KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A lot was made about the Vols coaching staff turnover heading into the 2012 season. With seven new full-time coaches on staff, how would they gel?
Well according to head coach Derek Dooley, the staff has built a great amount of chemistry which has led to early-season success for Tennessee.
"I think it's fair to say that there isn't a member of our staff that isn't committed to the same purpose, the same goals and doesn't believe in how we are doing things and what we are doing," said Dooley. "Staff unity always means team unity. That's important."
Both sides of the ball showed well in the debut vs. NC State including the offense piling up 524 total yards while the defense had four takeaways, all on interceptions.
Also on Wednesday, the Vols' coordinators spoke to the media and relayed their thoughts on the win over NC State and upcoming foe Georgia State.
CAPTAIN AND COMMANDERFriday night at the Georgia Dome, Tyler Bray recorded his seventh-career 300-yard passing game behind some big plays to Cordarrelle Patterson, Zach Rogers and Justin Hunter.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney believes that Bray, who is in his third year with the Vols, is seeing this success thanks to a typical "seasoning" that comes with playing with a team for a few years and is happy with Bray's effort against the Wolfpack.
"I think he played very well," said Chaney. "As Tyler would probably tell you I think he missed a few things but he threw the ball down the field as accurate as I have seen. His command of the game and leadership was pretty doggon' good. I don't know if this was his best one but he played really well."
Tennessee used the no-huddle offense against the Pack and Chaney believed the success was due to Bray's understanding of the play calls.
"I think he feels like he gets more because of the ownership of understanding," said Chaney." He understands the plays better but we aren't doing many things different than we have done in the past. He is getting the plays in, he is getting everybody lined up and he understands it better. Ultimately, we are running the same plays we always have and he knows what he is doing."
Along with big plays, Bray was able to spread the offense to 10 different receivers over the course of the game. While the spread offense is nice, Chaney is much happier with the big plays that the team was able to develop.
"I think when you are trying to generate those big plays and make those big plays, that results in poise," said Chaney. "Big plays are important. If we only had three healthy wide receivers and we made 15 big plays I would still be happy. Moving the ball around, he did a nice job with that. But hitting the big plays when they were afforded to him that is a special time. For him, understanding coverage a little bit better, hats off to him because when they afforded it to us he took it for the most part."
Chaney believes Bray's understanding of the game, his poise in the pocket, and his reads on the defense have all improved with time. And they should only continue to get better as the year goes on.
"In all aspects of his game of football he has improved," said Chaney. "He is a year older, he has more reps, he will deliver at practice, he is doing the same things over and over and he is getting better at it. Just like all of us, the more we do something the better we become and I think that is what you are watching with Tyler."
VOLS D GETS AN A ON FIRST TESTAfter months spent learning the new playbook, watching film and working hard on the practice field, the Tennessee defense finally got a chance to show off its new look last Friday and did not disappoint.
In the debut of defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri the Vols created havoc all over the field, finishing with four interceptions, a sack which led to a safety and at least a dozen other hits on NC State quarterback Mike Glennon.
While Sunseri's scheme has gotten most of the credit, he is quick to downplay that talk, saying instead that the success is the by-product of a focus on fundamentals and technique by the entire coaching staff.
"I think our whole staff has done a great job," Sunseri said. "Coming in and putting the system in, we had 15 days of spring ball and however many we had in camp, and the kids went out there and executed what they were able to do. We were successful, but by no means are we satisfied with anything.
"The bottom line is that every single day you go out on that field, if you are going to be in this program, you are going to work the fundamentals and the techniques to be perfect because that is what is going to win football games. A call doesn't win football games, it is you going out there every single day competing against your opponent and having a chance to whoop his tail."
While the Vols displayed significant improvement in those fundamental football skills, namely tackling, that doesn't mean they are where they want to be. Nor does it mean they will start dedicating that portion of practice to something else.
"The tackling was better but you still go out there every single week and you work on it every day in practice," Sunseri said. "That's the thing that people don't understand, if you don't go out there and practice the fundamentals of this game - blocking, tackling, block protection - you are going to get beat."
Unlike most defensive coordinators, Sunseri does his work from the field on game day, which allows him more time to communicate one-on-one with his players. That paid off in spades against NC State as the Vols were able to adjust to the high-powered Wolfpack offense and hold them to just 168 yards in the second half, 47 of which came on their final drive of the game.
"I think everybody got settled back in and we got them over on the sideline," Sunseri said. "That's what coaching is all about, getting them over there, showing them what the mistakes were and then once you get settled you see the adjustments you have to take care of."
While the Tennessee offense put on quite a show of its own, Sunseri and his defensive staff had to watch it on film the next day as they were a little busy while Tyler Bray and Co. were piling up the points.
"Every time [the defense] comes off the field, you'll see that none of the defensive coaches are watching the game," Sunseri said. "We're getting with the players, telling them what the next play is going to be and coaching the players to expect what is going to happen to them."
Looking forward to Georgia State on Saturday, Sunseri expects a challenge from the Panthers.
"I'm going into this game saying that Georgia State is a good football team," Sunseri said. "You have to respect them because they do have some weapons if you don't go out there and do what you are supposed to do.
"Georgia State is going to try to spread us out and give us a bunch of different looks, they'll give us the option, give us the zone read, try to throw the ball down the field with Seattles and stuff. We just have to go play fundamental football."