Tennessee's DC Justin Wilcox Provides Glimpse of Vols New Defense
If the Volunteers' Orange and White game didn't present some indication of Justin Wilcox's worth then you were obviously watching the cheerleaders. This is probably the very last time you will see him flying under an SEC radar that should really be paying attention.
Yes, it's always a bit lopsided during any formal scrimmage, but when the linebackers are hitting bullseyes that frequently, and the safety stays on assignment for every play, well, if you're an offensive coordinator you have to scratch your head and wonder if it wasn't just dumb luck. If you are Dooley, you're glad something is working right.
Justin Wilcox's defense demonstrated Saturday that the Midas touch is slowly emerging from his young, wise fingers. Linebackers were accurately keying in on runners and receivers, and most of the defense was crisp and alert, understanding this to be a dress rehearsal for an even bigger stage come September.
It might speak poorly of the offense's execution, but Bray, Simms, and Poole gave us a glimpse of what might be, so there was some level of competition. This might be the first of many notches on Wilcox's belt that's destined to look like swiss cheese. Is it unrealistic to even think such a thing? Not really, when you consider how it's possible.
Let's start with UCLA. Justin Wilcox's "swarm to the ball mentality" made the defense look efficient when it was the linebackers who picked up all the slack (he was the position coach) when the run escaped or a safety had a brain fart.
Before he departed for his return to Boise, his stamp was on the Pac-10, as his entire linebacking squad evolved into all Pac-10 players.
Is Tennessee's linebacking squad any less talented? The answer is no. They're exactly the same if not a few smidges better in terms of physical attributes, at least on paper anyway.
When you look at his coaching methods it seems relatively simple. You teach your players to go after the guy with the ball.
Wait! That's too freaking easy! Why doesn't everyone else do it?!
Another simple answer: they do, but they want to look for spread tricks, shotgun scenarios, wildcats, options, and...well there is no end if you are a statistical genius, and even then it becomes difficult to actually coordinate a defense.
It's also the flip side to why Wilcox is so successful coordinating his defense. Sure, just like anyone he has a bag of tricks to defend against those really good offenses, but the biggest reason he looks so effective on the field is because he's teaching this squad fundamentals that still work. Watch for the run or the pass, it'll be one or the other .
That's why Boise was so successful in the win column the last four years, and the win is how Wilcox has measured his success.
This is comparatively different from John "Chief" Chavis, who was much too proud to measure his defenses' success by the win column, he instead measured his by points and yards allowed.
Don't get me wrong, it worked for Tennessee and Chief for a long, long time, and it still works for him because Les Miles knows you have to be half-head coach when it comes to Chief. John Chavis runs his own boat, and you better not rock it.
Wilcox, however, is young and conservative, and wants to play well with others, choosing a path that is safe, and right now that's what the Volunteers need.
His effectiveness at coaching is in the books. Go look for yourself, it's all there in the stats, in black, white and blue.
During his 2006-2010 tenure with Boise State's blue-toed Broncos, his defense boasted the three-year top spot for scoring and total defense: 80 interceptions, 127 sacks, and opponents held to (in my opinion a stingy) 17.2 ppg.
They beat tenth-ranked Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, and the fourth-ranked TCU in the Fiesta Bowl last January.
Overall, 48-4 over four years sounds like he knows a little something about defense. There will be the same argument with Wilcox as with Dooley. Can you really praise and exalt what they did in the WAC when you compare the competition to the SEC juggernauts?
How about this? You remove the SEC East and West champions from the stats, and the last eight games between WAC and SEC opponents have been decided by an average of 14.8 ppg. If those are juggernauts stats I don't want to see miniatures.
The stats for the Vols are much too sketchy too prove anything yet, but by judging the Orange and White game, it seems as though Wilcox has improved the Vols' gold standard.
My prediction is simple and brash. Wilcox's defense will be the fourth or fifth defense in the SEC this year. In 2011, it will be third or better, and it will not falter from that for the remainder of his tenure.
Vol fans should be investing in gold now.
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