April 19, 2008

Limited 'D' still shines

For a moment, it was just like old times for Demetrice Morley. Tennessee's junior free safety sighted a wide receiver and then exploded onto his target, an estimated 28,900 fans inside Neyland Stadium marveling at the play.

It was junior teammate Quintin Hancock, and it was just the Orange and White clincher to the Vols' spring drills. But, it was Morley's football instincts taking over and a talent-laden UT secondary sending a message.

"As a defensive back, you don't want no receiver back there catching a ball or anything so that's just an instinct that we're going to have," said Morley, back with the team after a one-year hiatus. "We've got to play aggressive. We are aggressive, and we're going to play aggressive."

But, Morley said, that aggression was slightly misplaced against a teammate.

"Oh man, it felt good. But like I said, I told him that I'm sorry and I didn't mean to," said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Miami native. "It was just flashbacks, you know what I'm saying? It's all fun. The Orange and White game and just having fun. It was just a good hit. It was just a friendly thing, playing football."

Though evaluations were tempered by first-team players going against backups, Tennessee's defense did generate three interceptions against starter Jonathan Crompton and backup Nick Stephens.

"More of what we've seen all spring," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "That secondary is very talented and experienced enough now where they can get themselves in position to make plays."

Morley, Eric Berry and DeAngelo Willingham combined for the picks, but Morley said the unit is far from a finished product.

"Defense, all this spring we've been playing good," said Morley, who has nabbed an interception in virtually every major scrimmage situation and posted the team lead in that category for the spring. "Offense has been playing good. All this spring people have been saying the defense, they think we're real good.

"We're not real good, but we're just going to keep working hard so that we can be real good. We want to be the elite defense this season and be up there and work hard."

Redshirt freshman defensive back Anthony Anderson, who has surged in the last half of spring, led the defense with eight total tackles. Linebackers Rico McCoy, Savion Frazier and Nick Reveiz each tallied seven tackles. Senior Ellix Wilson, preparing for his first season as a starter, closed with five stops.

The unit also began to show signs of building depth, a focal point of spring camp, Fulmer said.

"The second team defensive line kind of through the spring got to where I thought they'd start the spring," said the coach. "Started to understand about giving great effort and playing every down hard. We've still got some real challenges in front of us to get through the summer and we hope to get some of the freshmen in the mix really, really fast that can help us. Whoever it might be that can give us some more depth. Whether it be a Marlon Walls or whoever it might be. Gerald Williams. Gotta get Chris Walker back, that would help. We're not where we need to be."

An improved pass rush was hard to notice on Saturday with blitz and pass-rushing limitations enacted for the exhibition.

"We limited the D a little bit as far as how much they could do as far as pressure so that really wasn't totally what our defense will be," Fulmer said. "But the 1s kept getting the ball knocked loose and getting some hands on some balls."

WISHING FOR MORE

The conclusion of spring camp wasn't a welcome end for Fulmer and first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. Both coaches said they'd prefer to have a few more weeks.

"I'd like to have about 30 more days of spring if I could. It's the best time. Some of the guys are just now starting to understand how to play the game, and now it's over," Fulmer said.

Added Clawson, "We'd love to have 15 more. I wish this was one and we had 14 more to go. But it is what it is, and I think at least we got most of the stuff."

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