March 10, 2009
Tennessee was anything but rusty in its first spring practice effort under head coach Lane Kiffin.
The Vols worked for nearly three hours Tuesday at Haslam Field under the watchful eyes of an entirely new coaching staff sporting entirely new offensive and defensive systems. Yet Kiffin sounded very upbeat when assessing the first day's activities.
"Overall, I'm really pleased," he said. "Knock on wood, there were no fumbled snaps, two false starts, one defensive offside -- for two brand new systems, I was really excited about that.
"I thought it was a great start. I'm proud of our staff because we've put so much energy into this day -- this is a month of work into this day -- and I thought they set a good example for our players about how to prepare."
Tennessee's preparation must have paid off because the Vols showed no signs of rust despite not having practiced football as a team since Nov. 27, or 104 days ago.
"Watching it from my perspective, I thought it looked like we had been out here for a long time," Kiffin said. "Some of the things up front that went on and some of the line calls and changes, we threw a lot at them. A lot of times, you're looking at Day 4 by the time you get to that. So I was really pleased with their preparation for practice and the energy they brought.
"(Our) quarterbacks were 75-78 percent completion. To be able to do that on a first day with a brand new system and everything really excited me. The defense came back and practiced better late. They weren't very good early; the offense got after them. But then the defense rallied and finished the day very good and ended up winning the competition in the end."
Still, Tennessee's first-year head coach wasn't exactly ready to call off the remainder of spring practice, which has 13 more workouts leading into the Dish Network Orange and White Game on April 18.
"We're a long ways away from a championship level, don't get me wrong," Kiffin said. "But we'll push them every day and we'll eventually get there. They gave us spurts of the energy of what we need to see to be at a championship level, but they don't know how to keep going. We'll keep working on it and keep teaching them how to finish."
COMMENTS FROM TUESDAY'S PRESS CONFERENCE
Head Coach Lane Kiffin
"This is extremely exciting time for our staff, our players and our fans. We worked long and hard--many days and many nights--to go into this. You can't imagine how much goes into a practice to be able to do it the way we want to do it. Our goal is for you guys watching practice, the scouts coming to our practice, anyone coming to our practice to walk away saying this is the most physical practice and the most organized practice that they've ever seen. That's our goal from day one. Our coaches will lead the way with that. Our players don't understand that yet; there's no way for them to understand that yet. I think as you watch practice today and throughout the rest of the spring, you'll see our coaches setting the tempo of how to do each individual drill everyday in practice.
"There is no depth chart. We don't have a depth chart and the reason is because the competition is open. Guys have already started learning our playbook, working hard in the weight room and on the field in the drills, and now we get the chance to put pads on and work with a football. Our depth chart will start to develop throughout the spring. We're in no rush to figure that out. We've got to find who can play and who can help us win. We're not worried about who's with the first unit right now because it doesn't matter. We're not going to win any games tomorrow; we're not going to win any games the rest of the month. What we have to figure out is, who are the players that can perform at a championship level to help us win on Saturdays in the fall? You'll see a bunch of guys rotating through; you'll see different first units in each drill. Each player will get the chance to work with different groups to see where we're at on that. If we put guys with the first unit all of the time, they're set up to succeed. We've got to figure out, can you succeed when you're with backup players? Can you succeed when you're with the starters going against the first unit on the other side of the ball? Everyone will learn their spot.
"On offense, we've got to establish our running game and our personality. We've got to be a physical offense and it starts up front, how you go about the running game. We won't run a lot of plays during the spring as far as different run schemes. That's not who we are. We've got to learn who we are. We've got to learn how to run zone. We have a ton of work to do up front and with our backs in the run game.
"In the passing game, we have to get a connection between our quarterback and our receivers. Everyone is involved in the passing game, but the passing game we want is wide-receiver dominated. You'll see a ton of time spent with our quarterbacks and our receivers getting them on the same page.
"On defense, it is brand new system coming in. It is a defense that operates on being very disciplined. It's not a defense that runs a million things. It gets really, really good at a few things instead of being average at a bunch of things. You won't see a bunch of different fronts, a bunch of different blitzes out there. You'll see us playing our base stuff. We have to learn to play with great technique and with great fundamentals before we move on to doing a lot of different things.
"I think you will see a ton of time devoted to special teams over this month. Everyone is available; there is no one who is not available to Coach Gran on special teams. Eventually, as we develop the depth chart, starters will play on special teams. We've got to be a great special teams team, especially early on as we go through this transition of learning a new offense and playing great defense."
Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney
On watching film of the quarterbacks ...
"I've watched a few ballgames. I'm trying to be real open-minded as we approach spring ball and judge them on what they get done on the football field in the upcoming days. I've been kind of limited with that. It's been my history and my past to do it that way."
On what he's looking for from the quarterbacks...
"First and foremost, we hope we don't hyperventilate them out there with only two of them. We're going to try and get through practice with them, manage them. We've got to do a real nice job with their arms. I want to watch them compete. Ultimately, it gets down to competitive spirit at the position, who can lead the team to the end zone."
On the quarterbacks' approach to the new offense...
"I see a bunch of sponges right now. They're absorbing stuff. There has been very limited football that you've been able to do up to this time. Right now, we're pleased with their development and how they're meeting our expectations and competing on the football field. They're hungry to be the starting quarterback."
Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin
On his approach to spring practice...
"It's exciting. We watched conditioning, but you've got to get on the field now. You've got to get it on tape. I can't wait to see the tape after practice to see how we really look."
On if practice will be physical...
"I hope it's not too physical today because we don't have pads on. We do have helmets. I think it will get physical come Friday, our first day in pads. It won't be that way today, but it will be intense."
On teaching his scheme...
"You have control what you're doing; you can't just be running around out there. Our scheme is very important; you have to understand what we're doing. It's a whole new staff and we have to get to know the players better. All of that being said, you better hustle. I want 11 guys going to the football."