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Perhaps unnoticed, Tennessee Vols DB’s played pretty good football against Virginia

It wasn’t very noticeable, but Tennessee’s defensive backs played well against Virginia. It was just a bit hard to see with the Vols’ constant pass rush on the Cavaliers.

The Vols beat the Cavs 49-13, in part, due to a pass rush that just never let up in their season-opening game in Nashville. The pass rush was so intense that Virginia quarterback Tony Muskett was eventually knocked from the game in the second half. He may have been relieved as he was rarely able to look downfield with a constant pass rush in his face.

So how did Tennessee play in the secondary?

”The back end, played a lot of guys,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said during his weekly press conference on Monday. “For the most part, their fundamentals, their technique, their eyes were in the right spot. They play with good fundamentals. There’s a lot of them in good position and made some plays on the ball. 

“There’s things that they, again, can continue to clean up. Like I said, all offseason too, a part of being better in pass defense is what you do up front and being able to apply pressure.”

The second level of Tennessee’s defense also played well, per Heupel. Linebacker Keenan Pili had four tackles, which was one behind the game leader, Elijah Herring, who had five tackles against the Cavs. Fellow linebacker Aaron Beasley registered three tackles, including one for a loss, and two passes defended. Freshman Arion Carter recorded four tackles.

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“They graded it out really well,” Heupel said. “Keenan got a game ball. Beasley played really well.”

The Vols’ defense, which struggled mightily at times last season, could even potentially give up a player. Dee Williams has become a consistent playmaker as a punt returner after being recruited to Tennessee from community college to play defensive back. Now, some wonder if he could be an electric playmaker on offense like he has has been on special teams. Williams returned three punts for 105 yards, including a 55-yard return that he nearly scored on.

“Dee is special with ball in his hands, but I think he’ll continue to work at the corner spot and, obviously, he’ll be heavily active in our return game,” Heupel said. “Thought he did a really nice job throughout the course of the day. I thought the way that he responded after something not going his way showed maturity and actually pointed that out to the team after the ball game and did that again today.”

Williams did lose a fumble during a return on Saturday, so maybe he’s not quite ready for an offensive role just yet.

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