Willie Bohannon's move from defensive line to linebacker was rather abrupt. Just days into Sal Sunseri's inaugural tenure as Tennessee's defensive coordinator the fifth-year senior, who had spent his whole career on the defensive line, learned he'd be having to learn a whole new position.
"I found out the second or third day he was here. It was funny because he asked me why I was in a d-line meeting and I said because that's where I've been playing and I was confused," Bohannon said. "Then, I thought about it and it's not the same old defense."
He's not the same old 'Willie Bo,' either. After coming on strong at the end of last year when he started the last three games of the season, Bohannon said it took some time to learn the new defensive scheme. He had to adjust from playing the only position had he ever played to a new one with new responsibilities in a new system.
"The first week was rough because you were trying to learn how to play linebacker and you're trying to learn this defense and it was just a big -- it was a mental thing that first week. All mental," Bohannon said.
Since that first week though, he's come on strong at the JACK and SAM linebacker positions. While the position is still new, he admitted he's learned a lot.
"It's very new. This is my first time ever doing it. I learned a lot over the spring and how to play it and what I need to do to be successful at it," Bohannon said.
That growth was apparent after last weekend's scrimmage, the second for the Vols, when Bohannon recorded two tackles for loss and a sack. His play at both the outside linebacker positions has pleased the coaches.
"I think we settled it in. But Willie can play both outside positions. He can play the Jack, which is kind of more of a D-end, and the Sam, which is more of an outside 'backer. So he's done good," head coach Derek Dooley said.
Add Sunseri, "Willie Bo's been like a guy that's moved at Sam, he's played Jack, he's playing a lot of different positions. He's very versatile. He's a guy that's come in and studied a lot and has bought in, and I'm really happy with Willie Bo."
That versatility has paid off as Bohannon's been working with the ones at SAM linebacker for the past week and likes the adjustment. Wherever he lines up in the fall, Bohannon said he's just happy to be on the field.
"SAM is more of a natural linebacker spot I guess you could say. JACK is a natural linebacker, but it's different," Bohannon said. "I really like the SAM. I really like the position. But, wherever they want me to play I'm going to play."
STRESS PHYSICAL PLAY, TEMPO
While Tennessee's defense is placing a major emphasis on its communication heading into Saturday's Orange & White Game, the offense is talking about its need to continue playing with a physical style and uptempo pace.
"It's really good because you get to compete. I want to go against the best guys we have so it gives us the best chance to go against our best guys and compete. That's what it's all about at the end of the day, getting better," said left tackle Antonio Richardson. "Very important [to play with physicality] because that's what we're all about. Over the last year, lets be real, we weren't that physical last year and we're just trying to bring that back because that's what's Tennessee is all about."
For quarterback Tyler Bray, who will have Richardson protecting his blind-side and will be operating the Vols' top offense minus wideout Justin Hunter, it's not only a chance to atone for last year's struggles in the spring game but to also continue setting the offensive standard.
"Just like usual, getting the tempo going. We've been preaching that for the last two years now, just getting the tempo," Bray said. "I think we're starting to get there, we've still got a little bit to work on, but we're getting better."
If Bray gets going, tight end Mychal Rivera said, then it can be a big day for the Vols.
"Just like any other game or any other practice, we'd love to have Tyler get in rhythm and get comfortable back there," Rivera said. "Delivering completions and things like that. I hope we'll see that."
DOOLEY TALKS SUMMITT'S IMPACT
"Well, I tell you, the word 'bittersweet,' I'm sure, is across all of athletics because she transcends," Dooley said of Pat Summitt, college basketball's all-time winningest coach who stepped aside on Wednesday due to health reasons. "She's not just women's basketball. She's an icon for any sport. I think celebrating the success she's had is there. I called her yesterday and told her how happy I was that she was still with us, that she didn't step down completely. Just an amazing person, and her impact will last forever - not just on the people that she coached, but all the people in athletics as a whole."
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