After not playing a snap against Florida in Game 3, Demonte Bolden saw significant action in Game 4 vs. Marshall. He should see even more action this weekend in Game 5 vs. Memphis. The reason? He’s learning to play aggressively without playing recklessly.
“When I first got here I was playing out of control and running,” he said. “Now it’s about helping your backs out, helping your linebackers out. When you take on blocks and do your position, you help your team out.”
A High School All-American at Chattanooga Tyner, Bolden spent a year at prep school (Hargrave Military) before enrolling at Tennessee in 2005. Despite his imposing size (6-6, 290 pounds) and athleticism, he played sparingly last year. He had a so-so spring and never seriously challenged first-teamer Matt McGlothlin in preseason camp.
Asked what has been the most difficult aspect of playing tackle at the college level, Bolden replied “Just maturing into it.”
Like most 6-6 guys, Bolden has trouble staying low and keeping blockers from getting underneath him. He admits that was “a big issue last year,” but that he has worked hard to overcome it.
Bolden also had to overcome a tendency to rely on size, more so than effort and technique. Size was enough at the high school and prep school levels. It isn’t nearly enough to get by at the major college level. He is working harder, though, and putting forth greater effort than in the past.
“Demonte is really playing hard and fast,” head coach Phillip Fulmer noted recently.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis says Bolden has picked up the pace since UT lost Justin Harrell to a season-ending bicep injury two weeks ago. Still, the towering sophomore has a ways to go.
“He’s picked it up a little bit,” Chavis said. “What you’d like to see is young people realizing they never know when they’re going to be called on. You’d like to think they’d go at that pace all the time. If they’d learn to do that they’d be ready to play a lot quicker. The sense of urgency needs to be there all the time.”
Tennessee has produced a number of NFL-caliber tackles in recent years – guys like John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth, Darwin Walker and Rashad Moore. Does Bolden have the tools to reach their level?
“That’s yet to be seen,” Chavis said. “We’ve seen some signs of it but you’ve got to be able to go out and do it on a consistent basis, week to week against some of the best people.”
Weighing heavily in Bolden’s favor is the fact his position coach, Dan Brooks, is the same man who molded Henderson, Hayworth, Walker and Moore into standouts. Perhaps Brooks can bring out the best in Bolden, as well.
“Dan will get it out of him; there’s no question,” Chavis said. “He does a great job with those guys. Bolden’s in good hands, and if he keeps working with the attitude he has, I certainly think he can get there.”
Bolden hopes to “get there” quickly but he knows he has a ways to go. He played so poorly against Air Force in Game 2 that he didn’t see any action at all in Game 3 vs. Florida.
“Basically, I need to improve on making the correct moves and watching the ball,” he conceded. “Against Air Force I didn’t do a very good job of that.”
Asked if he was frustrated about not playing at all against Florida, Bolden shrugged.
“Yes and no,” he said. “I think my coaches know what they’re talking about. I felt good but I’ve got faith in Coach Brooks. If Coach Brooks says I’m not ready for it, then I can understand that.”
With Justin Harrell out for the year, Brooks had no choice but to play Bolden in Game 4 vs. Marshall. Knowing Harrell’s absence left the Vols perilously thin at tackle, Bolden felt challenged to fill the void.
“When Justin left it was like I had to get on the ball to help out,” Bolden noted.” I knew we were kind of slim at the defensive tackle position, and I wanted to contribute.”
Although Harrell is no longer able to play, he’s still able to contribute. He’s working with Bolden and the other young tackles, offering advice and support.
“Justin’s still going to help out, even though he is kind of handicapped,” Bolden said, grinning at the facetious choice of words. “He’s still my big brother. He’s still going to tell me what I need to work on and how to do it.”
Like the other Vols, Bolden was inspired when Harrell postponed his surgery so he could face arch-rival Florida one last time.
“I was proud of him,” Bolden said. “Everybody applauded him before and after practice. If he wanted to play his last collegiate game I wanted to see him do that.”