“Actually, it wasn't me,” senior middle linebacker Ellix Wilson said after being credited with two sacks for 14 yards in losses Thursday afternoon at Neyland Stadium. “It was the D-tackles. They were opening the gaps, stretching the protection. We were just doing the things Coach (coordinator John Chavis) wants us to do.”
Although tackles Demonte Bolden and Dan Williams did their jobs by creating pass-rush lanes, Wilson did his job by roaring through those lanes to register the sacks. Even a modest guy can take some credit for that, right? Apparently not.
“It's a blessing from God,” Wilson said, “if you can get in there and have great players around you, and everybody's trying to get to the quarterback.”
Wilson faces the unenviable task of succeeding Jerod Mayo, who led the SEC with 140 tackles last fall and was the 10th player picked in the NFL Draft last April. At 5-10 and 225 pounds, Wilson is small for a middle linebacker but he offsets his lack of size by covering a lot of ground and being a sure-handed tackler. He showcased these skills throughout the three preseason scrimmages. So did his fellow first-team linebackers.
“I think for the most part we tackled well,” Wilson said. “That's something Coach wanted us to do well. We took heed and we got out there and tackled well.”
Wilson and the other first-team defenders had an easier task Thursday than in the two previous scrimmages. After facing the No. 1 offense in Scrimmages 1 and 2, they got to line up against the No. 2 defense in the final dress rehearsal. Wilson said he and his fellow defenders never overlook an opponent, even in a preseason scrimmage.
“We never want to go into a practice or a game like that,” he said. “We just want to do what Coach wanted us to do – play hard every snap – and that's what we're going to do.”
No one plays harder than Ellix Wilson. He may not be Jerod Mayo's equal in size or raw talent but, based on preseason scrimmages, the other defenders are responding favorably to Wilson's leadership skills.
“I think we played pretty well,” he said. “Coach called on us earlier in the week and I think we did a good job.”