Vols Go Through 'Competition Thursday' In Spring Drills

Fourteen Newcomers Stick Their Noses Right Into The Mix

Friday, March 28, 2014 - by Special to Chattanoogan.com

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coaches dubbed the second practice of the week as "Competition Thursday," and the 14 newest Vols were right in the middle of it.

Competition has been a theme all along this spring with the talent infusion from January meeting the experience that returns. While the steep learning curve was something offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian expected, he said the execution still needs to improve as the new players begin to step up.

"Expected, not tolerated, but expected," Bajakian said of the miscues. "I know we're going to make mistakes. It's Spring ball and you've got nine new offensive players who are here for the first time and a bunch more who are participating in Spring for the first time. I know there's going to be mistakes but I want to see more growth from practice to practice. More growth from day to day. More consistency and performance and more consistency in protecting the football."

At wide receiver, Josh Malone has made an instant impact and is helping pick up the play around him.

"I've seen a steady improvement," wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said of Malone. "After the first couple of practices, he hit a wall in that first scrimmage, but since that day, he's really, really come along. There's a long way to go, but boy, oh boy, you see some flashes. If he keeps improving the way he's improving, he'll be a really great player here."

The competition isn't limited to the offensive side of the ball. Though the defense returns more big names, the newcomers are making an impact there, including in the defensive backfield, where Emmanuel Moseley has made an impression.

"He's really smart, he pays attention to detail, he's really coachable, he's got a great demeanor about him," said defensive coordinator John Jancek. "I love his speed, athleticism and change of direction. Obviously he's really young and makes a lot of mistakes still but I think he's got a bright future."

Up front, Steve Stripling has been impressed with a pair of first-year players on his defensive line.

"Every rep is valuable out there right now, especially with the newcomers," Stripling said. "Dimarya Mixon and Owen Williams - it's great to get them out there. They're getting lots of reps and I'm really excited about those two young men and I think the future's really bright for them."

LAW ENFORCEMENT DAY

The program welcomed 62 members of local law enforcement to practice from seven different organizations for "Law Enforcement Day" at Haslam Field.

Officials present included Chief David Rausch of the Knoxville Police Department, Knox County Sheriff J.J. Jones, UT Chief of Police Troy Lane and representatives of the Alcoa Police Department, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the FBI and the TBI. The guests observed practice and met with Butch Jones and his staff during a reception that followed the practice session.

THE NEED FOR SPEED

SEC defenses are known for two things: size and speed.

With the Volunteers pushing hard in the weight room to build the size of an SEC defense, they've now shifted their focus to developing that elite speed.

"We moved [Justin] Coleman to nickel," said defensive coordinator, John Jancek. "We're adjusting as best as we can with the players that are currently on our roster to get as much speed on the field as we can."

Jancek said that overall this team could have more speed than last year's product and that one of their big areas of improvement will be the mobility of their defensive line. With the addition of Curt Maggitt as a potential pass rushing threat, the defense should be able to create chaos for opposing quarterbacks.

"I think I see a lot of ability to make more plays," he said. "We haven't moved as much as we are going to. We just want them to get comfortable right now. We've got to move those guys around, keeping people on their toes as far as them being a little bit lighter but able to move better."

So far the coaches have been impressed with how the defense - albeit young - has handled their style of play. Newcomers like Emmanuel Moseley in the secondary and Dimarya Mixon on the defensive line have shown the potential to have a fast defense that can fly to the football.

HURD LEARNING DAILY

Much like Butch Jones' motto, "Brick by Brick," freshman Jalen Hurd is learning the Big Orange offense practice by practice.

For the freshman running back, every rep he attains is important and with senior Marlin Lane limited with injury, Hurd is getting to see more playing time this spring.

"Jalen is a smart kid," said Robert Gillespie. "Every practice he is learning the do's and don't's and when we watch film, I think he's able to process it and then go on the practice field and not make the same mistakes again."

Gillespie is pleased to see players like Hurd and the rest of the running back corps urging each other to get better each down that they play.

"I think push is a good word," Gillespie said. "That's what you want. In order to have a really good group of running backs, you have to have a healthy competition. You have to have guys that put a threat in other guys. We have a good mixture of guys."?

LANE LOOKING TO GET BACK IN LINE

Marlin Lane knows that there is no time like the present. The senior running back spent his spring break rehabbing a wrist injury, knowing that the limited number of spring practices is the best time to prove himself to the Tennessee Volunteers coaching staff.

