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Tennessee defensive philosophy change can only help Vols

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There was a lot going in spring practice so you get a pass for perhaps missing one of the most important philosophical changes in Josh Heupel’s four years at Tennessee.

The Vols relied on exotic blitzes, stunts and twists to outmatch offenses to catch them unaware when the Vols would leave their gap to rush another. No longer?

That approach can leave the backend of the Vols’ defense in a bind if defensive coordinator Tim Banks has to send more defenders to rush the passer. There’s an easy remedy to that.

“We really focus on this spring just rushing the quarterback with four people,” defensive lineman Omari Thomas said. “We want to be able to rush the quarterback with a four-man rush. Just true four-man rush. And we just really made sure we focused on the small details of using our hands. So in D-work pass rush work like we’re overly using our hands. 

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“Like just constantly throwing moves with our hands just so it becomes a habit for us when we in a game or something like that, that we just feel natural doing it. So we really locked in on that last two.”

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Thomas and his crew have some pretty strong expectations to live up to. Banks said the Vols can showcase the best defensive front in the country. Thomas didn’t back down from that statement.

“I feel like we have potential to be,” Thomas said after the Orange and White Game on Saturday. “That is something that we talk about every day. Just putting it out there, everybody knowing what our goal is, know what we have to do, what we need to do in order to be there. But we just can’t come in here. Like we try to keep our own focus, like on inside our room, like not focus on what’s going on outside, what people say, how good we can be like. 

“We just come in every day and work. So that way we know that we put in the time we put in the craft. So if it comes out to be that we know we actually work for it.”

If the Vols do, indeed, have of the top defensive lines in the country, EDGE rusher James Pearce will factor into that conversation. 

“He’s had a real good camp,” Thomas said. “I would say that he’s handling everything that comes to him the right way. He’s handling it like a pro. He doesn’t get too worked up about things that people could say about him or what he could potentially be. 

“He mainly just comes in every day. He’s being a great teammate, being a great person, just continuing to grow as a leader for our team because we need that from him as well. And he’s just he’s had a real good camp.”

Per all accounts, so has Tennessee’s defense.

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