KNOXVILLE -- The Vols hit the field for the third practice of spring ready to hit as Thursday's practice marked Tennessee's first practice in pads under Butch Jones.
The practice also took the form of a competition between the offense and the defense as to who would wear the coveted orange jerseys during Saturday's scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
According to Butch Jones's post-practice tweet, the offense will be repping the Big Orange Saturday.
PUTTING THE PIECES IN PLACE
With a new coaching staff, comes new offensive and defensive schemes. Both of which are in the installation stages during the Vols' spring practices.
The Tennessee defense will be installing a 4-3 defense for the 2013 season and the man in charge of making that happen, defensive coordinator John Jancek, has already taken steps in getting the pass-rush happy defense in place.
"We actually started [installing] before we got to practice so that it would be more of a review when we got here and not installing something new every day," said Jancek. "[There has been] very good retention. A few things here and there as always but by in-large it has been pretty good."
The defense is led by many upper classmen, whose football knowledge is making the transition to the new defense a lot easier.
"It is nice when you have older guys that are more comfortable and have heard more football," said Jancek. "They are able to adapt and adjust a lot quicker. Having those older guys with more experience helps us."
On the offensive side of things, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has been taking things slow with the fast-paced offense.
"Our approach with the entire offense has been to keep it simple with the purpose of understanding what we want out of practice," said Bajakian. "Since our very first unit meeting we've stressed it's not what we do, but how we do it. We're going to play with great effort and great tempo and we've really been slow in the installation process for that reason."
"Until they understand the expectation for practice and playing," continued Bajakian, "then we're not going to throw a lot of X's and O's at them."
QUARTERBACKING THE COMPETITION
The Vols third practice with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian may have picked up physically on Thursday, but the mental game and leadership remain the primary focuses for the Big Orange quarterbacks.
"They've taken control. They have a firm grasp of everything we've thrown at them. It's just a matter of executing," said Bajakian. "We've got to make sure our ball location is in the right spot and our decision-making process is accurate, but I'm happy with where they are and how they've progressed."
Preparing for a season is a process, and while progression may be the primary focus of that process, competition is certainly not far behind.
"We're creating an atmosphere of competition or really it's not so much us, but it's them creating that atmosphere of competition. It's a quarterback battle and they're both competing very hard and making progress."
Quarterback is just one position and winning on the field takes much more than just one man.
"It comes down to playing with great effort and playing for one another," said Bajakian. "When you create a family environment it encourages an atmosphere where guys are going to play for one another.
When the Vols take the field at Neyland Stadium on Saturday it will be just the second practice in full pads, but in the spring, every day counts.
"It's a game of inches. That's what Coach Jones talks about. Details make the inches and inches make the champions. We've been in games where we've won or lost because of once inch. We're going to coach that inch."
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
One challenge for any new coaching staff is getting to know the current players at their new university.
For football coaches that means learning about the 100 players that they coach on a daily basis.
For defensive coordinator John Jancek, this has been a somewhat easy task.
"I have seen a group that is eager to learn and I think they are going to try and do it the way we are asking them to do it," said Jancek. "It has all been very positive up to this point."
"Right now, I love working with these guys," continued Jancek. "They are trying to do everything we are asking them to do. They're up in meetings, they are paying attention, they are excited. Everything has been really positive. Are we at where we need to be at? No. But we are making progress every day."
Jancek, and the rest of the coaching staff, has made it easy for the players to feel excited about coming to meetings and practices every day.
Defensive back Brian Randolph has noticed this change in the team.
"I notice everyone is more up," said Randolph. "They communicate more. They seem like they have a pep in their step."
Jancek has been communicating a new defense to the Vols this offseason. And the positive attitudes surrounding the team have made it easier for the team to progress.
"I have really just been focused on these guys and their attitude," said Jancek. "Do they make mistakes? Yes. Are they sometimes out of position? Yeah. But from day one to day two, a lot of the mistakes that they made we got corrected. I thought that was positive."
"It is a matter of time," continued Jancek. "You are going to have to put guys in there, let them have some reps, and see what they can do. It is an ongoing evaluation."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
(On his message to the team)
“The message is every day improvement. Are we where we want to be yet… No not at all. But are we better than we were after practice two… Absolutely. As long as we keep improving and understand the gradual process by practice 15 and Austin Peay, then we’ll be where we want to be. For us, it’s a matter of the physical conditioning and mental conditioning that goes into getting through a practice at this tempo and this pace.”
(On the quarterback play so far)
“They’ve taken control. Things are moving a little bit fast for them right now, but they’re doing a good job. They have a firm grasp of everything we’ve thrown at them. It’s just a matter of executing. We’ve got to make sure our ball location is in the right spot and make sure our decision-making process is accurate, but I’m happy with where they are and how they’ve progressed.”
(On the QBs splitting reps)
“We’re creating an atmosphere of competition or really it’s not so much us, but them creating that atmosphere of competition. It’s a quarterback battle and they’re both competing very hard and making progress. Right now, we’re still trying to figure that out.”
