April 11, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - While much has been made of improving the run game this spring, Tennessee is also focused on improving its short-range passing game. Junior quarterback Tyler Bray's arm has struck fear into the opposing secondary, specifically when covering deep.
But as his ability to read the defense improves, the Tennessee offense is becoming more lethal, especially with its speed on checkdowns.
"It's a point of emphasis," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said of checkdowns after UT's Wednesday morning practice at Haslam Field. "I think when you have guys that can run like Rajion, trying to get him the ball any way you possibly can is a benefit to our offense. Also, checkdowns demonstrate a quarterback's ability to work through a progression on a play."
It's as easy as one, two, three.
"It means he's moving to one to two to three," Chaney said of Bray's progression. "If we're doing that, usually you're seeing a lot of patience and maturity out of your quarterback position, which is what I think I saw a little bit on Friday. I hope to see more of that as spring goes on."
One particular checkdown during UT's first spring scrimmage was arguably the highlight of the day, when Bray found the electric Devrin Young, who turned it into a 35-yard gain.
Chaney is looking for more accuracy from his starting quarterback during the Vols' scrimmage on Saturday.
"His decisions weren't bad, but he was off-target with the football," Chaney said. "I think the numbers would indicate in this case that he didn't play particularly well. I don't think that always means that as we've spoke about before. I think he continues to develop. He's worked on some little fundamental things this week that we needed to get cleaned up from Friday's scrimmage."
Bray is entering his third season at Tennessee seventh all-time with 35 touchdown passes, ninth with 3,832 passing yards and 10th with 272 completions.
DEFENSIVE STATE OF MIND
With nine practices under his belt as the Vols' defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is "extremely happy" with the progress of his unit.
"These kids have bought in; they have worked their butts off," Sunseri said. "They are trying to get better. They are out here every single morning. They want to become a good football team and that is all you are asking for."
The differences with the defense have also had an impact on the offense, as the Vols' units scrimmage against each other daily. The changes have certianly been noticed by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney
"They're all over the place and they're fun," Chaney said. "It's creative. It makes us be rule-driven in what we're doing offensively in making sure we're very sound in our plays that we're doing. I like that. I'd much rather deal with that in the spring than I would one defense. That bores the heck out of me. I enjoy seeing multiple blitzes and multiple things. We're getting that from our defense. They're really grasping the system and playing good too right now over there."
The defensive players have really taken to Sunseri's style and the longtime NFL assistant is striving to build the Vols not only as players but as men.
"I am not going to tolerate anybody not doing it to the best of their ability, let anybody down," Sunseri said, "because the product we want to put in that stadium is people and the Tennessee nation to be happy with what we are putting out on the field. To me when you go out on that football field you don't know when it is going to be your last play so you better play like it is your last play and give everything you can to this university.
"This university is giving these guys an education and that is what they need to understand, they are getting an education, they are going to go out here, they are going to represent us, not only this year but years after that but have a chance to go where they want to go. And then once they do that they have a degree in their hands and they will be successful in life."
The defense is still a work in progress for Sunseri, but he calls the adjustments "normal," as the team preps for its second scrimmage on Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
"It is like anything else, you are taking a new system and they are doing a bunch of fronts adjustments and coverage adjustments and they are thinking out there," Sunseri said. "But that is just normal at this point in time. That is why you have spring ball. You have 15 days to get better. And not only are we just looking at the first group we are looking at the whole, we have 22 people, we want to have as many people as we can to go in there and give us depth to be successful on defense."
DISH O&W GAME SET FOR APRIL 21The DISH Orange & White Game will take place on Saturday, April 21 with a 2:30 p.m., kickoff. Admission and parking will be free for all fans. In addition to free admission to the game, Fan Appreciation Day will feature an autograph signing with head coach Derek Dooley, assistant coaches and Vol players. The signing, held in recent years at Haslam Field, will be held on the field at Neyland Stadium from 12:15-1:15 p.m.