March 27, 2014
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 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
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."