cincy playing Austin Peay hurts them, Cincy scout team is better. They give up over 50pts a game in OVC. We should see this play out Saturday when TN keeps hitting them in the mouth all game long.

I know there are many in Volland that are concerned because Cincy is a step up from Montana (me too). But we need to think in these terms, I think the bearcats face a bigger step up going from Austin Peay to UT! We are UT, GO VOLS!

snakeplissken writes:

Vols will win by 17, maybe more!

givehim6 writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Do not know why but you know how a person looks when there about to cry but try to put on a game face to look tough? I think his voice cracked a few times, ye he is scared.

Volunatic writes:

in response to givehim6:

I know there are many in Volland that are concerned because Cincy is a step up from Montana (me too). But we need to think in these terms, I think the bearcats face a bigger step up going from Austin Peay to UT! We are UT, GO VOLS!

True. I'm pretty sure Montana would beat APSU comfortably.

GONAVY writes:

This board is naturally filled with "homers". Fact is, this game is a toss up. Should be great to watch. Lots of points scored.

Shake_Bake writes:

in response to SpongeBobOrangePantz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Your right that is an interesting stat! Cincy is better than Montana,...but we are much better than AP!

I think we win it and go to take on the Gators with two wins under our belt. Just my opinion.

tdforvols writes:

in response to GONAVY:

This board is naturally filled with "homers". Fact is, this game is a toss up. Should be great to watch. Lots of points scored.

Vols by double digits! Book it.

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