Once you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. That’s the mindset of the Tennessee defense entering the 2013 season.
The Vols were horrendous against opposing offenses last year, ranking 107th overall in total defense. Tennessee allowed an average of 471.33 yards per game and a total of 53 touchdowns during its 5-7 (1-7) finish. However, Vols fans should be optimistic in the team’s chances for improvement this season.
One major factor is the absence of former defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. Despite entering with high expectations, the former Alabama assistant was a horrible fit for Tennessee. Sunseri lasted just one season in Knoxville and was responsible for one of the worst defenses in the program’s history. His 3-4 scheme was complex; however, it did little to confuse opposing offenses.
John Jancek, who elected to follow new head coach Butch Jones from Cincinnati, will take the reins of the Tennessee defense. Jancek guided the Bearcats’ defense to a top-20 ranking in defensive scoring during the past two seasons.
In 2011, Cincinnati ranked first in tackles for loss (8.62 per game) and second in sacks (3.46). Jancek also has prior SEC coaching experience, serving as a linebackers coach with Georgia from 2005 to 2008 before being promoted to co-defensive coordinator in 2009. Under Jancek, the Vols will return to the more familiar 4-3 scheme. Tennessee will also return a more experienced team than that of recent years.
The Vols’ preseason depth chart includes six projected senior starters, along with three competing for playing time. Tennessee also has four returning juniors with playing experience listed as starters. A.J. Johnson will be the driving force of the Tennessee defense. Johnson led the SEC with 138 total tackles and an average of 11.5 per game.
Tennessee also boasts a defensive line made up entirely of returning seniors. Jacques Smith moves from the 3-4 outside linebacker position to left defensive end, and he is expected to be one of the Vols’ top pass-rushers.
The Vols will benefit greatly from a move back to their previous 4-3 scheme this season. They will also field a much more experienced team that has seen its share of playing time against top-tier SEC opponents.
Tennessee will likely see a major improvement defensively this season.