While the Volunteers’ defense will field all but two starters from last year’s team, the unit will look different with first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri at the helm.

Sunseri is in the process of putting in place a 3-4 scheme, which he believes will give life to a squad that allowed 30 or more points in four games last season.

“It’s extremely different,” Sunseri said. “You’re playing on top of a tight end or uncovered. It’s a multiple front, which covers a lot of stuff. If they can learn this scheme we have in place, they have a good chance at success.”

Sunseri said the task of installing a new defensive scheme comes with its trials.

“It’s tough,” he said. “But, it’s like anything else in life, it’s tough. It’s hard to both coach and for the players to grasp the concept. Once you understand the concept, that’s when progress is made — easier said than done, though. If you understand the concept and how you fit into it, then you’re set. It’s all about figuring out who can grasp the concepts first and fill the spot best.”

However, the front isn’t the only thing changing on the defensive side of the ball for the Vols.

“I think like anything else, it’s more than the technique and front that is different,” said Sunseri. “Our mentality and how we want them to play each of their positions is different. We’re going to have a whole new mindset this year and be a lot more aggressive and closer to people.”

With the team’s depth improving from last season, Sunseri believes personnel will be in no shortage.

“We got a lot of young kids coming in that will have to give us some depth,” said Sunseri. “At the same time, we have lots of guys returning and we get (Herman Lathers) back.”

Headed by sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson, who led all SEC freshmen last season with 80 tackles, the defense will also be reunited with senior linebacker Lathers, who did not play last season due to a fractured ankle he suffered in June.

“I think we’re pleased on our talent levels on both sides of the ball,” said offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. “We have a great group of kids and this staff is excited to coach this group of kids.”

Following a busy offseason that saw the addition of seven new assistant coaches, Sunseri feels spring practice is off to a relatively smooth start.

“It’s been a unique experience for them,” said Sunseri. “Lots of commotion in the offseason and a new look, but I think they’re enjoying it and learning it. After 15 days once they go back and look at the progress form Day 1 to Day 15, they’re gonna say, you know what, we can be pretty good if we know our stuff and all do what we’re supposed to do.”