Rome wasn't built in a day, but it eventually ruled the known world.
That's kind of how it is with the adaptation of the Tampa 2 defense to the college football world. It'll take a little while to master it, but if new Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin gets his players to do that—watch out!
Let's dispel one myth about the defense up front. Though former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, and Lovie Smith get most of the credit for coming up with the scheme, it's actually an adaptation of a defense run by Pittsburgh Steelers' coach Chuck Noll and his defensive coordinator, Bud Carson, in the 1970s.
It was Carson who dropped his athletic middle linebacker, Jack Lambert, into the scheme and changed it forever. That position soon became the most important to the overall success of the defense, which stresses speed and hitting ability over size and strength. And that's one of the reasons that the transformation will take a while.
Outside of Vols senior Rico McCoy, who'll probably slide over to the middle linebacker position, the rest of the linebacking is young and will learn on the job. In the secondary, All-America safety Eric Berry returns to lead a mostly intact unit that will have to provide more run support and gang tackling at the point of attack if the scheme is to work.
And, of course, defensive tackle Dan Williams and defensive end Wes Brown, the only two returning starters on the defensive line, will need help to create pressure on the quarterback without the aid of a blitz.
Overall, Kiffin will have to work in five new defensive starters. However, the silver lining here is that the Volunteers' base defense in 2008 was the 4-3—the same formation the Tampa 2 scheme employs. Also, with the proliferation of the spread offense in college football, this defense is one of the most effective weapons against it.
That should keep them in the game against Florida, Alabama, and Ole Miss, though each possesses enough talent to flood deep zones with receivers or employ an effective tight end. If nothing else, though, this defense will force a quick-strike offense to be patient and move the ball in small bites on longer drives. The prevailing defensive wisdom being "the longer you handle the football, the greater opportunity for something to go wrong."
And if you're wearing the orange jersey, you're hoping a lot of things go exactly that way as the day goes on.
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