KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee’s run defense was historically bad last season.
The Vols allowed 218.5 rushing yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry. Tennessee allowed four of its last six SEC opponents to rush for at least 350 yards. Three had more than 400.
Injuries took a toll, but so did missed tackles and misalignments. Any coach will tell you it’s tough to win if you can’t contain the run game. That is Tennessee’s No. 1 challenge this season.
“Stopping the run, to me, is always the No. 1 thing you have to do (on defense),” Tennessee defensive line coach Brady Hoke said. “And you’re not going to stop the run unless everybody understands where the fits are and what different strengths and weakness each defensive call may have.”
Tennessee’s run defense was 11th in the SEC. The team that won the West, Alabama, allowed a mere 63.9 rush yards per game. Florida, which won the East, allowed 144.5 per game. Alabama and Florida combined to surrender 21 rushing touchdowns. Tennessee gave up 28.
Can you make drastic improvement in run defense from one year to the next? Hoke is hopeful.
“The whole thing about the defensive line, in my opinion, philosophically, is the toughness that they have because if you’re going to win a championship, you’re going to win with guys you’ve got up front on both sides of the ball,” Hoke said. “We’ve got to be very intense, have a purpose every day … to improve. We’ve got a ton of work to do.”
But does Hoke have the personnel to get it done? Remember, the Vols lost school career sacks leader Derek Barnett as well as two other productive ends, LaTroy Lewis and Corey Vereen.
“Not to dodge the question, but I think it’s hard for me to say that,” Hoke said. “Obviously you go back and look at tape before some of these guys got injured and you see (tackle) Shy Tuttle doing some really good things and you see (tackle) Kahlil McKenzie doing some good things. You see (tackle Kendal) Vickers doing some good things. …
“I’m encouraged. I’m excited about this group. I’m excited about the guys coming back and I’m excited about some of the young guys coming in.”
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