John Adams: No change too extreme on defense

John Adams
Troy running back Shawn Southward (20) carries the ball against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Tennessee defeated Troy 55-48. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Troy running back Shawn Southward (20) carries the ball against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Tennessee defeated Troy 55-48. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Derek Dooley's defensive philosophy

Tennessee plans to change its defensive approach for Saturday's game with Missouri. Finally, there's something that should have unanimous fan approval.

The Vols just gave up 48 points to Troy. They rank 112th in total defense and 115th in pass defense.

So any change should be applauded.

Try two players on the line and six in the secondary. Or six on the line and two in the secondary. Let the other three guys form a human pyramid.

At this juncture, nothing should be regarded as too extreme.

Putting the defense somewhat back together was the subject of coach Derek Dooley's Monday media conference. He said he will devote all of his attention to the defense this week, which qualifies as a drastic shift for a coach who usually concerns himself more with offense and special teams.

Since he's also calling for more input, I have a suggestion: Call former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Offer him his old job back. Double whatever he's making at the University of Washington.

I'm not talking about for next season. I mean right now.

Maybe the Vols couldn't have done anything to keep Wilcox at the end of last season, but they could have maintained a similar system, especially since the large majority of starters returned from his defense that ranked 27th nationally.

Those defenders might not be starters on a team like Alabama's. But they're better than what they have shown in first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's system.

Consider what the Vols had coming back on defense.

Five down linemen with at least three career starts and two who had started eight games last season. Two of those starters were beaten out by junior college transfers Darrington Sentimore and Daniel McCullers, so it's reasonable to assume the front line should have been both better and deeper.

Their returning linebacking corps consisted of four players who started at least eight games. Three of them — Herman Lathers, Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson — made the All-SEC freshman team in their first season. Johnson was a freshman All-American last season, and Maggitt was a third-team freshman All-American.

Seven defensive backs had started at least two games before this season. Five had started seven or more. Prentiss Waggner, who made second-team All-SEC in 2010, had 25 starts. Marsalis Teague had 21.

All the experience in the secondary makes you wonder why many players look so lost so often. You could wonder as much about the rest of the defense, which sometimes seems so slow to react that you think you are watching a slow-motion replay even when you're at the stadium.

Eight of the defensive players who started against

Troy were four-star recruits. After the worst defensive showing in school history, you might question every one of those stars.

There's too much evidence to the contrary, though. And there are too many reasons to believe this is more about coaches than players.

Dooley hasn't stood pat during the defensive debacle. He already has simplified the scheme. Now, he's adding his own brain, to the defensive brain trust as the Vols contemplate schematic changes for the last three games.

But if there's still room for one more defensive strategist, don't forget about Wilcox. Maybe he would give the Vols a few minutes as a consultant.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 66

fearthehound writes:

If there is any one person you might be able to point to as the one who presided over Dooley"s undoing (assuming he loses one of the next three games), I would have to say it was Wilcox. With what we had coming back on defense from last year and what our offense is capable of this year, things could have been a lot different.

asleep#212036 writes:

With last year's defense we are at least 7-2 and staring down a big NYD bowl game, likely at 10-2. Dooley would be SEC coach of the year and talking with Mr. Hart about a raise and an extension. Don't know how hard Dooley tried to keep Wilcox but that's not the biggest issue. With eight 4-star players returning to a defense that ranked 27th nationally last year, why in the world would you want to change the scheme, especially with your coaching seat nice and warm and your career in Knoxville in jeopardy? Dooley made that call and it probably will cost him his job. Go Vols!!!

nocleats writes:

The biggest change our defense has can be solved with recruiting some mean arse studs who can play the game mad and dirty,, We need some 5 star studs out there on D line and secondary and give me a LB who wants to hurt somebody on purpose!

snafu14u#241639 writes:

