Tennessee’s secondary looking good

Monday, April 7, 2008 at 1:39am

KNOXVILLE — At first glance, John Chavis may not appear to be the nimblest of men. As a matter of fact, a second, third and fourth glance probably won’t help his cause either.

But the Tennessee defensive coordinator displayed his best Deion Sanders-like high step Saturday as he celebrated one of five interceptions his unit recorded in the 100-play scrimmage inside Neyland Stadium.

“I think that’s our motivation,” sophomore Eric Berry joked. “He always says before a practice or scrimmage or before a game that he wants to do his high step. We just try to take one back to the house for him so he can do it.”

Chavis got his wish when sophomore Dennis Rogan stepped in front of a Jonathan Crompton pass and scampered 82 yards to paydirt. Crompton, who is expected to be UT’s starter in fall, finished the scrimmage 10-of-18 for 108 yards but was picked off three times.

Cornerback DeAngelo Willingham found himself on the receiving end of two of Crompton’s attempts, while Berry and fellow safety Demetrice Morley made their presence felt throughout, as the defense remained one step ahead of the Tennessee offense.

“That was a total butt-kicking from the standpoint of the offense not taking care of the football and not having sustained drives,” Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. “There were a couple series there where we got some things going, but it was definitely the defense’s day.”

New UT offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said roughly two-thirds of his scheme is installed — with 90 percent expected by next weekend’s scrimmage. The former Richmond coach expressed concern over decision-making but was pleased with the speed at which his unit played.

“When you go against good players, it’s hard to make plays,” Clawson said. “Hopefully, that is something that will help us in the fall. We know we have a talented secondary, and if we can find a way to throw the ball against that group then there will be a lot of teams in the fall we will have success against.”

The offense did boast an occasional bright spot. Running back Arian Foster carried the ball nine times for 45 yards, and Ahmad Paige finished with seven catches for 73 yards. Backup quarterback Nick Stephens showed signs of life after a disappointing scrimmage a week ago by going 9-of-14 for 92 yards Saturday.

But it was the defense that stole the show. Morley and former Farragut High School star Nick Reveiz finished tied for the lead in tackles with six, and defensive end Robert Ayers accounted for two sacks.

Yet no matter how many statistics Reveiz, Ayers and rest of the front seven racked up, the talk following the Vols’ second major scrimmage of the spring was the secondary.

“That makes us feel real good,” Willingham said of the attention. “But we don’t fall back on all the compliments. We try to work on other stuff. We watch film together and just try to get on the same page so we can be that secondary that people talk about.”

MARYVILLE MISSILE: Former Maryville High School star Tyler Maples hauled in one of the few touchdowns the Tennessee offense could muster Saturday. Maples leaped over a defender and caught a 36-yard pass for a score.

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