Vol practice report (4/11)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/SUBMITTED) -- 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.”

INJURY RIDDLED RECEIVERS

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.”

SOUND BITES

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN

(On getting Peterman more reps)
“Depth across the board is always an issue. We always tell the receivers, the tailbacks, the running backs, we tell all positions in the pass game that they paint the picture for the quarterback. Everything is about timing. Everything is about spacing. They need to be in a specific location at a specific time. When you have the shuffling at the wide receivers position that we’re having, it’s hard to develop that timing and rhythm. For Nate, we just want to get him some more reps with a quicker timing.”

(On the progress of offense)
“When plays come our way, we have to make them. I’m pleased with the progress of the offense, in general, but I’m not pleased with the consistency. It’s always a process. I understand that. It’s a long way to Austin Peay. We’re going to continue to build slowly, continue to make sure that we’re not taking the next step until we master what we’re currently working on. For Jason (Croom), it’s just a matter of playing with an effort level that we want, playing with the tempo we want, and then when the ball comes your way, he has to use his size and physicality to his advantage.”

(On finishing out the play)
“I told the guys from day one that we’re going to win ball games because we’re going to play with an effort level that is unique to the University of Tennessee. If we’re not finishing, everything else falls by the wayside. If we’re not finishing our routes, we’re not finishing the plays, and we’re not finishing the run game. We always talk about our effort on the backside of the play could be the difference between a 10-yard game and a touchdown. Cutting off that backside corner and taking a pursuit angle could be the difference between a big gain and a touchdown. You never know when that opportunity may come so you have to treat every play like a big play.”

(On wrapping up spring practice)
“We have a good chunk of the package. Our first year together as an offense, we were as basic as basic could be. I believe you can execute, you can have success, if you play with great effort and great tempo. You don’t need a big volume of plays. We have enough of the package in there that we could go out and play tomorrow. And have enough on third down to execute on third down, and have enough in the red zone to execute in the red zone. We’ll build the package as we go, but right now I’m putting the brakes on.”

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
(On the personnel groups)
“It is pretty standard. The thing is that we have to hit all of the personnel groups. We have to hit 12 personnel, two-back personnel, 22 personnel, two tight ends, goal line. There is a lot that goes into it and you want to make sure that you have a progression of teaching that makes sense to the players because you have to cover a lot of different things. In our league you have to go from playing Oregon to playing Florida to playing Alabama. You have to have a lot of things in place so they can play by rule and all that.”

(On pass rushing)
“Our four down pass rush has to get better. We don’t have a tremendous edge presence right now. When we blitz I think we are doing some good things, but you can’t do that all the time. You have to be able to play coverage on third down and hopefully impact the quarterback with your front four. That is where we are pretty predictable right now. If we get you into a third down situation and we want to get after the quarterback right now we are doing that through pressure whereas we want to graduate and grow and move towards the front four getting the pressure and us playing some sort of coverage.”

(On the ends)
“They are all getting better, they are all trying to do it the right way. LaTroy [Lewis] had a sack today, Jordan [Williams] in the scrimmage did a nice job on one of our line stunts and had a sack. Those guys are getting better it is just a level of consistency each and every day that is going to get us to where we want to go.”

(On the mindset of the team)
“Your intentions are to get them to play faster by keeping it simple but it is still an effort, mentality and mindset. They have to make sure that tempo is the foundation of our defense and not the scheme. That has been our message here pretty consistently.”

(On the installation)
“We have installed and progressed. It is not like we couldn’t go out and put in another blitz for Saturday. We should be able to execute. All of the rules are in place. Once you get your rule sets. How you are going to handle empty, how you are going to handle certain route combinations in your pressures it should be easy to add a pressure without changing those rule sets.”

WIDE RECEIVER COACH ZACH AZZANNI

(On the receivers)
“I’m disappointed in some of the progress we’ve made. We take two steps forward, take a step back. Then the injuries haven’t helped. I haven’t been able to settle a guy into a position. This guy is down, so I have to move this guy over here. So I’ve been disappointed, but also expected.

(On having to be the leader as a coach)
“There’s been a couple of teams with young players and inexperienced players where you have to show them. You have to educate them. They don’t know. They’re out there trying to survive right now. You have to help them and tell them how to meet, how to practice, how to jog on the field, how to put the pads in their pants, the whole deal.”

(On benefits of coming in early as a newcomer)
It’s huge. I think Paul Harris made the comment ‘Coach, I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t here in January.’ I can remember the days when they actually just showed up to training camp. I don’t know how we did that, especially in our offense and the tempo we go at. It’s a learning adjustment, but I’ve had freshmen play. A lot of them. Antonio Brown came into Central and had 103 catches and never played the position. In two weeks, he was one of the best receivers in the country so it can happen.”

(On Jason Croom)
“He had a very poor practice on Tuesday. Probably his worst of the season. It bothered him. We got on him pretty good. But he came back and responded better today. The thing about Jason is he really, really does care. He is a high rep guy and needs a lot of reps. He can’t just go out there and do it right off the bat when I draw it on the board. He needs reps and he’s getting better. He needs to see himself do it. He’s improving little by little in all different areas.”

(On not having a veteran quarterback)
“It would definitely help. In the summertime especially. Kind of grabbing those guys by the collar and saying ‘Let’s go, we have to get this done.’ Right now, I think our both of our quarterbacks are pretty outstanding. I feel bad for them because we’re not as good on the perimeter as we need to be so we’re screwing them up at times and maybe slowing their development down a bit.”


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