Almost a good article....almost. Except for the smart-mouth about bringing Wilcox back he's right on. I was pleased with Wilcox and thought he had a future in the SEC. I understood his relationship with the Huskie coach and closer to home stuff, but there's more to it than that. And I think it's a reasonable assumption to believe that we would have been as good and maybe better this year. That's why the hire of Sunseri and the switch to the 3-4 was a real shock based on the talent at hand. A miscalculation that will most likely cost some jobs/cash. I do not understand AD Dave Hart's role in all this. BonzaiVol

volaholic45 writes:

Human pyramid, eh? It's a crazy idea - so crazy it might just work! It should help keep the guys on the bottom from jumping offsides, and increasing the number of passes batted down will be a sign of real progress. Sure, the human pyramid defense is vulnerable on the edges and over the top, but heck - we're vulnerable on the edges and over the top now. And it will definitely get us on ESPN.

No wait, nevermind. No way to get it installed in time for the next three games - it would take several years of breathtaking failure before the innovation started paying off.

RollTideJoe writes:

in response to nocleats:

The biggest change our defense has can be solved with recruiting some mean arse studs who can play the game mad and dirty,, We need some 5 star studs out there on D line and secondary and give me a LB who wants to hurt somebody on purpose!

Playing hard is one thing. But, saying you want someone to be dirty and hurt people is getting right back to the thug mentality that contributed to getting the program where it is today. It's like an Alfred McCullough mentality. He was a thug. You need to watch an attitude like yours. How would you like it if opposing teams purposely tried to hurt your players? There's a difference in hard play and dirty play, man.

jack4444 writes:

With a high powered offense Dooley didn't like the 12 and 16 play drives Wilcox's passive "bend but don't break" defense allowed.

Dooley envisioned a defense like the NCar St game- yea some big plays given up but 4 interceptions, a good pass rush and some decent tackling.

He was wrong.

UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST writes:

in response to RollTideJoe:

Playing hard is one thing. But, saying you want someone to be dirty and hurt people is getting right back to the thug mentality that contributed to getting the program where it is today. It's like an Alfred McCullough mentality. He was a thug. You need to watch an attitude like yours. How would you like it if opposing teams purposely tried to hurt your players? There's a difference in hard play and dirty play, man.

Remember Joe....you're dealing with ut fans here. Not the brightest bunch of football fans on the planet.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I can't blame our defense on someone who isn't here. Wilcox was never a VFL I guess.

We have to blame D on the person in charge of the D. I wish I understood D's better myself. I don't understand 3-4 and don't see why it has to be. I don't care what Saban likes. I don't understand letting someone run up the middle all night. BUT we did maybe learn a little about containment on the edges.lol
Our pass coverage has been bad all year and other teams know it. So I don't understand why they don't throw every play? At least the good offenses with the pro qbs ought to throw every down.

The only plus for these bad defenses is it makes offenses look great. INCLUDING ones that aren't so great.(UT's IS great)

volsfaithful writes:

So what to do with CSS.... From a personal point of view he must be having sleepless nights. If I were him and wanted to extend my coaching career, I might think about negotiating a package and walking away. Do the right thing. Tennessee would more than likely give him some of his buyout to just plain quit - it would help UT, it would strongly help CDD, and it would help CSS future job search. Oh, and I liked Wilcox, but I supported getting CSS - I did have my doubts about where he was on the career tree, but figured if he wasn't any good, he would not have been on Saban's staff. Hmmmm. That is why I am not the AD I guess....

underthehill writes:

The only sensible way to improve the UT defense is let the players have input in why they are not getting it done and ASK them what they think will help..with the number of returning players..I agree w/Adams..they should be better this year on defense than last year.. it seemed to me last year many times players were in position to make plays and just didn't..this year they are not even in position to have a chance to make a play..

volinlm writes:

in response to volsfaithful:

So what to do with CSS.... From a personal point of view he must be having sleepless nights. If I were him and wanted to extend my coaching career, I might think about negotiating a package and walking away. Do the right thing. Tennessee would more than likely give him some of his buyout to just plain quit - it would help UT, it would strongly help CDD, and it would help CSS future job search. Oh, and I liked Wilcox, but I supported getting CSS - I did have my doubts about where he was on the career tree, but figured if he wasn't any good, he would not have been on Saban's staff. Hmmmm. That is why I am not the AD I guess....

