KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee football defenders are used to chasing fast opponents. It’s a weekly task in the Southeastern Conference.
Still, Saturday presents a particular challenge.
Florida junior Jeff Demps isn’t just one of the nation’s fastest football players. He’s one of the fastest people, period.
“Special guy,” first-year Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said. “You better wrap up.”
And you have to catch him first.
“It’s a hard thing to simulate [in practice] unless you’ve got somebody else that fast on your team,” UT defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said.
And the Vols don’t have anyone that fast. Nor does anyone else besides the Gators.
Demps won NCAA championships earlier in 2010 in the indoor 60-meter dash and the outdoor 100. He covered 100 meters in 9.96 seconds on June 11.
“It’s one of those things that you show them on tape and they see,” Wilcox said. “The guys know who’s fast. It shows up. It jumps off the screen at you when you’re watching him.
“Obviously, being great in our leverages and great in our run fits is going to be critical in containing a guy like that.”
UT’s plan is to stop Demps from getting space, which isn’t easy. But stopping him once he gets space is practically impossible.
Most good defenders pursue well by taking good angles, but players with Demps’ speed are so rare that good defenders regularly misjudge their angles.
“What we’ve tried to stress during the week is first of all, gang tackling,” UT secondary coach Terry Joseph said. “The more people we have, the less space he has to operate in. Although angles are important, the more people we can get around him, we like our chances.
“We’ve got to gang tackle. We’ve got to run to the ball.”
Sophomore Marsalis Teague, one of Joseph’s prized pupils, said coaches have given the Vols a plan to contain Demps, and “how we execute that plan is up to us.”
“We’ve got to key in on our keys this week, and we’ve got to be sure tacklers in the open field,” said Teague, a Tennessee native who committed to Florida before switching to the Vols. “Everybody’s fast out there on the football field. There’s track speed, but that’s way different than it is in football, and lots of guys have that game speed. As long as we key in on our keys and take good angles, we should be all right.”
“He’s definitely fast. I’m not going to take any of his speed away from him, but you can’t just get all caught up on beating you or anything like that. You just go out there and play football and play with confidence, and you’ll be all right.”
Demps is one of the SEC’s leading rushers despite just 19 attempts in the first two games. He’s already scored on touchdowns of 72 and 62 yards, and he averages an astonishing 12.5 yards per carry.
“We’re going to lean on him more and more, because he’s that kind of player,” Gators coach Urban Meyer said this week.
The Vols contained Oregon’s explosive backs until they wore down — or gave up, some people say — in the second half. UT senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz said a similar second half against Demps and the Gators would end with a similar result.
“He’s again, like some of those Oregon running backs, very explosive,” Reveiz said. “He’s one of the fastest guys in college football, if not the fastest. He has the ability to hit the home run, make the big play.
“It just comes down to playing disciplined football. And that’s what we’re going to have to do this week.”
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesrucker or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.