March 22, 2013
KNOXVILLE -- No. 91.
But instead, on Thursday during Tennessee's last practice before spring break, there was a tall, lanky figure streaking down the sidelines sporting 91.
Paul Harris, the early-enrollee freshman WR and native of Accokeek, Md., was assigned the awkward number by the coaching staff.
"Coach Jones is the master of motivation," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "Wearing No. 1 at the University of Tennessee is a privilege. Think about all the great guys that have worn that jersey... We were just sending a message to Paul that, in certain parts of his game, he needs to pick it up."
WR coach Zach Azzanni echoed Bajakian's feelings on the subject, and said while gesture was meant to send a message; it was more of a fun and gentle prod encouraging the young wideout to perform better.
"Paul wasn't playing deserving of No. 1. And around here it's real easy, we reward achievement," Azzanni said. "It was kind of a little bit of a jab at him. He needs to play faster; it was kind of a fun type deal. But at the same time, we reward achievement. If you want to get treated well around here, then play real good, play real hard, play with a lot of effort and we take care of you. If not, your food's a little worse, your jerseys a little bigger, that's just how we do it."
Harris appeared to be on his way to eating good again, as he caught a long bomb down the sidelines at one point during the team session of practice.
While some freshman might not take such a gesture `in stride', Azzanni wasn't concerned with how Harris would respond.
"He's a great kid," Azzanni said. "He's going to be just fine. He didn't like that and that was the point. If he liked it, we'd be in trouble. But he didn't like it. He's got pride, he's not going to say anything, he's going to come out here and work his tail off. He's going to be right up there in my office for the rest of the day watching every bit of his film. That's how he is. He'll get better."
SURPRISE! NOW KICK A FIELD GOAL
One thing Butch Jones and the Tennessee football coaches have been trying to do with the Vols are to make them extremely uncomfortable.
The purpose? To be ready for anything that could be thrown at them during the season.
Jones' main target? Michael Palardy.
But Palardy has taken it all in stride.
He's so focused that when he was asked to line up for a field goal Thursday, and Jones' yelled his name over and over into the microphone, Palardy didn't react to what he was saying until he nailed the kick through the uprights.
Then he turned around and asked `What?' to Jones, who laughed and ran away.
"He has done a nice job," said Palardy's special teams coach Mark Elder. "We put those guys in pressure situations as much as we possibly can. It is a lot different, as I always say; it is like a golfer being out there on the course when it matters is way different than at the driving range. I look decent on the driving range every now and then but I will tell you what, I cannot score under 100 to save my life."
"It is the same thing with (kickers). When there is no pressure and nothing involved as that is concerned there are a lot of guys that can look good. What we are trying to do is put those guys in pressure situations and see how they are going to perform under pressure."
Another pressure situation Jones puts Palardy in is a "surprise" 20 second field goal.
"You can be in a two minute drill and you make a long play and it is going to be the last play of the game and you are going to have to sprint out there and kick a ball when you did not get to slowly take your steps and get set and feel the wind," said Elder. "We are going to expect you to put it through the uprights and win the ballgame for us. That is the guy that you want out there, the guy who thrives under the pressure."
ALWAYS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Of all the position groups on Tennessee's roster, the most experienced, and perhaps most talented, is the offensive line.
The Vols return four of the five starter from last season's group that finished fifth in the country in sacks allowed, giving up just eight in 12 games. This number is even more impressive when considering Tennessee finished in the top 30 for pass attempts in the country.
However, despite the numbers and the returning talent, offensive line coach Don Mahoney has a very simple message--last year wasn't good enough.
"We have to play better. We didn't win enough in the past," Mahoney said. "We have to play better with more depth. Yes it is experience, since I've got here it's been 'how many guys are back' and we do. They're solid players. But they have to play better than they did a year ago. Last year wasn't good enough. It's a challenge for me, it's a challenge for them. I hit it home to them every chance I get. It wasn't good enough and we have play beyond that. We have to work that much harder to do things better than we did a year ago."
With a group as talented as this line is, sometimes hype can inflate egos. But Mahoney has a solution for that.
"Oh, we remind them that they're not (that good)," Mahoney said. "It's just the reality, last year is last year. It wasn't good enough. It just wasn't and it needs to be better."
"The thing is, and it's what I enjoy about this group--they like to be challenged. They're not satisfied. And my emphasis to them is that every day is a chance to get better and again, it wasn't good enough. We gotta keep working to be as good as we can be individually and then collectively as a unit."
Individually, Mahoney pointed to several players that have been making strides so far in spring practice. Mack Crowder and Kyler Kerbyson got nods from the coach for their improvements, both on the field and in the weight room. Ja'Wuan James also received praise from his position coach, regarding his role as a leader on the team.
"Ja'Wuan James has stepped up as that voice," Mahoney said. "He's done a really good job of leading the group, as well as take it upon himself to lead the offense."
THE THREE T's
Butch Jones and his staff put a lot of emphasis on playing hard for every second of practice.
For the linebacking corps there are three things that they need to focus on every day.
The Three T's if you will.
Tackling. Turnovers. Third Downs.
In order to achieve these three every day in practice you have to play hard and sacrifice your body. Something that Tommy Thigpen sees in his players, especially in recently appointed linebacker Brent Brewer.
"He is one of the more consistent guys," said Thigpen. "He is one of those guys that doesn't care about his body. He's not afraid at all to stick his helmet in there. They all play physical and they all are trying to be physical."
"Brew's still learning the position but all he does when he goes out there, he goes 110 percent," continued Thigpen. "One thing I do like about Brewer is his maturity. He's a whole new guy. He carries himself like an older player and he asks questions like an older player."
Another hard hitter is someone who has donned the Big Orange and White for less than two years, but has played like a veteran for his first two seasons on Rocky Top, A.J. Johnson.
At middle linebacker, Johnson led the SEC in tackles last season, an impressive feat. But Thigpen is trying to get his playmaker to add to his career stats in other columns.
"Oh he's got to do better," said Thigpen. "I mean again, he made a lot of tackles but we emphasize production. You know, tackles are tackles but sacks, tackles for losses, caused fumbles, fumble recoveries, that's what we want out of him this year. He told me he had one sack his whole career, so we got to get that up. There's always room for improvement."
"For that position, to gain the respectability of your teammates, you have to go out there and know your job then know everybody else's job and that's what we challenged him for."
SMITH STEPPING UP
Smith, who disrupted SEC offenses last season as a JACK linebacker in the 3-4 defense; will likely be seen more on the line this year as the LEO.
"I will say this about Jacques, he has adapted quickly," said Stripling. "He was the player of the day in Tuesday's practice when we grade the film and reward a player. He has been especially quick to pick up the techniques, the checks, all of those things. His transition has been phenomenal. He has really stepped into it."
Pass rushing is highly emphasized in the defense this season. And getting to the quarterback is a priority.
"Our philosophy is to get to the quarterback with a four man push, that really helps defensively," said Stripling. "We are going to ask a lot of our players. We are going to ask a lot of our D-Linemen to make plays."