Being a good mechanic doesn't make you a good shop foreman; being a good salesman doesn't make you a good manager. Likewise, being a good linebackers coach doesn't make you a good DC. Sal may well be over his head. Maybe he would take a lesser role and stay on. He obviously has a lot to contribute. But, like any good manager, Dooley has to try something else...good or bad..to get the Vols to play up to their potential on defense. We still need more speed in the secondary!

laraccoon writes:

it aint rocket science , they are poorly coached to do what they are supposed to do. the only teams who had any trouble with our defense played us early before they could exploit it by watching film ,now we are fair game on D with coaches who are unable to adjust and getting paid for it .

underthehill writes:

in response to UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST:

Remember Joe....you're dealing with ut fans here. Not the brightest bunch of football fans on the planet.

I think you may have described yourself by passing judgement on UT fans based on a comment by one person..in fact the UT fans are very knowledgeable and are the strongest asset of the athletic program at UT..not the stadium and/or the facilities..not the coaching staff..certainly not the inept administration..but a passionate fan base that loves and understands what it takes to have a competitive football team..now if you want to talk about the worst adm a school can possible have..you might be onto something...

rangercoa writes:

The only thing on the field that can score is the ball. To play good defense, you have to stop the ball. In order to do that, you have to know where the ball is and what it's doing. Watch the ball at all times and don't chase players who are not going to get it.

Clarkrm0706 writes:

"Let the other three guys form a human pyramid." lol.

ivyvol writes:

in response to volaholic45:

Human pyramid, eh? It's a crazy idea - so crazy it might just work! It should help keep the guys on the bottom from jumping offsides, and increasing the number of passes batted down will be a sign of real progress. Sure, the human pyramid defense is vulnerable on the edges and over the top, but heck - we're vulnerable on the edges and over the top now. And it will definitely get us on ESPN.

No wait, nevermind. No way to get it installed in time for the next three games - it would take several years of breathtaking failure before the innovation started paying off.

The human pyramid was used by Cornell in the 60's in a game against Princeton in an effort to block Charlie Gogolak's field goal attempt. It was subsequently outlawed.

15_counting writes:

It is sad that Tennessee had such struggles on defense this year. While I'm a true Bama fan and have had my fair share of the UT/Bama rivalry poking fun back and forth I don't like seeing Tennessee struggle as they have this year. Don't get me wrong I never want to lose to Tennessee but it's much more fun when it's competetive. (Not as competetive as this past week in Baton Rouge however). I agree with an earlier post. Tennessee would be seeing different results with any defense at all!

eb502us#225637 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

volaholic45 writes:

in response to ivyvol:

The human pyramid was used by Cornell in the 60's in a game against Princeton in an effort to block Charlie Gogolak's field goal attempt. It was subsequently outlawed.

Dang. Back to the drawing board.

Mr_Brownstone writes:

"Eight of the defensive players who started against Troy were four-star recruits."

hueypilot writes:

in response to underthehill:

I think you may have described yourself by passing judgement on UT fans based on a comment by one person..in fact the UT fans are very knowledgeable and are the strongest asset of the athletic program at UT..not the stadium and/or the facilities..not the coaching staff..certainly not the inept administration..but a passionate fan base that loves and understands what it takes to have a competitive football team..now if you want to talk about the worst adm a school can possible have..you might be onto something...

Maybe he should have confined his judgement to "some of the people who post here" Then he would have been right on the money.

ivyvol writes:

in response to volaholic45:

Dang. Back to the drawing board.

They didn't ban an upside down pyramd.

