KNOXVILLE -- Day six of spring practice for the Vols marked the final practice before spring break and a vacation of sorts for the team and the coaching staff.
With the excitement of spring break around the corner, teams can likely be seen taking the day off, but the Vols were working as hard as ever.
"I thought they had good focus and energy," said defensive coordinator John Jancek. "They were excited. I addressed that before practice. They came out and did a pretty good job."
With the early start to spring camp, the coaches wanted the team to get adjusted, and quickly, to the new tempo of the offense. By starting early, the coaches' expectations were also set early.
"You are going to have a week off no matter what," said Jancek. "We thought it was going to be up and get six practices under our belt, get these guys going in the right direction and then come back and finish it with nine more. We started to learn how to practice. We're not where we want to be but we are taking strides. We've just got to come back and pick up where we've left off."
Spring break will be somewhat a test for these Vols.
"It's going to be a test on the maturity of our football team," said Jancek. If they go out and don't do anything that tells us their level of commitment. If they go on Spring Break and they continue to work out and train and make that a priority for them, then we know we've got something to be excited about. If not, then we've got to continue to educate them."
Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian is already looking forward 10 days when the Vols will return to the gridiron.
"The next step is to shake off the rust from spring break, continue to improve in the effort and tempo parts of the game, but now we'll be a little more aggressive with our install," said Bajakian.
"We're focusing on effort," continued Bajakian. "We're focusing on technique. We're focusing on tempo. Once we have those three things under control, now we can focus on X's and O's."
Not only is the entire coaching staff and system new, but with only five returning starters, the Big Orange offense is filled with new faces.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian is tasked with establishing the starting 11, as well as looking to develop depth at every slot.
"We're always trying to establish depth and competition at every position," said Bajakian. "The whole program is built on competition every day. You're never satisfied with where you are from a competition or depth standpoint."
"It's a developmental process that comes along with having young and new players in your program year after year," Bajakian said. "It's not the NFL where we have 10-year veterans. We have new faces in our program every single year."
While that may be the case, Bajakian and his staff are pleased with the effort and willingness to learn that the offense has shown through six practices.
"I am extremely happy with the approach our entire team has taken," said Bajakian. "They are doing absolutely everything we've asked of them. It's refreshing as a coach to have that. They're fighting every day."
Bajakian even believes his offensive Vols would go that extra mile for him.
"If I told them you need to do a cartwheel on this play because it's going to help us, they wouldn't even question it," Bajakian said. "They'll just go out there and do it."
Though the Vols have switched to a 4-3 defense, the focus for defensive coordinator John Jancek right now is for the team to learn the basics.
And that begins with tackling.
"You've got to drill it. You've got to teach the fundamentals," said Jancek. "They've got to go in and watch themselves on film, then come back out and continue to do it every day. That's the basis of playing great defense; you've got to be great tacklers."
"It doesn't do you any good to have a bunch of calls if they don't know how to tackle, run to the ball, or do the things that are necessary to play great defense," continued Jancek. "I want them to learn how to play the game with the tempo and passion that we want to have on defense. Once we establish that then we can get into plays."
Though the plays come later, a basic knowledge of the defense is already instilled.
"The one thing I will say though is that we have a lot of our rule sets in place so anything that we add should make total sense to these guys," said Jancek. "It is not something foreign, so that is why we are taking it slow."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
(On the progress)
“Our guys are getting a very good understanding of what we want out of the tempo and effort level of practice. We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re seeing gradual progress through each practice. That’s what I want… I want improvement on a daily basis. The guys are really attacking it. We’re able to show them more and more clips of what we’re looking for, which is good. As oppose to more and more clips of what we’re not looking for. We always show them the good and the bad, and we’re finally getting to the point where we have more good than bad.”
(On the quarterbacks)
“I like where they are. Today in particular I thought they made good decisions. We emphasize in our meeting room, No. 1 leadership ability – and I saw Nate (Peterman) really step up his command presence at the line of scrimmage – we emphasize protecting the football. Through practices one through five we threw too many interceptions, but we’re getting better. We emphasize completing the football, taking what the defense gives you and managing the football game. I’ll be interested to see the numbers – we chart every practice – but I think we had a high completion percentage today. Then we emphasize getting rid of the football, being on time, being on rhythm and not taking sacks. A couple times today I thought we held onto the ball for a little bit too long, but overall I like the progress they’re making.”
(On the improvement of the receivers)
“It’s night and day right now. Can we get better? Absolutely. They’re making plays and that’s the one thing. We completed three of four deep balls with guys going up and making the play with defenders draped all over them. That’s a big difference. We always say there are four to six plays in the course of a game that will determine the win or loss. You don’t know what plays the four or six are going to be and often times it comes down to a guys on the perimeter making a play in a critical situation. Today we saw that and I was happy to see guys step up”
(On maintaining focus with spring break)
“We emphasize having a dominating attitude in everything we do. Part of that is what we call having a snap-and-clear mentality. We want to dominate every single rep. Obviously, every game, every day or however you want to put it, but it’s a step by step process. We presented to them to come out here and don’t look past practice, just take it one snap at a time and soon enough you’ll find me in a practice where we can celebrate and have fun after that. Our guys had a great approach today. Starting in the meeting room in the morning and they brought it right out onto the field.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
(On who won the day)
“I think the offense won today. We missed too many tackles, that is what is going to happen. You have to learn how to tackle.”
(On making the quarterback live)
“I would be worried if they didn’t get excited. That is a good thing. You don’t practice tackling quarterbacks a lot. You see a lot of times in games where a guy is right there but doesn’t get the quarterback down. He helps us out by doing that.”
(On the teams fundamentals)
“I would say it is pretty normal and what is to be expected. I am not shocked by it. Justin Coleman is a guy that is showing good tackling fundamentals. Byron Moore did some good things today, so did LaDarrell McNeil. At the linebacker position, A.J. [Johnson] did a couple good things, Brent Brewer showed that he has the ability to make some tackles. We just have to become more consistent.”
(On pass rushing)
“It is getting better. It is not where it needs to be but there are guys that show signs sometimes coming off the edge and get after the quarterback a little bit. Jacques [Smith] is getting better. I thought Corey Miller took a step in the right direction today.”
(On the Leo position)
“Jacques, LaTroy [Lewis] and Corey Vereen is getting some work over there. There are a lot of similarities to [a linebacker-end hybrid]. You are right. It is a guy that will drop into coverage.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at email@example.com)