There's more to playing good defense than limiting the opponent's yards and points. Tennessee discovered as much last November against a Kentucky team forced to play a wide receiver at quarterback due to injuries.
Vol defenders limited the Wildcats to 217 total yards and one touchdown but couldn't pry the ball away from the Big Blue, which dominated the second-half clock 19 minutes and 11 seconds to 10:49 en route to a 10-7 victory.
Ultimately, the 2011 Big Orange defense stopped the Wildcats from piling up first downs and yards but didn't stop them from controlling the ball and winning the game.
Head coach Derek Dooley is determined that won't happen to his team again, which is why Tennessee will play a much more aggressive style of defense in 2012. Fans may have noticed defensive backs giving less cushion and playing tighter coverage in the Orange & White Game.
"That goes with the overall change in philosophy," Dooley said recently. "It's something we were going to go to no matter who the coordinator was."
Although 2010-11 defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left of his own accord to take the same position at the University of Washington, Dooley was unhappy with Tennessee's inability to secure takeaways last fall. The 2011 Vols forced just 18 turnovers (9 fumbles, 9 interceptions), ranking 10th among the 12 SEC teams in that critical category.
One reason Dooley hired former Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri as the new coordinator is his willingness to take some chances in order to force some mistakes.
"We weren't getting enough big plays, so I wanted us to be aggressive," Dooley said. "When I say we're going to play with more aggressiveness, it doesn't mean we're going to blitz every down. It just means we're going to get in their face, put our hands on 'em."
Tennessee has all new coaches on defense this season. Sunseri is overseeing linebackers, and former Alabama aide Derrick Ansley is overseeing cornerbacks. Josh Conklin is working with safeties and John Palermo is working with linemen. All are stressing the need to attack and disrupt, not merely read and react.
"I think we have coaches who can coach that technique and not be afraid of it," Dooley said. "That's the biggest thing: Instead of being nervous about the risk, if we coach it the right way and the players execute their techniques right, it's not any more risky and it gets a lot more done."
The 3-4 base defense Sunseri is installing should enable Tennessee to exhibit more wrinkles, use more disguises and wreak more havoc in 2012. The installation process reportedly is progressing nicely.
"It's going good," Dooley said. "We spent probably the first couple of weeks (of spring ball) really getting a handle on our personnel, then used the next couple of weeks to slot 'em in the right spots. It's still a work in progress but we feel like we're in a good place."
To hear Sunseri speak with media following a practice this spring, click play on the video below:
Talkin' the coaching game with Sal Sunseri from InsideTennessee on Vimeo.