KNOXVILLE (WVLT) -- One of Tennessee’s hurdles Saturday at 10th-ranked LSU will be moving the ball and scoring on an old friend of the Vols -- John Chavis.
The former Tennessee linebacker spent 20 years on UT’s coaching staff, including the last 14 as defensive coordinator, before trading his colors to purple and gold to start the 2009 season. Chavis’ reputation certainly has the attention of Tennessee’s first-year head coach, Derek Dooley.
“I think he’s doing what he always does; that’s what I see,” Dooley said after Wednesday’s two-hour workout at Haslam Field. “He mixes it up so you never get a great tendency on him. He utilizes his players to their abilities. He does a good job and that’s why he’s been coordinating in the SEC for so long, because he’s good.”
LSU’s defense through four games ranks first in the SEC in fewest yards allowed, first against the run, second in fewest points and fourth against the pass. Those rankings are among the nation’s top 10 in all but the passing category.
“I’ve seen him eight out of my last 10 years of coaching and it’s always good,” Dooley said of Chavis’ defense. “It’s always schematically sound. They always have great players. They always believe in the system and they’re where they’re supposed to be. They’re tough to move the ball on.”
Dooley doesn’t think that familiarity will help very much when Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. Central time kickoff rolls around.
“I’m not playing. It helps you somewhat because the first time you see him you know what you’re going to watch on the next 20 hours of film. Really, what matters is how you execute. The players have to be aware of a lot of things and they have to do it against some great football players, so it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
SMITH SHOWING VERSATILITY
True freshman Jacques Smith continues to make strides just four games into his brief collegiate career.
The Ooltewah native owns seven tackles, two for lost yardage, and has contributed at least one tackle in each contest. Dooley says Smith’s combination of strength and speed makes it easy to find him additional playing time.
“I think he can be a versatile guy with his body type. He can play end. He can stand up a little bit. He’s a good blitzer. You can move him down if you need to. We’ll see how his body grows and we’ll see how he develops mentally.”
NEAL EARNING MORE CARRIES
Another true freshman, Rajion Neal, has shown the ability to carry the football and be effective moving the chains. This Saturday, look for No. 20 to see even more playing time in his first road test.
“We’re going to play Rajion (Neal),” Dooley said. “We’ll give him some touches and see how he handles it.”
Neal has handled the ball 15 times so far in three games played for 101 rushing yards -- a 6.7-yard average. Dooley says there’s no way to know how first-year backs are going to adapt to the collegiate game until you get them on the field.
“Every back is different when they’re a freshman and I’ve coached a lot of freshmen. Some backs just come in with a different tempo and a different mindset than others. Rajion has been good, but getting him to understand the pace and physicality of running the football in this league -- it’s a little bit of a learning (curve).
“They’re used to gliding and making guys miss. You can’t do that up there. You have to make your cuts and you have to get those pads down and bull for some yards. Everybody is a little different. They go at their own pace. When we won the national championship (at LSU in 2003), we won it with two freshmen and a sophomore. All three of them came at a different pace. You have to keep pounding it.”