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 COMMANDER
Friday 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 TEST
After 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.”
HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On the defense against NC State)
“We got some good things and then we have a lot of mistakes that we have to correct. I thought we played good against the run and there were times that we were able to put pressure and hit the quarterback but not as consistently as we want to. Probably the biggest thing that we have to improve on up front is our pass rush lanes. We had a number of scrambles that their quarterback had for big yards. We showed some positive signs that we are moving in the right direction but there is a lot to clean up and improve on.”
(On the team buying into the 3-4)
“I think the evidence was the other night. We really emphasized disrupting an offense, impacting a game, affect the quarterback and create negative plays and we did a good job of that creating four turnovers and a safety. So hopefully each week as they see when they do things the right way that success will come. The players have been great about buying in to what we are doing here, they are playing with a lot of aggressiveness, fast and confident and I hope they will continue to do that.”
(On playing fast and physical)
“It is important to play fast. You can’t play this game without playing fast and physical so it is something that we keep emphasizing and they are doing a good job of it so far.”
(On Cordarrelle Patterson)
“His ability to do what he did did not surprise us at all because we have seen it of course in junior college and in training camp. But how quickly he was going to get to that we weren’t sure. It just worked out for him. What is good about Cordarrelle is that he is very humble, I think he understands that games aren’t easy, he is not going to go out and just show up and perform the way he did and so he is working very hard in practice this week to improve.”
(On goals for Georgia State Game)
"I want to see significant improvement from game one from all the mistakes we made. Also, I want to see us begin to define a standard of how we compete every Saturday, regardless of the opponent. You only do that by performing with consistency over time."
(On if reserves will see more time vs. GSU)
"I'm not even worried about that. We need to go out there and play. Play our best, it doesn't matter who our opponent is. If we ever get in that situation, we will do it (play reserves).
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM CHENEY
(On Cordarrelle Patterson)
“When he took that reverse that was fun when he was running down the field. Was I shocked by his production, not really. He is a talented kid.”
(On Justin Hunter)
“I think it was very important. He played about the way I thought Justin would play. He would make some big plays and he would have a few blunders out there. In a lot of ways I thought that was the first game that he ever played at Tennessee all over again because of the rust coming off of that knee. I expected that out of him. I thought he made some beautiful plays and made a few where you were like ‘c’mon J Hunt you have made that every time.’ He will be the first one to tell you that. Our expectations of him are through the roof, I think they are of himself and we are looking forward to him to raising his game and playing special football for us.”
(On Mychal Rivera)
“I feel that way. I think you had to a little bit. Mych in the past was a play limit. You could get to X amount of plays and see fatigue hitting in. I think Mych Rivera of everybody in our offense worked hard in the offseason to improve his stamina better than anybody. I feel really comfortable pushing his play total up 15-20 more plays than what he played last year. With that said, that takes its toll on any player coming into the season so if we can survive and Bart [Ben Bartholomew] continues to play the way he can we can keep a revolving door there with reps. It will benefit the Tennessee offense as the season goes on.”
(On Greg King and Justin King)
“I think they are closer, I think they are doing it. They are figuring it out. It gets back to the same old stuff. The more you do it, the more you understand it. I feel comfortable with them getting close to being ready to play. They can go out there right now and execute a few plays but I don’t know that they could execute every play that we have in the game plan. So when they are on the field it puts a little pain on me as a play caller to be aware of those things, but that’s ok sometimes. As long as they are getting out there and I am calling plays that they know, it’s good. I would hate to put them on the field and call a play that they don’t know. They we wouldn’t all be very happy.”
I thought after the game, the one thing that I didn’t think we did a very good job of was block. I am not talking about the offensive line. I don’t think we blocked particularly well anywhere. Perimeter, running backs in protections, tight ends on perimeter, line on tight zones. We blocked them, but we didn’t block them the way that we would like to block. It has been a point of emphasis to increase our fundamentals of blocking. Our targets, our leverage and all the little things that come with being a successful blocking team. That is the one thing that I left the game thinking I wish we had done a little bit better.
(On no-huddle offense)
“We played a few games in no huddle at Purdue if we thought it was beneficial to do so. Everybody has a no huddle offense, it is not unique. What’s en vogue in college football right now is staying in it throughout the game and what’s becoming a little more en vogue is moving personnel groupings while you are doing it. We have had it that way. I think in 1990/91 I had a quarterback, Chad May a freshman who played for me at Cal State-Fullerton. We called the plays from the sideline the whole season. It has been going on for a whole time. We aren’t inventing anything here we just think that it helps us and we are going to continue to try and do it better.”
(On Bray running the no huddle)
“He doesn’t have to get in a huddle and verbalize a lot which he would rather not do sometimes. He just has to look for a signal and look for an open guy. It simplifies the game for 11 people, not just the quarterback.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR SAL SUNSERI
(On his sons, Alabama safety Vinnie and Pitt quarterback Tino)
“[Vinnie] is a pretty good football player and he did a nice job. I’m proud of him and what he accomplished and I’m proud of my son that played up in Pittsburgh. He played a heck of a game too, they didn’t win but he didn’t do anything stupid. I look at their [missed assignments] more than their production.”
(On the production of the secondary)
“I was really pleased with the safeties’ production in the game, I was really pleased with the corners’ production in the game. Those guys came out and had a heck of a football game. I think Brian Randolph led us in production points and [Byron] Moore was second. That’s how it is, there are other people up there in production, but the safeties are up there because of what we do.”
(On what he wants to see improved in game two)
“The communication, game management, less [missed assignments], that’s what I’m looking for.”
(On having four interceptions)
“I’ve always been a part [of the mindset] that if you get takeaways, you have a better chance of winning football games. If you don’t give them away, you win. I think we were plus-four on that situation which is a very good side. In any brand of football, if you have more takeaways than giveaways you [have a chance to] win the game.”