Tennessee got almost no pressure on the quarterback in 2006, recording a paltry 17 sacks. The Vols were a little better in '07, registering 24 sacks.
Since most of the pressure comes from the ends, Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis is hoping projected starters Robert Ayers and Wes Brown can push the pocket this fall. He's also hoping a couple of speedy sophomore backups – Ben Martin and Chris Walker – can be impact players on obvious passing downs.
“We've challenged them to be that way,” Chavis said. “Those two guys give us some speed outside that we really, really need.”
Martin (6-3, 245) was rated a five-star prospect and Ohio's high school player of the year when he signed with Tennessee in February of 2007. Conversely, Walker (6-3, 240) was a relatively unsung linebacker from Memphis when he opted for Orange.
Tennessee is working hard to upgrade its pass rush, and the early returns are encouraging. The Vols recorded four sacks in full-scale Scrimmage No. 1, then added four more last Saturday night in Scrimmage No. 2. Best of all, the front four managed to pressure the quarterback on several occasions.
“I thought we did at times,” Chavis recalled. “I thought we were in position to make some plays, and we did make some plays there. You always want to play a little bit better but I thought we got good pressure. I thought our front played pretty well, particularly in the pass game.”
Even when Tennessee's defensive linemen weren't sacking Vol quarterbacks, they were forcing them to hurry throws or throw the ball away. That's progress.
“I do know we had some people showing up, and our pressure was much better than it's been,” Chavis said. “I think we did a good job upfront.”
Martin and Walker will be among the young Vols getting long looks when UT holds its final full-scale scrimmage of the preseason this afternoon. The first snap is due at around 4 p.m. We'll have complete details posted shortly after the scrimmage concludes.