Tennessee Football center Cooper Mays doesn’t think the Vols’ defensive front will be good this season. He thinks they’ll be way better than that.
“I don’t know if I even really said this, but in my opinion, our guys are going to be one of the best defensive lines, defensive front sevens in all of college football,” Mays said during The Vol Report on Sunday. “Definitely one of the premier defensive lines and front sevens and, no doubt in my mind, just the style in which they play is just so annoying to play. You can have no flow because they play so vertical.”
By “vertical” Mays means Tennessee’s defense is intent on getting upfield and in the backfield of an opposing offense. The goal is to create havoc throughout the game by keeping opposing offensive linemen confused as to which Vol will be attacking which gap. Mays said most teams’ defenders will engage offensive linemen and then look to make a play. That’s not how the Vols play at all.
“Our defensive line, all they worry about is playing on the other line of scrimmage, like they’re not like gap responsible,” Mays said. “They’re responsible for playing like two yards on the opposite line of scrimmage…It messes up everything that you do offensively.”
That was certainly the case on Saturday in the Vols’ season-opening game against Virginia. The Vols registered 11 tackles for a loss, four sacks and eventually knocked the Cavs’ starting quarterback, Tony Muskett, out of the game in the second half.
The Vols won plenty of one-on-one battles against Virginia. However, that could just be the beginning. Tennessee was known last season as a team that used unique blitzes, stunts and twists to maximize their limited ability. Now, Tennessee Football has more talent and can still be tough to handle schematically.
“When you run different assortments of blitzes and exotic pressures and twists and stuff like that, that allows people to get one-on-one,” Mays said. “So when you can get the one-on-ones, our players are good enough to win. You know at least one or two of them is going to win those out of those five.”
Tennessee Football also has more depth among its defensive front than ever before. Aside from being fresh, that means the Vols will bring players with different skillsets from play to play and drive to drive.
“Super challenging,” Mays said of what that presents to an offensive line. “We’ve got a lot of different guys and when I say different too, it doesn’t mean they’re different in skill level. I mean different in skill set up.
“They’ve got different skill sets, but they’re the same skill level. Any time that happens, it’s a problem in and of itself, because if you, even when you take out the mental aspect of knowing who you’re going against, you also factor in the mental aspect of you’ve been out here for four drives and that person just rolled in fresh in the middle of the drive and you’re already dog tired and they just came out there full of juice, just ready to go get the quarterback.
In other words, a different kind of player is one thing. A fresh player is another thing all together.
“Just the fact of them having fresh air in their lungs is is a whole other thing to deal,” Mays said, “because we’re really in line (where) we can rotate however much we want”