Rumblefish writes:

in response to rangercoa:

The only thing on the field that can score is the ball. To play good defense, you have to stop the ball. In order to do that, you have to know where the ball is and what it's doing. Watch the ball at all times and don't chase players who are not going to get it.

Thanks John Madden.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Troy had a very good Oline but our front four were pitiful!! As a whole they made 4 tackles and had ZERO sacks..Sentimore is the only one that plays with any heart..McCuller has an occasional good game but he's not seen a lot of double teams and is basically a guy just taking up space! The back ups are even worse! Fowkles and Hood had big springs but them along with Miller have produced SQUAT..We might be missing Chuck more than we will ever know and I doubt Wilcox could do much to fix these guys

BufordTJustice writes:

The self serving cowardice of denying any involvement or plans to do so with the defense (has been asked after each game for the last 4 weeks).......until Troy was in rear view mirror. NOW, with the 3 WORST offenses on our schedule left, he says he's devoting 100% of his attention to the defense. What an insult to our intelligence.
Dooley's thought process for last several weeks.... Deny any involvement with historically bad defense until we get past Troy. THEN, proclaim 100% involvement from this point forward. Since the last 3 teams we face have struggled on offense all season, I'll really look like I'm a heck of a coach since our ypg and ppg allowed will decrease significantly with the aid of my coaching brilliance on that side of the ball! This will definitely buy me another year of this undeserved salary because, although they're an all-time top 10 program, these fans won't be smart enough to figure out how I just played them. I might even say that now that I've built us into an offensive powerhouse with Lane Kiffin's qb recruit, I will now devote next year to build off of this miraculous defensive turnaround I'm personally responsible for. They can NEVER fire me.... just like Momma said!! I just hope they don't realize that its November and the current recruiting class is ranked 6 spots below Vanderbilt...good for 11th in SEC. Nahhh... they don't read in Tennessee or they never would have hired me after I had a losing record in the W.A.C. with Louisiana talent. Man, life is GRAND!

pcorange writes:

Whatever you think about Adams, this article hits the nail squarely on the head and highlights just how poorly coached this team has been defensively this season. The performance against Troy should trigger an automatic firing of Sal Sunseri. The fact he is still here, and the fact that Dooley appears to be put out with him, signifies that Hart is probably the one who pushed the Sunseri hire and that he (Hart) is getting just what he wants out of this football team: irrelevancy. As governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam needs to start putting real pressure on the Board of Regents, or whoever is responsible for employing Jimmy Cheek and Dave Hart, and get them out of UT. We need people at Tennessee who care about all phases of Tennessee, including athletics.

pcorange writes:

in response to Mr_Brownstone:

"Eight of the defensive players who started against Troy were four-star recruits."

What more can you say? How many of you still think it is lack of talent?

pcshowtime writes:

in response to BufordTJustice:

The self serving cowardice of denying any involvement or plans to do so with the defense (has been asked after each game for the last 4 weeks).......until Troy was in rear view mirror. NOW, with the 3 WORST offenses on our schedule left, he says he's devoting 100% of his attention to the defense. What an insult to our intelligence.
Dooley's thought process for last several weeks.... Deny any involvement with historically bad defense until we get past Troy. THEN, proclaim 100% involvement from this point forward. Since the last 3 teams we face have struggled on offense all season, I'll really look like I'm a heck of a coach since our ypg and ppg allowed will decrease significantly with the aid of my coaching brilliance on that side of the ball! This will definitely buy me another year of this undeserved salary because, although they're an all-time top 10 program, these fans won't be smart enough to figure out how I just played them. I might even say that now that I've built us into an offensive powerhouse with Lane Kiffin's qb recruit, I will now devote next year to build off of this miraculous defensive turnaround I'm personally responsible for. They can NEVER fire me.... just like Momma said!! I just hope they don't realize that its November and the current recruiting class is ranked 6 spots below Vanderbilt...good for 11th in SEC. Nahhh... they don't read in Tennessee or they never would have hired me after I had a losing record in the W.A.C. with Louisiana talent. Man, life is GRAND!

