April 4, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The mindset of the Tennessee defense is changing from multiple angles. Not only has new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri implemented multiple defensive schemes, but he has demanded "toughness," while doing it.
"My whole thing is if you go out, you put your product on the field and your name is on your back, I want toughness, I want discipline and I want you to act like a pro," Sunseri said after the Vols' Wednesday morning practice inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
Considering the complexity of everything the Vols are trying to take in this spring, Sunseri has been pleased with the progress.
"They've responded," Sunseri said. They've done a lot of good things. They're trying to work hard. It's a lot of new language for them. They've given me everything they have. I'm extremely pleased with their effort. I'm extremely pleased with the way that they're trying to come learn it. Are they going to learn it overnight? No, they're not.
"They're going to keep on working. We have 15 days and that's the way I look at it. Then, we're going to have another 27 days. These guys have come in here. They've bought in. They want to get better. They want to go out and play like a champion." Becoming a champion doesn't just happen because of the players putting in extensive work, though. Everyone in the program is putting in the work.
"No, because I think we have good coaches," Sunseri said on whether the players are struggling with the concepts. "Derek went out, got good coaches and we work hard at what we do. We stay here very late at night. The most important thing is that we're going to give the kids the information for them to be successful."
While much has been made of the Vols' base 3-4 defense, Tennessee will show multiple looks in 2012. But it isn't anyone else's system.
"I'm putting the University of Tennessee's system in," Sunseri said. "I've worked with John Fox, who you guys know was a 4-3 guy. You're going to see a multiplicity of fronts and coverages. It's the University of Tennessee system."
For the University of Tennessee system to work, it has to be about the University of Tennessee.
"I'm pleased with the whole defense, not necessarily one individual," Sunseri said. "This game is not just one person. It's won by a team playing together, doing your job and executing what you're supposed to do. There are 11 guys out there playing against people. If we can win nine out of the 11 matches, we're going to be successful."
That requires every single person to be all-in as Sunseri transforms his unit.
"We also have to be smart," Sunseri said. "This game is more than just going and hitting somebody and all that. You have to think. You have to know your leverage. You have to play this game with a passion. You have to play this game with knowledge. You have to know the down-and-distance. You have to know the situation. It's the total package and that's what I want these guys to know."
CHANEY LOVES HIS QBS
Vols offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has taken on the role of coaching the quarterbacks this season and it's a duty he absolutely "loves."
"I am very pleased," said Chaney, who has spent time working with running backs and tight ends in his first three years with the Vols. "I sit in the room and look around at those kids and I love them. I think they are doing a great job and I think they are a talented group of kids and I am excited to coach those kids. They are working hard and I am excited about it and the possibilities of that room."
Chaney feels the transition to coaching the signal callers on a full-time basis has been smooth and is looking forward to seeing the quarterbacks flourish.
"I love that room," Chaney said. "I feel real comfortable with our staff and where we are sitting at. I am ready to coach the quarterbacks; I think we have three pretty good ones."
Of course much of focus is on returning starter junior Tyler Bray, who got off to a sensational start to his 2011 season before suffering a broken thumb vs. Georgia that derailed him. Bray has continued to grow and mature as he is in the midst of his third spring practice with Tennessee after graduating high school early to begin his career in Knoxville in 2010.
"Tyler is consciously trying to become a moral vocal leader, it is not natural for him to yell and scream he would rather just play football, but he is trying to do that, quite honestly because we need that," Chaney said. "I don't know if any of our quarterbacks are vocal, fiery, `let's go guys, let's kill these guys,' type of guys. But they are all trying to get more ownership and be a little more vocal, and I am trying to push that too."
"I am telling you, (Nathan) Peterman has come in and is picking things up great, and (Justin) Worley is acting like an older guy," Chaney said. "I mean he is really playing well right now and Tyler (Bray) is more confident and calm and acting a lot more mature. It is fun, the room is fun."
With three capable quarterbacks in camp, Chaney feels there is a level of competition that can add to Bray's motivation. But the majority of Bray's push will come from within the California native.
"I think Tyler, quite honestly, from a mature standpoint is competing with himself more than anything else," Chaney said. "He is trying to become a better football player and I am tickled to death. We are all better when we know somebody is shoving on us a little bit. I don't think whether he would overtly notice that, but I think he is feeling it. We all do."
BIG PROBLEM, SMALL ANSWERSTo find an answer to what has been a big problem, Tennessee running backs coach Jay Graham is focusing on the small things.
After inheriting a running game that averaged just 2.8 yards per rush last season, Graham is pleased with the progress his charges have made so far this spring.
"We're doing good," Graham said. "The biggest thing is that I see the effort is there, it's just the little technical things and learning what to do in every situation. Whether it is pass protection, running the ball inside or outside the box, we just have to pay attention to detail and focus on the little things.
"I looked at (last year's film), but the most important thing is what we do from this point going forward. The thing that is important for me is every day I am looking at and evaluating every drill, grading every practice. They have to understand that because we have to be perfect on everything we do technically."
One of those "little things" is the ability to hold onto the ball. To work on that, Graham has been extremely active in certain drills, trying to get the ball away from his running backs any way he can.
"You just have to learn how to squeeze the ball and always think about it," Graham said. "I feel like if we can drill it now, physically it just becomes natural to you. Natural to hold that ball tight when you are cutting and coming out of breaks and all that stuff.
"I try to poke at it. That's what defensive players do, they try to rip away at the ball. You just have to continuously think about holding that elbow tight and doing those things. I am just trying to make them focus on that."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can see a difference in the running backs this spring with Graham tutoring them.
"It seems like they are more focused," Chaney said. "I think either it is Jay, you have to give him some of the credit, but I think quite honestly as a group, as an offense, we ran the ball so poorly last year I think we are a tad bit embarrassed about what we got done so everyone has a pretty good workman's attitude right now."
In addition to the technical aspects of the position, Graham is also working to install a more physical mindset in his running backs.
"We have to run hard, we have to run physical and we have to be desperate to gain every extra yard we possibly can," Graham said. "Whatever they give us. If they give us one yard, we have to fight and strain to get three."