"He's a kid that understands that at the running back position, you have to play through pain and if you don't somebody else is going to get your reps," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie.

On top of aiding to his wrist injury, the senior is continuously proving to be a leader for this upcoming season.

"He's a veteran guy- played a lot of snaps in this offense, played a lot of snaps while he's been here at Tennessee," said Gillespie. "It's great to have a guy like that to be an extra set of eyes."?

SOUND BITES

Here are sound bites from the assistant coaches after Thursday’s practice.

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN

»(On coming back off Spring Break)

"We did some good things overall. From a procedure standpoint, with an emphasis on moving faster and getting lined up quicker, we just have to be more consistent. Overall I liked our team approach. They've responded to what we've asked them to do with a lot of things. We just need to be consistent and make sure we execute in all our situations."

»(On the quarterbacks)

"We did some good things overall. From a procedure standpoint, with an emphasis on moving faster and getting lined up quicker, we just have to be more consistent. Overall I liked our team approach. They've responded to what we've asked them to do with a lot of things. We just need to be consistent and make sure we execute in all our situations."

»(On tight ends Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf)

"We're excited about him. Those guys both bring a level of athleticism that you want at the tight end position. They adjust to the ball, they have good hands, and what I was surprised, what I didn't expect, was them to come in and be as physical as they are. Still inexperienced but they stick their face in the fan and they'll get after it a little bit."

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK

»(On the performance since returning from break)

"I've noticed that the guys are starting to buy into our style of play. We still have an extremely long way to go. Got a long of young players out there for us but I see them growing, I see them progressing - trying to do the things that we're asking them to do in our style of play and our standards and expectations that we have."

»(On the defensive line)

"I think I see a lot of ability to make more plays. We haven't moved as much as we are going to. We just want them to get comfortable right now. We've got to move those guys around, keeping people on their toes as far as them being a little bit lighter but able to move better."

WIDE RECEIVERS COACH ZACH AZZANNI

»(On the newcomers gelling with the older players)

"No doubt and also just the room, the culture, the personalities, coaching each other, they like each other, they hang out. They are a fun group right now, I am having a lot of fun coaching them. Are we making mistakes? Yeah. Are we loafing? Yeah. I am getting them to play harder but boy-oh-boy they are a fun group to coach. You can't always say that and I can say that right now, I am having fun."

DEFENSIVE LINE COACH STEVE STRIPLING

»(On who has caught his eye)

"Owen Williams catches your eye because he's a little bit more mature and he's really physical, extremely strong and very quick. He fits our style of play. Now he just has to learn and learn to play harder and better all the time."

»(On how the pass rush)

"It has been good. We spend a lot of individual time against the offensive line improving techniques. It is a young crew so there's a lot of room to improve on technique. There's a lot of what we call `FBI' involved - knowing when it is pass and which way the protection is turning, all those kind of things. We've got a long way to go on those aspects but, again, I like our athletic ability."

OFFENSIVE LINE COACH DON MAHONEY

(On accelerating maturity)

"I just have to demand more. There is absolutely no letting up from them, and also the point I made to them was that leadership has got to improve more. There were guys that were in and weren't focused. Tuesday we got after it pretty good, and today was another opportunity for us to improve our style of play and identity. Some guys didn't step up leadership wise like they needed to, and I addressed that. Putting the gas down on leadership needs to happen more and I'm going to turn the heat up on a lot of the guys."

»(On how the pass rush)

"It has been good. We spend a lot of individual time against the offensive line improving techniques. It is a young crew so there's a lot of room to improve on technique. There's a lot of what we call `FBI' involved - knowing when it is pass and which way the protection is turning, all those kind of things. We've got a long way to go on those aspects but, again, I like our athletic ability."

LINEBACKERS COACH TOMMY THIGPEN

»(On the newcomers)

"Their eyes are all big right now. They walk into a room and, especially when the offense puts in new plays and things they haven't seen, they have no clue how to fit it, don't know what to call it. The thing I like is that we have older guys on the sideline like Jalen Reeves-Maybin telling those guys how to pick the plays, what that play was, what does the assignment do.

"With those guys, every day is going to be a learning lesson. We put in new calls on defense and they put in new calls on offense. There are adjustments to be made. I know some of this stuff we're saying to them is foreign, but the fact that they're getting it on tape and seeing themselves on tape. It's a lot easier to study yourself when you're watching yourself do it wrong or do it correctly than it is to watch someone else."

(E-mail Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com)


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