SEC: LaTroy Lewis

Vols starting over on defense

March, 13, 2013
It’s never just one thing when you’re as woeful as Tennessee was on defense last season.

The Vols allowed 37 or more points in eight games and finished 107th nationally in total defense, which is a big reason why Butch Jones is in Knoxville and will take his shot at resurrecting Tennessee’s program. He’s the Vols’ fourth head coach in the past six years, and if he’s going to be around longer than his predecessors, the first order of business will be fixing the defense.

Tennessee is shifting to a base 4-3 under new defensive coordinator John Jancek. The Vols have been poor at pressuring the quarterback each of the past two seasons, and they’ve also struggled to cover people in the secondary.

That’s a scary combination, but Jones said improving on defense starts with wreaking more havoc up front. Tennessee finished with an SEC-low 17 sacks last season, and was next-to-last in the SEC with 16 sacks in 2011.

“Playing great defense starts up front with being able to stop the run and impact the quarterback,” Jones said. “That’s where we have to make great strides.

“We certainly have to be disciplined in the secondary and not give up big plays and be fundamentally sound. We have to improve our speed across the board and our overall consistency. But you set the tone up front.”

Finding a consistent finisher off the edge will be critical, and the Tennessee coaches have high hopes for redshirt freshman LaTroy Lewis, who’s now pushing 250 pounds and recovered from the knee injury he suffered playing pick-up basketball last August.

Lewis will line up at rush end in the Vols’ new scheme after working as an outside linebacker last preseason in a 3-4 set.

“Last year, I was a little light to even play (outside linebacker),” Lewis said. “This year, I’m more comfortable with putting my hand on the ground.”

It’s also an important spring for senior tackles Daniel McCullers and Maurice Couch, both former junior college players. For Couch, in particular, the 4-3 is a better.

The Vols’ secondary should also benefit in 2013 thanks to a couple of additions. Safety Brian Randolph was Tennessee’s best defensive back a year ago until he tore his ACL in the Florida game and was lost for the season. He’s back this spring, and the Vols added junior college cornerback Riyahd Jones, who is also going through spring practice.

“Our kids have been willing and done everything and anything we’ve asked,” Jones said. “Make no mistake. We have a lot of work to do. We have to improve greatly up front defensively, whether it’s applying pressure or stopping the run.

“We’ll take it one day at a time and work to be a champion one day at a time.”

Offseason spotlight: Tennessee

February, 15, 2013
Our offseason spotlight series shifts to Tennessee, which enters the 2013 season with its fourth head coach (Butch Jones) in the past six years.

Spotlight: Defensive end LaTroy Lewis, 6-foot-4, 238 pounds, rising redshirt freshman

2012 summary: Lewis established himself during the preseason a year ago as one of the true freshmen who definitely looked like he would be able to help the Vols, but he tore his ACL about a week before the opener and missed the entire season.

The skinny: Lewis was an outside linebacker in the Vols' 3-4 scheme last season and turned more than a few heads during preseason practice with his ability to make plays and get to the football. With Tennessee shifting to a base 4-3 defense under new coordinator John Jancek, Lewis is expected to start out at defensive end. He's 6-foot-4 and right at 240 pounds and possesses the explosive burst off the edge that all coaches are looking for in a pass-rusher. The Vols need to find a way to generate more pressure on the quarterback, which makes Lewis a very valuable member of that defense. Tennessee finished with an SEC-low 17 sacks in 12 games last season, and while there were obviously issues in the secondary, a big part of the Vols' inability to stop anybody was that they simply didn't get any pressure on the quarterback. This spring will be big for Lewis just to get back into football shape and regain the feel of playing football again. The same goes for this entire offseason and summer because the Vols need him to be healthy and 100 percent confident in that knee when the season begins. He's played very little football the past two years. In addition to missing all of last season with the torn ACL, he missed most of his senior season in high school after breaking his foot. Lewis ranks up there with junior safety Brian Randolph as a couple of players returning from injuries that the Vols desperately need to have healthy on defense when the 2013 season begins.

Past spotlights:



Saturday, 10/25