Nov. 13, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In the spring, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian talked about the install process of the Vols' offense.
The basics were put into place.
In the summer, more was added to the playbooks for the Vols.
Where is Tennessee at with two games left in the season?
"It is a never ending process," said Bajakian. "The offense changes every year, changes every week for that matter. The nuts and bolts stay the same. It is a matter of how well our players progress, and learn, and develop. They have done a good job of applying themselves and we will continue to get better."
Bajakian and Co. are still less than a year into implementing their offensive plans for Tennessee.
"Again, in year one, the process of developing that identity, the process of developing that mentality, it is not an instant execution of what we are trying to develop," said Bajakian. "It takes guys time in the system, it takes guys time in the program to understand that. We are getting better and learning every day."
Bajakian would like an extra 15 practices Tennessee would get with a bowl berth to continue the implementation. Something possible if the Vols win their final two games.
"It is very valuable," said Bajakian. "It is like having additional spring football. Bowl preparation you get practices for your youth to develop. We have a lot of youth so it would be invaluable."
WE'RE TALKING ABOUT TACKLING
If John Jancek could pinpoint one aspect of their game that the Tennessee defense needs to improve on with two games left in the regular season, it would be tackling.
"It's been hit and miss," said Jancek. "It's been inconsistent throughout the year. Even in games where statistically we have performed well, there were times when we missed tackles that we should have made."
The Volunteers have not only played the hardest schedule since 1993, but they have also faced some of the most talented and mobile quarterbacks in the game.
"When you look at rushing statistics against us, the quarterbacks have been the most successful," Jancek said. "Whether it's been scrambling and taking off, skipping the pocket or designed runs where he's one-on-one with one of our defenders, we don't get him on the ground, so that's something that has to be addressed now and continued talked about in the offseason."
So far into the season, most college football teams do not hold live practices with full pads and tackling, but statistically speaking, the Vols defensive coordinator believes it is necessary for Team 117.
"We actually tackled live to the ground, which normally you don't do on a bye week near the end or the middle of your season, but it's such an issue for us that we felt like that's something that has to be addressed until we become a better tackling defense," Jancek said.
So far during their open date, Jancek has already seen the coaches' message being implemented in practice with improvements in simple tackling fundamentals.
"We're going to keep pushing them and we're going to keep coaching them hard each and every single day," Jancek said. "We're committed to the University of Tennessee, this football program and getting these guys better."
A STROKE OF LUCK
Johnathon Johnson's journey to Tennessee traveled through Blinn College in Texas.
Not out of the ordinary for Division I football players to make a stop through a junior college on their journey to the big time.
But for Johnson, it was a stroke of luck, and hard work.
"Coach Z [Zach Azzanni] came down to look at my roommate actually and he noticed me on film," said Johnson. "He watched the spring game and I talked to him the next day and he told me they wanted to offer me a scholarship, so I committed on the phone."
Azzanni, the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for the Vols knew that he saw something special in Johnson, who has 11 catches this season for 154 yards in eight games on the field.
"[Azzanni] called and said `hey I am on the recruiting trail and I have come across a receiver that I think could really help us,'" said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. "We have a very good working relationship and I have a lot of trust in his evaluation, as does Coach Jones."
On Butch Jones' team it isn't enough to have the skills on the field, but you have to have the character off the field as well.
Johnson had what it took.
"Part of that too is evaluating his character and mentality," said Bajakian. "Johnathon is one of those guys that all he does is everything you ask of him and he does it right. He focuses on those types of details. He is a guy that has constantly improved from week to week and has become more and more valuable in our offense."
CONSISTENCY & ACCOUNTABILITY
Coming off three-consecutive games against top-10 opponents, the Vols are welcoming the open week, but determined to get better across the board.
While the competition has been arguably the toughest in the nation, defensive line coach Steve Stripling stressed that it would not be used as an excuse, and that his group needs to establish more consistency and accountability.
"It's been frustrating because there were earlier games that I thought as a defensive line we were being consistent and accountable," said Stripling. "Now we've had a couple games where we haven't been.
"Understanding the competition is obviously better does not change the fact that I am accountable to do my job."
For the Vols, that consistency and accountability starts on the practice field.
"The word consistency... We need to get to that point [at practice,]" said Stripling. "We're working our young players extremely hard so they understand regardless of the circumstances - your surroundings, people yelling - that's how we practice. You have to tune all that out and do your job every single play."