Tennessee’s defense didn’t play a perfect game in the opener against Ball State but when you give up just 10 points obviously you did some things right.
Vols’ defensive coordinator Tim Banks left the opener probably feeling like most coaches in college football this week, he saw some positive things to build on as well as plenty of areas where his unit can improve.
One stat that stuck out to many after the win over Ball State was that the defense failed to record a sack. After an offseason in which improving the pass rush was a point of emphasis, many fans pounced on that number.
Banks didn’t express a great deal of frustration over that detail, noting that Ball State clearly made getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly a priority in their game plan.
“I thought for the most part we showed some flashes in terms of what we want to be and what we’re capable of being. I thought those guys did a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly. When he held it I thought we applied some pressure,” Banks observed.
“Was it perfect? Absolutely not, but I thought for the most part those guys did a good job executing what we asked them to execute. I felt fine coming out of the game in terms of what was out there and the opportunities we had.”
Another area of the defense that had many fans at least somewhat concerned exiting the opener was what some felt was soft coverage on the perimeter by the Vols’ defensive backs.
To be fair, Tennessee did finish the game with two interceptions and gave up just two completions of 25+ yards and none over 36.
Sophomore Christian Charles made his first career start at cornerback after moving there from safety in the spring and Banks felt he got better as the game progressed.
“I think Charles, you could see that it was really his first time out on an island. I think once he started to settle down within the game that he started to play better,” Banks said.
“He’s a tremendous athlete as we’ve documented. Obviously playing corner is new for him. He’s getting better. I thought by the end of the game he was really comfortable with what we’re asking him to do.”
The Vols’ other starting corner against Ball State was senior Warren Burrell who made his 21st career start in the opener.
Burrell finished with eight tackles, tied for the team lead, and was credited with one pass break up, one of five the Vols had in the game.
Banks’ review of Burrell’s performance was simply along the lines of, ‘he did his job’.
“It was a little bit uneventful for Burrell. He did exactly what he needed to do,” Banks said. “I think they only challenged him a few times and he was up for the challenge most of those reps.
“We feel like Burrell had a really good camp. We thought he did his job on Thursday night and he’ll have bigger shoes to play at going into this next venue.”
HADDEN STARTS FAST
One defensive back who did make some waves was Kamal Hadden. He made two starts last fall and was pushing for a starting job at corner in fall camp but missed some time with an injury that slowed him down.
He was bracketed as a starter at one corner heading into week one and got into the action early in the first half.
Hadden made the most of his opportunity by snagging one of the Vols’ two interceptions in the game.
Banks liked what he saw from Hadden and feels like the best is yet to come for the former junior college transfer.
“I think Kamal is really coming along. He’s a kid that hadn’t played a ton of football. He was banged up a little bit last year. We like the direction that he’s headed,” Banks said. “I think he’s maturing, understanding the whole complexity of our defense and where he needs to be.
“He’s always been a tremendous athlete, now it’s just understanding the finer details. He’s worked really hard in the offseason and you started to see a little glimpse of that on Thursday night.”
FRESHMEN GET WORK
Tennessee ended up having the opportunity to play a ton of freshmen against Ball State with the game well in hand early in the second half.
Two of those freshmen were on the field early though. Linebacker Elijah Herring and defensive end Joshua Josephs both found themselves in the game early in the first half, a development that suggests both figure into the Vols’ defensive plans with a chance to be regular contributors.
“They look like freshmen, but they’re uber-talented, very athletic,” Banks said of the duo. “Josh Joseph is a kid that’s long, athletic, probably plays a little bigger than what his actual size is. I thought he did some good things. But when they’re freshmen there are obviously going to be some things that we have to correct that only experience can teach them so to speak.
Herring was the first freshman off the bench outside of special teams and he notched a pair of tackles in his first career game wearing the orange.
“With Herring he made tremendous strides coming out of spring. He’s a big kid, he’s strong, he’s physical. He’s still learning the nuances of playing inside linebacker. He worked hard enough and showed enough consistency in practice where we felt like we needed to carve out a role for him. We don’t see that changing as we continue to move forward,” Banks said.