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Every year football fans hear the saying that defense wins championships. Last season we saw a good defense outperform a great offense in the national championship game between Florida and Ohio State. The Tennessee Vols have always been known to have good defenses, but this season there are many questions as to how the defense will perform against high powered SEC offenses. The Vols have big questions at defensive line and in the secondary.
Gone from the defensive line are Justin Harrell and Turk McBride. It will be up to J.T. Mapu and Demonte Bolden to replace them at defensive tackle. Seniors Xavier Mitchell and Antonio Reynolds return at defensive end to round out the starters along the defensive front. Robert Ayers and Walter Fisher will also look to make an impact for the Vols' front four.
In the secondary the Vols will likely have three seniors starting but the unit is still relatively inexperienced. Free safety Jonathan Hefney returns for his senior season and will undoubtedly cause a lot of trouble for opposing offenses again. Hefney was second on the team with 96 tackles last season and also had five interceptions. Jarod Parrish, a senior, steps in at strong safety to replace the departed Antwan Stewart and Demetrice Morley. Junior college transfer Nevin McKenzie could also be looked upon to help replace Stewart and Morley. Senior Antonio Gaines and sophomore Marsalous Johnson appear to be the favorites to be the two new starting cornerbacks. Highly touted freshman Eric Berry out of Georgia will see also see a lot of time at corner for the Vols.
The linebackers are the strength of the defense. Junior Jerod Mayo returns and it will be a key for him to stay healthy throughout the entire season. Mayo played much of last season with an injured knee but still managed to finish the season with 83 tackles as an outside linebacker. This season he will make the transition to middle linebacker. Senior Ryan Karl returns as the leader of the defense. He finished 2006 with 66 stops. Sophomore Rico McCoy, a highly touted recruit in 2005, gets an opportunity to start opposite Karl. The linebacking corps will definitely focus on improving upon the 146.7 rushing yards per game given up last season. Though the defense is not as experienced as past defenses at Tennessee, it has much talent as any group seen on Rocky Top. Having leaders like Hefney, Mayo and Karl should help ease the transition for the players that do not have as much experience, and have things looking up for the defense in 2007.