(On Devrin Young’s move to wide receiver)
“For all the guys – not just Devrin Young but the wide receiver group as a whole – the game is moving a little bit fast right now. The encouraging thing is that there was improvement from practice two and once we get used to being in game-shape and how fast we’re moving offensively, then I anticipate all the guys will continue to improve at a drastic level.”
(On what he’s looking for in Saturday’s scrimmage)
“I want to identify who the playmakers are, put guys in situations to make plays and seeing who steps up when the lights go on. Even today, it was good to see guys breaking tackles and making people miss. Those are the things you don’t get a feel for when you’re practicing in just helmets or even in a thud situation. When you go live tackle – like we did for the last segment of practice today – now a three-yard gain becomes a 10-yard gain when they have to bring him to the ground. It’s good to see who’s going to have the ability to make a guy miss and break tackles.”
(On getting the players to focus through the offensive installation)
“It’s not hard. Our approach with the entire offense has been to keep it simple with the purpose of understanding what we want out of practice. Since our very first unit meeting we’ve stressed it’s not what we do, but how we do it. We’re going to play with great effort and great tempo and we’ve really been slow in the installation process for that reason. Until they understand the expectation for practice and playing, then we’re not going to throw a lot of X’s and O’s at them. The installation has been simple. For the quarterbacks, it hasn’t been hard to master.”
(On blending the installation with the “controlled chaos” pace)
“They’ve done a good job with it. It hasn’t been much of a challenge yet. It’s a little more challenge for the other positions. Quarterbacks are used to the speed of the game mentally. That’s what it is like for everybody. There’s not a lot of time to process information between plays and not a lot of time to process information while the ball is snapped. To be a good quarterback, you have to be able to do that. Those guys were obviously very successful at the high school level and I think they have a natural inclination towards that and will continue to grow with that ability.”
(On the pace of practice)
“We call it controlled chaos… Going into adverse situations and hostile environments. We want to make sure they’re prepared mentally and physically. It’s hard to hear in here with the acoustics of the room so emphasizing the little things like their voice and communication. Also, making sure that we create as much of an adverse environment as possible.”
(On the VFLs coming to practice)
“It’s critical for me on a personal level because I understand the tradition that exists here. But to see it and have it tangible, that helps me understand it that much better. You hear the stories about those guys talking about their playing days, where they were in the dorms and where they ate their training table. For our players to see that and hear that – like they did on Saturday with all the VFL guys and former greats – and to understand that throwing on the shoulder pads and helmet that they’re not just representing the name on the front and back of their jerseys, but they’re representing all those great players that played before. That’s important for our guys to understand that.”
(On Coach Zach Azzanni’s upbeat and intense coaching style)
“That’s the way you have to be in this offense. We need those guys to grow up quickly. That’s the reality of it. There needs to be a sense of urgency and there is. You can tell by his coaching style. He does a great job with developing young receivers. He’s bringing those guys along at the pace they need to be brought along at.”
(On attention to detail)
“The X’s and O’s are secondary. It comes down to playing with great effort and playing for one another. When you create a family environment, it encourages an atmosphere where guys are going to play for one another.”
(On the margin of error)
“It’s a game of inches. That’s what Coach Jones talks about. Details make the inches and inches make the champions. We’ve been in games where we’ve won or lost because of once inch. We’re going to coach that inch.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
(On Brent Brewer at linebacker)
“I like Brent at linebacker. It gives us another dimension and more speed on the field. It looks like we are going to be able to hold up back there at the safety position so I think it has been a very good move for us.”
(On pass rushing)
“We do need to improve our pass rushing, we can’t blitz every time to get a pass rush either or you are just putting your secondary in a bind every time. I thought Jacques (Smith) and Corey Miller did some good things today. Obviously I haven’t had a chance to see the film. I may feel differently after I watch the film.
(On getting guys reps)
“That will take care of itself. I don’t anticipate when that will take place. We are going to have to make some decisions here as we go along so that we are getting the right guys reps. That is what I am concerned with. I don’t want to be repping a guy just to rep a guy. I want to make sure that we are getting the guys that have to get reps, reps.”
“I think we are a poor tackling defense right now. I see poor fundamentals when it comes to tackling. I see guys on the ground. There are a lot of things that we have to get cleaned up in terms of tackling. Going to their knees and falling down, you can’t play championship defense when you are doing those things.”
(On the conditioning)
“We are out of shape; they have to get in better shape. But that doesn’t happen every night. We practice fast, it is a high tempo, they have pads on now so that restricts them. There is a lot of anxiety with the first day of pads and hitting, but they are out of shape right now.”
(On watching last year’s game footage)
“I have watched about every game. I saw poor tackling. I don’t want to talk bad, that was in the past. I saw some things that we need to improve on and that is our goal.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at firstname.lastname@example.org)