Great post buffard
I feel the same way Dooley is not the nice guy everyone thinks he is. He is a self serving horses A##.
But now here comes Dooley our hero to save us because we are 112th in defense. He will save us from the powerhouse offenses of
Total offense
109th Mizzu
75th Vandy
120th KY

THANKS DEREK
Where were you 5 weeks ago
if you guys do not see through this bull Shot you need help. I love my school but I would not half way mind seeing James Franklin clean this guys plow.

HHUUMMBBLLEE writes:

Not Wilcoxs' fault ............ Dooleys' fault .............. FIRE THE D@#N LOSER AND MOVE ON.

HHUUMMBBLLEE writes:

in response to pcshowtime:

Great post buffard
I feel the same way Dooley is not the nice guy everyone thinks he is. He is a self serving horses A##.
But now here comes Dooley our hero to save us because we are 112th in defense. He will save us from the powerhouse offenses of
Total offense
109th Mizzu
75th Vandy
120th KY

THANKS DEREK
Where were you 5 weeks ago
if you guys do not see through this bull Shot you need help. I love my school but I would not half way mind seeing James Franklin clean this guys plow.

go candy! ....... D@&N never thought those words would ever pass my lips. The pain is too much,where is dr Kevorcaen when you need him.

JDX47 writes:

I wish everyone would just calm down...didn't you hear, Dooley is going to focus on Defense this week? It will all be ok now, relax.

budd#207344 writes:

We do not need Wilcox. Dooley had Lance Thompson right in front of him but had to go 3-4. CLT worked the linebackers and the D line. Remember how well the D line played last year versus this year? He knew the players, knew the scheme, and got results. This is just one more example of Dooley's arrogance when it comes to football. He had a chance to have a strong season and he personally chose to go to this D. It will end up costing him his job and it has nothing to do with the state of the program when he came. It has to do with his decision making which is weak. CDD has no one to blame but himself when he loses his job.

JDX47 writes:

We can still have a "great" season.

ElCid95Q writes:

Forget Wilcox, maybe Tom Bradley wants something to do for a few months.

volsrfiguy writes:

in response to JDX47:

We can still have a "great" season.

You are either a kid or a complete moron with a statement like that!

formervol1950s writes:

in response to 15_counting:

It is sad that Tennessee had such struggles on defense this year. While I'm a true Bama fan and have had my fair share of the UT/Bama rivalry poking fun back and forth I don't like seeing Tennessee struggle as they have this year. Don't get me wrong I never want to lose to Tennessee but it's much more fun when it's competetive. (Not as competetive as this past week in Baton Rouge however). I agree with an earlier post. Tennessee would be seeing different results with any defense at all!

Classy comment

JDX47 writes:

in response to volsrfiguy:

You are either a kid or a complete moron with a statement like that!

Or highly sarcastic, repeating our excellent coach's comments.

mountainbrook writes:

in response to UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST:

Remember Joe....you're dealing with ut fans here. Not the brightest bunch of football fans on the planet.

Check your mirror if you want to see the dimmest of football fans.

VolFolks writes:

in response to volinlm:

Being a good mechanic doesn't make you a good shop foreman; being a good salesman doesn't make you a good manager. Likewise, being a good linebackers coach doesn't make you a good DC. Sal may well be over his head. Maybe he would take a lesser role and stay on. He obviously has a lot to contribute. But, like any good manager, Dooley has to try something else...good or bad..to get the Vols to play up to their potential on defense. We still need more speed in the secondary!

"...he obviously has a lot to contribute." What are you talkng about?

usafvol writes:

in response to UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST:

Remember Joe....you're dealing with ut fans here. Not the brightest bunch of football fans on the planet.

