Tennessee Primer: The Defense

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Tennessee will bring a young, small defense to the Georgia Dome to face the Hokies on New Year’s Eve. However, don’t let their youth and size fool you. This is a capable defense that is coached by NFL legend Monte Kiffin, and they’ve played well this year despite some tough injuries.

The main problems have come at the middle linebacker position. Starter Nick Reveiz went down with a torn ACL during the Ohio game, Tennessee’s fourth game of the season. He was regarded as the emotional leader of the Vol defense. He was replaced by Savion Frazier, who went down with the exact same injury four games later against South Carolina.

For the last four games of the season, Tennessee has started r-freshman Herman Lathers (6-1, 213, r-Fr.) at the middle linebacker spot. Lathers is undersized and young, and he’s a dropoff from Reveiz and Frazier. The Tennessee run defense has not been as strong over the last four games with Lathers in the starting lineup.

In the first eight games of the season, Tennessee allowed only 107.75 yards per game on the ground. Over the last four games, with Lathers in the starting lineup, the Vols gave up an average of 213.25 rushing yards. That includes 359 yards to Ole Miss, and 210 yards to a Memphis team that finished the season by firing their head coach.

While the rushing defense has been bad at times, the pass defense has been excellent. Tennessee has allowed less than 200 yards passing in nine of their 12 games this year. They have intercepted nine passes, and allowed only five passing touchdowns. It is extremely difficult to throw the football against a Monte Kiffin defense.

Now, it’s time for a quick look at the Tennessee defensive personnel.

Defensive Line

For the most part, Tennessee’s defensive line is small. However, they do have the luxury of starting perhaps the best defensive tackle in the country that you’ve never heard of. Dan Williams (6-3, 327, r-Sr.) is the best player in the Tennessee front seven, and one of the Top 50 NFL Draft prospects on most boards. Depending on team needs, he could sneak into the late first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Williams leads all defensive linemen in tackles with 61, and he is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 8.5. He is a disruptor, and he plays the right defensive tackle position for Tennessee. That means he’ll be matched up with Sergio Render, Virginia Tech’s most physical run blocker. This will be a critical matchup