Oct. 24, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Much has been made of Tennessee simplifying its defensive schemes in recent weeks in order to allow its players to play at a faster pace.
While certain schematic changes have been made on the field, UT defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is more focused on the approach the team is taking off the field during the week leading up to game day.
It is that continued investment in improvement that he believes will pay off in the long run.
"I don't believe we have stripped away that much," Sunseri said. "We did simplify it a little bit and took some checks out, but these guys are busting their butt. They are coming in and watching tape and doing what they need to do. These guys need to learn that football is played every single day with a mentality, with a thought process and you have to know it. And when you go out there and play against football teams you have to execute. Executing and consistency is the most important thing you have to do."
When things aren't going the way he would like, Sunseri only knows one way to get them fixed. Hard work.
"We are just going to keep on pushing and going and making these kids the best football players they can be," Sunseri said. "[We want to help them] learn how to compete play-in and play-out, learn how to strain their bodies, because that is what this comes down to is going out there applying technique, straining when you are in the technique and getting off and making plays."
It isn't just the physical side of the game that the Vols are working hard to improve at either. Because of the intricate offensive schemes found all over college football right now, Sunseri stresses the need for improvement on the mental side just as much.
"We are going out there every single week and would like to not give up any explosives, not give up any touchdowns and all that," Sunseri said. "We have to stop that. We have to be a great defense and being a great defense is knowing what to do, how to do it and why you are doing it. I think they are getting a better understanding of that.
"Young men who are playing this game have to understand that you are no longer able to come out here and play one front and one coverage. There are multiple things that the offense is doing and you have to be able to adjust and apply your checks. Until you get to that process where you can go, you can see a formation, you know your check and you can apply it, you are going to have some problems."
Tyler Bray and the Tennessee offense had a tough test last week against No. 1 Alabama and the top defense in the country. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney knows that and says the Vols have bounced back rather well from the 44-13 loss and had one of their best practice weeks of the season.
"I think anytime you aren't executing the way you want you just work harder," said Chaney. "There is not a magic wand you can wave or a magic pill you can take, you go out and study football film more and you work hard on the practice field and concentrate a little bit more. You just amplify what you try to do on a daily basis. That is what we are trying to get done this week."
As stated by many of the players earlier this week, the 2012 Vols are a much different team than last season. Their mentality and maturity has helped the team come back from losses in a more positive light.
"When we haven't done well we have gone out and practiced better and you hope it shows up on the football field," said Chaney. "Historically that is what has happened. When you practice better, you play better. I will hang my hat on that until I get out of this profession."
Chaney believes this new attitude is because the team is truly fully vested in the program, including Bray.
"I think Tyler has gone through what everyone does," said Chaney. "The more you invest, the harder it hurts. When you put in all the hours that these kids do ... it is why it is harder on the seniors when bad things come their way than it is on the freshmen, this idea of investment is important and he has invested a lot. When you invest more, it hurts you more. I think that is common behavior."
Bray's backup, sophomore Justin Worley, is one of those younger players. However, Worley gained SEC starts in his freshman season and as Chaney believes, has a growing confidence in his second year with the program.
"I think his confidence level is a lot higher and I think he understands the offense better now than he did a year ago," said Chaney. "He has seen all the teams in the league. He understands what he has to do to get ready to play games. I think Justin has been in a good place all year and I look forward to him to be ready to play if we need him to play."
DOOLEY'S TAKEOn his weekly SEC teleconference, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley touched on three topics with writers from around the league.
He raved about the Vols' leading tackler, A.J. Johnson, who has 68 tackles over UT's last four games.
"He has been the heart and soul of our defense, he has been incredibly productive, his level of consistency day-in and day-out, game-in and game-out has just been unmatched on our team," said Dooley. "He is starting to really blossom into the role of the MIKE and being a leader. We forget that he is only in his second year of the program. The more that he continues to play, take ownership of the team, he is on his way to a real special career. Against South Carolina, I think executing what we do against what they do is what he needs to do and do it every down."
Dooley detailed why the Vols are tied for second in the nation in fewest sacks allowed, giving up just three sacks on 2012.
"Usually when you don't have many sacks, especially when you are throwing the football, it takes the whole offense to contribute to that," he said. "Certainly it starts with the offensive line and we finally have an experienced group who has a lot of good ability up front. Then it is the quarterback of knowing when to get rid of the ball and how quickly to get rid of the ball. It is the receivers running fast routes so the quarterback can get rid of the ball and then it is the running backs who have to step up and make some blocks in protection.
"It is always a team thing and there is no question that this will be our toughest challenge because of the relentless pass rush that South Carolina has put on their opponents. They have a lot of special players, they play with great technique and effort and it is going to be a big challenge for us to come out of here without getting the quarterback hit."
Finally, Dooley was asked about South Carolina native and the Vols' electric kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson.
"I never have been around someone who has made a bigger impact in such a short time," said Dooley. "The first game of the year he really stepped up. He has incredible play making ability; it is just really early in his development as a wide out. But when he has the ball in his hands and he has a little space to work with he can do special things."