KNOXVILLE - The numbers say Georgia's defense is nearly 40 spots behind Alabama and LSU in yards allowed, but Jim Chaney never has been big on stats.
Tennessee's offensive coordinator said after the Volunteers' practice on Wednesday morning that he "certainly" sees the Bulldog's defense at the same level as the Tigers and Crimson Tide, perhaps the two most vaunted units in the country.
"Those are big boys," Chaney said. "They're hard to move around. Nobody's been able to do that with a lot of success, and it's going to be quite a challenge. They do a lot of schemes over there that makes them very complicated."
Though Chaney may be engaging in coachspeak, early NFL draft projections suggest he's right. Jarvis Jones, the All-American outside linebacker, is atop the draft board of ESPN analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper. McShay also has nose tackle Jarvis Jones (fifth), linebacker Alex Ogletree (19th) and safety Sean Williams (29th) in his top 30.
The Bulldogs have been without Ogletree and talented safety Bacarri Rambo for the first four games due to suspension, and though Georgia coach Mark Richt has yet to announce an official decision on their status for Saturday, the Vols expect the duo to play.
"They look like they're playing pretty good right now [without them]," Chaney said. "That's something their staff will have to sort out. I think the guys coming back are very good football players, so I'm sure they will find their way on the field somehow.
"How they'll shuffle it, I'm not sure."
Tennessee is concerned with Jones' disruptive abilities, but offensive line coach Sam Pittman said the Vols have developed scheme to help center James Stone in a matchup with John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers, Georgia's big two-headed monster at nose tackle.
"He's just huge," Pittman said of the 358-pound Jenkins. "When he gets tired, they bring in a guy, Kwame, that's bigger than him. We've got to help him.
"We can't expect for James to go block that guy one-on-one, so we've got to devise some schemes where we're doubling him. We're going to try to get him on the ground some. We think we've got a good idea, but the kid is just unbelievably powerful [so] we're going to have to get two on him."
With Tennessee transitioning to the same 3-4 defense that Georgia uses under Todd Grantham, the Vols have seen a big nose tackle of their own in 6-foot-7, 360-pound Daniel McCullers, who will play a big role for the Vols' defense on Saturday.
"I think that's the very first thing that came to my mind when we started watching film on Georgia was thank God for Dan McCullers," Pittman said. "We've felt that kind of physical mountain. They've got two of them.
"They're a different team than Florida, but they both are very similar in they have great talent. Georgia's just super big. We're going to have to use some schemes to where we get some two-on-ones and double-up a little more than we have."
The caliber of player is what makes SEC defenses so salty, but it's not the only factor. The rising salaries of the league's defensive coordinators are proof. At $825,000, Georgia's Todd Grantham has the fourth-highest 2012 salary among SEC defenses behind Alabama's Kirby Smart ($950,000), LSU's John Chavis ($900,000) and Auburn's Brian Van Gorder ($850,000).
"I just think he has a scheme he believes in, and he coaches it well," Chaney said. "They're seldom out of position. I look for soundness. You say, 'What's a good football coach?' It's not always about your talent level.
"It's are the players being put in positions to make some plays, and in my opinion they do a wonderful job of that at Georgia. They fly around, their kids play hard every ball game and they're lined up to be successful. At the end of the day, they're putting food on the plate. They've got to go eat it. I think they do a nice job."
Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said Willie Bohannon, who's taken the first-team reps at Jack linebacker and appears set to start over Jacques Smith, has had a "great week" in practice.
Cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said Tennessee declined to say if the Vols had played better in man or zone coverage. "We're not going to play more one than the other," he said. "We're going to play it by down-and-distance, by situations in the game and put these kids in positions to make plays."
Ansley said Justin Coleman, who started at cornerback last week, has "got to be big for us moving forward."
Safeties coach Josh Conklin said the Akron game "didn't lend itself" to more plays for LaDarrell McNeil and said the freshman safety could see his reps increase. "We told him in the next two or three weeks he needs to be prepared to take some more reps. The more that he's taking on special teams, the more that he's gotten out there on the practice, he's becoming more and more confident. I'm confident with putting him out there."