The Tennessee defensive line entered spring practice with not only a new cast of players, but also a new coach. Following the departure of Chuck Smith, linebackers coach Lance Thompson moved to coaching the defensive line.
Thompson, who has been with UT the past two seasons, has served as the defensive line coach in three previous jobs and played defensive end at The Citadel from 1984-87. Replacing Thompson as the linebackers coach is former Tennessee Titans linebacker Peter Sirmon, a college teammate of Vols defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox at Oregon.
Coach Derek Dooley believes the switch will benefit the defense greatly.
"Lance (Thompson) brings the defensive line a lot of experience at a high level," Dooley said. "He did it at LSU, Alabama and Georgia Tech. So he's had a lot of players and he knows what he is doing. And it really brings something special to our line."
Defensive end Willie Bohannon is excited to work with Thompson this season and has approved the job he has done with his players during the spring practices.
"He's so exact," Bohannon said. "I've had plenty of other coaches that have told me to do something better. He tells you exactly how it should be done."
Bohannon hopes to have an increased role this season up front for the Vols. The redshirt junior is one of the the most experienced players at his position and is pushing for a starting position.
"The only thing I can do is play my butt off," Bohannon said. "I have to go hard every play and do my assignments. And if I do that, all the rest will take care of itself."
Smith enters his sophomore campaign with great expectations from his coaches. Dooley praised the defensive end after practice on Tuesday.
"Jacques has really elevated his game," Dooley said. "I hope he continues to play that way. Both he and Willie (Bohannon) have continued to push themselves; we just need some more depth at the position after those two guys."
Redshirt senior Ben Martin missed the entire season after suffering an Achilles injury, and he suffered the same injury again during winter workouts. However, the fifth-year senior hopes to recover in time to contribute this season.
Redshirt sophomore Marlon Walls, who also missed last season with a torn Achilles, was moved this week in practice from defensive tackle to end.
Sophomore Corey Miller is another player capable of playing multiple positions up front. Miller was a top defensive end prospect out of high school and has been working at both end and tackle this spring.
The defensive tackle position has been a question mark for the UT defense for the past few seasons. Malik Jackson returns after an impressive junior season that saw him transition from end to tackle. The USC transfer racked up an All-SEC honor last season.
However, depth has been a problem on the interior of the line, as injuries have plagued the Vols for the past few seasons. Junior Montori Hughes has yet to live up to his potential and has been plagued by inconsistency and off-the-field issues.
Sophomore Daniel Hood moved to defensive tackle before the spring, and coaches hope that junior college transfer Maurice Couch has an immediate impact after being ranked as one of the top JUCO players in the country.