KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) -- As Team 117 dives back into practice, the Tennessee coaching staff is looking for their players to exude a level of consistency.
If you are consistent, you will improve.
The coaches aren't holding just the players accountable; they hold themselves to the same standard as well.
"My thing is be consistent," said defensive coordinator John Jancek. "Every day we need to be consistent. As coaches and as players. If you get a little bit better every day, by the time the first game rolls around we should be in good shape."
With just under 150 days to go until the first game of the season, the Vols have some time to learn to be consistent. But they need to use these spring practices to show their coaches that they can be playmakers.
"We need - not just playmakers and not just flashes - but guys that are going to play consistently and make plays consistently," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. "Those "go-to guys" that you have in your offense that you can get the ball to. And that's what we're still trying to identify."
There have been some stand outs early on, on both sides of the ball.
"The guys we've talked about all along are doing a good job," said Bajakian. "Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal are doing a good job. On the perimeter, there have been flashes from Pig Howard and Devrin Young. We've seen Jason Croom make some plays and Vincent Dallas and Cody Blanc make some plays."
On the defensive side of things, it is the veterans that have been improving and standing out for the Vols.
"Dontavis Sapp has been coming on," said Jancek. "He has showed a steady improvement. AJ [Johnson] has shown some improvement. Our D-Line, Marlon Walls has shown some improvement up front, Corey Miller is doing some decent things. On our back end, Brian Randolph, you can tell that he is a sharp, smart guy. He and Byron [Moore] back there and LaDarrell [McNeil]. We just have to keep working. There are some things that we have to get better."
"It's funny, everyone is a little bit different," continued Jancek. "Some players continue to get better and improve and some guys are up and down. We want a level of consistency. We talk about the fact that consistency is the truest measure of performance. Guys that come out every day and are consistent are usually are the guys that end up on the field at the end."
TACKLES, TACKLES, AND MORE TACKLES
Prior to spring break, defensive coordinator John Jancek discussed the Vols' tackling ability.
With a couple of practices under their belt after spring break, Jancek has seen a slight improvement in his defense.
"I wouldn't say there has been great improvement," said Jancek. "We have been working on it pretty hard and a lot of our periods have been thud, keeping the guys up. Saturday we will find out if all the drills and things that we are doing will work out because that will be a live day and we will be able to play some football."
Jancek has high expectations for the defense this season. Eighty-ninety percent high.
"When you talk about a tackling percentage, you talk about 80-90 percent efficiency," said Jancek. "You have to be able to tackle, if you don't tackle, it is not doing any good. You have to be in the high 80's to 90's. That is my goal. I don't want any missed tackles."
Jancek will see his defense at full speed for one of the first times this spring as the Vols will scrimmage Saturday between the checkerboards at Neyland Stadium.
The game will be a good evaluation for Jancek of where the team stands halfway through spring practice.
"I put a lot into the scrimmage," said Jancek. "That is football, when you don't know whether it is run or pass. A lot of times you will do an inside drill and they all know it is run, or its pass. It is advantage defense."
"When you go 11 on 11, it could be a screen, a run, a pass, a boot, those are the things that you want to see your guys react to. And obviously tackling. That is going to be big. You can't be a good defense and not be able to tackle."
SLOWLY BUT SURELY
As the Vols crossed the halfway mark of spring practice Thursday morning, the installation of the team's offense was in full swing.
Walking that line between adding more while continuing to play fast is a thin line, however, and one that offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian knows UT will be working through for a while.
"It's a slow process and today we made a lot of mistakes," Bajakian said. "We threw a lot at them today so it goes hand-in-hand. Our approach after spring break was going to be to add volume and then master those reps. Coming off today, we have some work to do in order to improve on the mental part of the game, but that always comes with reps. Guys will get better with each and every rep."
While the process may be slowed down a bit by the learning curve, one thing that hasn't is the team's overall effort, which Bajakian knows will pay off in the long run.
"Our entire team has [been working hard]," Bajakian said. "They don't come in here with any preconceived notions. They know across the board that we need to improve at everything; at technique, at execution and at executing our assignments. They're working hard. It's amazing, Coach Jones has commented, and it's evident to me, that our guys want to learn and they want to win. They're coming in here all hours of the day and all hours of the evening asking questions and trying to get better."
That appetite for knowledge and improvement is energizing for Bajakian, who enjoys working with players off the field as much as on it.
"We're teachers, that's coaching," Bajakian said. "Since way back when I recognized that my future of playing football was limited - and I recognized that pretty early on - I knew I wanted to go into teaching and coaching. In many ways we're in the field of education. So much of coaching is what you do in the classroom. So much of coaching is what your guys are able to absorb. Your product is what you see on video. We're going to make sure that we approach the game from a standpoint that we're going to focus and improve on details and coach every little thing we need to improve on."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
(On Saturday’s scrimmage)
“It will be situational. We’re going to put them in a bunch of different situations; coming out in the red zone, overtime or things like that. Things we haven’t been able to address yet this spring. I’m continuing to evaluate who the playmakers are going to be, how much volume of the offense we’ve mastered and how much we execute so that we can focus on moving forward and how much we can put in.”