What do you know about Vol fans butt nugget? You're just a pitiful little troll (probably in high school or umemployed) who only comes on here in a feeble attempt to annoy folks. We all know that we have a bad record and the defense ir horrid as best. It's true we have some fans who appear to be total idiots but most of the posers on here who only post negatively are no more than trolls like yourself..

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to volsfaithful:

So what to do with CSS.... From a personal point of view he must be having sleepless nights. If I were him and wanted to extend my coaching career, I might think about negotiating a package and walking away. Do the right thing. Tennessee would more than likely give him some of his buyout to just plain quit - it would help UT, it would strongly help CDD, and it would help CSS future job search. Oh, and I liked Wilcox, but I supported getting CSS - I did have my doubts about where he was on the career tree, but figured if he wasn't any good, he would not have been on Saban's staff. Hmmmm. That is why I am not the AD I guess....

No. If he wants to extend his career without stepping back down to being a position coach, it is imperative that his defense improves dramatically in year two. If he doesn't get a year two, his entire DC resume, that anybody will know of at least, is an abject failure at UT.

VolFolks writes:

in response to Mr_Brownstone:

"Eight of the defensive players who started against Troy were four-star recruits."

and "coached"? by 1-star coaches !!

Colliervol writes:

I don't question the "stars" on the defense because I still believe there is plenty of talent over there. Except for the secondary which is still a bit slow by SEC standards. What I question is the defensive scheme they tried to implement and the coach who was hired to do it. By all accounts, it has been a miserable failure as has the coach. (Sunseri). One would think that they'd at least be picking some of it up by now but, the best I can tell, they've gotten worse as the season has gone along. And that is a coaching issue, pure and simple.

6972 writes:

We are committed to a defensive change this week. It's called tackling. They are installing it this week into the defensive scheme.

Big_House_of_Ice_Gulp writes:

Sorry if this has been mentioned earlier here or after a previous story but there are a couple of excellent posts on other web-sites by former assistant coach Doug Matthews dealing with why our program is in the shape it's in.

The October 31st Chalk Talk section found under "News" on Volquest has an article that goes into university issues that have changed the landscape of the football program.

On the 104.5 The Zone website there is a podcast link with the Big Orange Sunday show that Matthews hosts which goes very deep into our problems.

I highly recommend going to these if you have not already and see that many changes have to be made before we get our program back to where it belongs.

Here are the links if interested:

http://tennessee.rivals.com/content.a...

http://www.1045thezone.com/sectional....

navarrebeachvol writes:

in response to UTistheOLEMISSoftheEAST:

Remember Joe....you're dealing with ut fans here. Not the brightest bunch of football fans on the planet.

Hey dude, my brother is a UGA grad and is looking for some SEC Champ tickets. You got some to give up? Ahh...who am I kidding, you couldn't scape together $125.00 a ticket. Nevermind.

flatrock writes:

A.J. Johnson is a warrior, no question. But, his fundamentals at ILB are middle-schoolish. Has no clue on how to take on a blocker, especially the center. Does not seem to know where his 'help' is- and constantly takes on the blocker from the wrong angle, inviting the RB to break to the side where there is absolutely nothing but air. Also, those amazingly contact-free runs that we've given up on the goal-line (and from 80 yards out) are a result of him taking bad angles and getting caught up in the inside traffic. Only thing worse are his pass-coverage skills- yuk! All of these problems are fixable- with a little fundamental coaching work. Tell me again- who coaches our LBs?

frblalack writes:

Love my Vols but I have to agree; changing defenses just for the sake of change has not produced results. This was never more clearly evident than the Troy debacle. Draw plays should have been stopped after the first big gain. The Coaches obviously are unable to communicate with the players necessary adjustments. I hope Coach Dooley can get this thing turned around; maybe Coach Sal should just handle the linebackers.

All Vols - All the Time - Vol for Life

jollofran writes:

I will personally buy the Greyhound ticket to send Sal back to Bama.

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