April 11, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Practice number 11 has come and gone for the Tennessee Football team, Thursday.
Though the Vols are getting close to the end of spring practices, defensive coordinator John Jancek is still expecting a high amount of intensity from his defense.
"We are in practice No. 11, they are starting to taper off right now," said Jancek. "We have to keep it going and finish strong. I wasn't really happy with the last practice and our tempo and the way that we ran to the ball."
"There is a level of intensity that we have to have," said Jancek. "We want results. To get those results there is a competitive nature that has to be in place, there is a level of intensity and passion to get the results the way that we want them and that is our intentions. We are not going to settle for anything less than doing it the right way."
Jancek expects his team to do things the right way, and with just over a week left to do so in the spring there is a sense of urgency to get things right, and build momentum towards fall camp.
"There is a tremendous sense of urgency now," said Jancek. The big thing too is that you are trying to do things and you are building a video bank for them to study and for the freshmen that come in to study over the summer so they can do things on their own when the coaches aren't around. Those are the things that we are trying to do."
As the spring season comes to a close, Jancek expects the same things out of his team as the season began.
"I am looking for them to compete, run to the ball, tackle, communicate and execute. All of those things are crucial to playing great defense. That is where we are at."
RISING FROM THE VALLEY
For any young football team there will be highs and lows. It is how you bounce back from the low points and how you take advantage of the high points that makes you a good football team.
During Saturday's scrimmage the young Tennessee offense didn't come out with the intensity that they needed and the defense got the best of them.
Thursday's practice seemed to be a little different.
"We have been building each practice, going back to Saturday's scrimmage," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. "We had momentum early in the scrimmage, we lost momentum and then we didn't have anyone step up and take it back. Today, I felt we had some guys make plays in critical situations that gave us momentum."
Those situational plays could be potential game changers for the Vols in the fall.
"What I liked about today was the different situations we put the guys in," said Bajakian. "The fact that, just like it would be in the course of a game, there were ups and downs. There were emotional peaks and valleys. We didn't let momentum shift one way or the other. We stayed consistent. When the momentum seemed to be going the other way, we bounced back and made some plays, so that was good."
While consistency is what the coaches are looking for the team to be, Bajakian is waiting for a playmaker to emerge this spring practice.
"We made some plays today," said Bajakian. "We made some plays in the scrimmage. But we have to use a phrase I've used before. We need go-to playmakers. Guys that we can dial up when the game is on the line in a critical situation. More than one guy."
"It's a process with all of our guys. I'm still waiting for someone to take the reins and be that consistent playmaker."
Coming into the spring ball everyone knew the Vols' receiver corps was going to have a fresh look with the early departures of Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson to the NFL Draft and the graduation of Zach Rogers.
But wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni could never have imagined he would have had to deal with a significant rash of injuries to the young corps of wideouts.
With Vincent Dallas, Jacob Carter and Paul Harris already sidelined with injuries, the Vols lost another rising receiver on Thursday. Redshirt freshman Jason Croom suffered an injury during practice. That left the Vols with four scholarship receivers: Devrin Young, Cody Blanc, Pig Howard and Drae Bowles.
Add in that Young was a running back until two months ago and the inexperience at receiver is glaring. Plus, Blanc and Bowles have never caught a pass in a college game.
"I walked into a situation where let's be honest, there's three guys who should be jogging onto that field who aren't here anymore," said Azzanni, who included early NFL Draft entry quarterback Tyler Bray. "Take that, with Cody Blanc who was a safety in high school. Devrin Young was a running back until two months ago. Jacob Carter was a walk-on. Jason Croom had shoulder surgery and hasn't played for a year. There's a lot of things you can point to that aren't excuses, but reality. That's what it is right now, so a little bit to be expected."
Azzanni attributes some of the injuries to an adjustment and increase in expectations with the new coaching staff.
"Absolutely. 100 percent. I think you understand why it happens. I think you try to guard against it with January and February with Coach Lawson," said Azzanni. "Everything we do is gearing up to jogging out there and how we practice and prepare ourselves. There is some of that to be expected. What's great about it is they get it now. They better take care of their bodies. They better get sleep. They better hydrate or they can't play in this offense. It goes too fast and we play too hard."
The Vols return just 35 total catches from its receivers for 2013 with Howard leading that group with an underwhelming total of 13 for just 54 yards.
"I don't have a leader right now," said Azzanni of the dearth of experience. "I'm the leader. I'm the captain. Going back to my playing days. We just don't have a guy that has experience that's stepped up. And the guys that do have a little experience aren't playing because they're hurt. It's been tough. That's what we're doing so in another year or two years, there are some of the guys."