Fall Camp Standouts: The Defense

Aug 19, 2013

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By Brian Rice

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- As fall camp wraps up and game week preparation starts for the Tennessee Volunteers on Thursday, UTSports.com caught up with the UT assistant coaches to get their thoughts on who has stood out most at each position on the field.

In the first of a two-part series, the defensive coaches chime in to give a preview of Tennessee in 2013.

The Tennessee defense is a unit that will be among the most watched in the Southeastern Conference in 2013, not necessarily because expectations are high. After a rocky 2012 season, the attention on the defense is focused on making consistent improvement. Appropriate then, that the word "consistent" was the one most spoken as the defensive coaches met the media.

Defensive coordinator John Jancek said he has been impressed most by players at the linebacker position, including senior Dontavis Sapp, who has drawn praise from the coaching staff since day one.

"Dontavis Sapp has been very consistent throughout camp," Jancek said. "I like the way he is playing right now. A.J. (Johnson]) has done a great job of getting better and being more vocal. I am happy with his consistency."

But it was another linebacker that drew the most praise from Jancek.

"Brent Brewer. I am going to be honest with you, when we left in the spring I really wasn't sure because we moved him from a safety. In the spring we were really concerned about how he was going to fit in at linebacker and he has done a really good job. He has really worked hard. I am really proud of Brent."

Brewer, who recorded 27 tackles from the safety position in 2012 while making a comeback from a knee injury that ended his 2011 season prematurely, made the shift to linebacker in the spring. His position coach, Tommy Thigpen, also singled out Brewer's development in making the move.

"He's being really physical," Thigpen said of the area of Brewer's game that had impressed him most. "He comes out every day, doesn't say much, just works. It takes a little bit of time when you're used to being backed up 12 yards off the ball, everything happens a little slower. Now, you're five yards off the ball, a yard off the ball, depending on the front you're in. That's a lot faster and your eyes have to be disciplined. He's still learning what to do with his eyes and his hands, but he comes every day with a good attitude and asks all the right questions"

Up front, defensive line coach Steve Stripling has been impressed with the work of Corey Miller, again stressing the consistency that every coach on the staff has been looking for on a daily basis.

"Miller is the young man that has probably been the most consistent," Stripling said. "Every day, he's got energy and every day his play is consistent. A lot of the other guys have good times, but then they're had bad times, it's been a little bit rocky. Corey has really put it out there every day."

The consistency extends beyond just his effort in position work, and to his development as a leader.

"One of my messages to the kids all the time is what I term `outward focus,'" Stripling said. "You're playing the game for the guys lined up next to you. To get young men that have enough energy to reach over and say `hey, let's get this accomplished,' that outward focus, Corey is one of those guys."

In the defensive backfield, both Jancek and DB coach Willie Martinez noted the play of Justin Coleman and Brian Randolph.

"On a consistent basis, it's been Justin Coleman and Brian Randolph," he said. "Some of the guys have had some nicks here and there and missed a practice, but those two guys have been the most consistent."

Jancek took the time to single out one final player on the defensive said, one that was a player mentioned by head coach Butch Jones as perhaps the team's most important in the opening press conference in July.

"I'll say it, we'll be as good as Daniel McCullers goes," Jones said on day one.

"McCullers is a big body inside but he has to give us more in terms of being a three down defensive tackle instead of a first and second down guy," Jancek said. "We have to continue to rotate guys in there and keep bringing those guys along."





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