(On pairing physicality with mental reps)
“That will be good to see on Saturday – in really our very first live scrimmage situation with a high volume of tackling. It will be good to see who the playmakers are, who’s going to break the tackles, who’s going to make guys miss and who’s going to play with a level of physicality that’s indicative of what we want to play with. We’ll get a good indication on Saturday. It’s always a process – our guys understanding the physical finish we want. We’re getting better each practice.”
(On the defense winning the day)
“They won today. We’ll come out on Saturday and fight our butts off. They beat us up today, but tomorrow is another day. It’s a snap and clear mentality. We’re not packing it in because they beat us today. We’re going to come back on Saturday and give our greatest effort.”
(On A.J. Johnson’s wildcat formation)
“One step at a time. We have to master what we have in before we can look to tweak and add wrinkles with things like the wildcat package. We’ve got to execute the inside zone on 3rd-and-1 before we start thinking about wildcat packages and things like that.”
(On Alden Hill)
“Alden is getting better. I love Alden’s approach. Alden has a great attitude. He is in here doing extra work on his own, coming in during the evenings and asking questions – very relevant and poignant questions. He is a player that his attitude alone is going to make him improve and when you add that to his ability, he’s going to help us.”
(On what he’s looking for out of the QBs the rest of spring)
“The same thing I wanted to see in the first half. I want to see them manage the offense, protect the football and make what I call the pitch and catch plays. We’ve been emphasizing a Maxim a day. We emphasized Maxim No. 2 and taking advantage of the breaks. For us as a quarterback, that’s particularly relevant. When we have an opportunity to play pitch and catch we have to be successful. If there is a wide open receiver we have to complete that football. We can’t have drops and we can’t have missed opportunities with inaccurate throws. I want them to continue to progress in that regard and have a firm understanding of the mental part of the game.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
(On the defense)
“I have seen them bring some energy, they are excited to be back and they are doing things the way that we have asked them to do it. We are just not where we need to be. We need to continue to get reps and we need to get multiple personnel groups right now. That is where we are headed here down the back stretch. I like the guys’ mentality, their attitude and their effort and we just have to keep pushing forward.”
(On Brent Brewer)
“I think Brent has great athletic ability, he just has to become more comfortable at the linebacker position. There are some things instinctively right now that he is fighting a little bit but he is eager, willing and an athletic guy, which gets him closer to the ball and helps us improve our speed. Something we want to do.”
(On pass rushing)
“We need some improvement there. They are not getting on edges, their technique is not where it needs to be, but we have the best D-Line coach in the country in Coach Strip. I know they work on it, they watch the film, and they do a lot of drills to improve that because as you know that is huge. You can’t just pressure all the time, you have to be able to affect the quarterback and impact him with your front four and still play coverage behind it. That is something we are constantly talking about working on.”
(On Dan McCullers)
“Daniel, he is a big body in there. They can’t move him but we want to see him be disruptive. Come off the ball and knock a guy back or make a tackle for loss. Play in the offense’s backfield, not just on the line of scrimmage mulling people. He has to get his pad leverage down, he has to get his stance corrected. He has to be more violent with his hands. But he is trying, we are working on it every day and getting better. He is a huge body, they can’t move him. His thing is that he is just kind of in there holding the point, we want him to come off the ball and knock that guard back and put him in the backfield. He knows that and is working on it. There are times when you see things from him and you go ‘man if this guy gets it. He could be a real force.’ It is just about time and working on it every day.”
(On the defensive stats last season)
“When you look at the stats, it is a combination of a lot of things. It is the rush, getting there with your front four, being able to play tight coverage and getting close to people. There are a lot of things going into it. Really you want to look at statistics you want to look at yards per play and the efficiency rating. The more plays you have run against you, the higher the totals are going to be. Your yards/play should be in that 2-3 yard range. That is what you are looking at. And passing efficiency.”
(On the team)
“I like our guys back there. I love our attitude. Our guys on defense have done a tremendous job. They want to win, they want to do things the right way. They are in on off days putting in extra time on their own. They are a pleasure to work with, we just have to keep getting better.”
(On his first defensive coordinator job at Wayne State)
“Wayne State. We had a pet mouse in the office. We don’t have that here. But really, I had a great time there. I was the travel coordinator, academic coordinator, I taught classes and was the strength and conditioning coach. I wore a lot of hats. I taught a racquetball class and weightlifting class.”