KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- On Thursday, Butch Jones led the Vols through their final paces prior to the DISH Orange & White Game. In addition to a morning practice session, Team 117 rehearsed running out of the locker room, pre-game warm-up locations and even sang Rocky Top.
Saturday's game is a chance for the fans, supporters and recruits to see the type of product that Jones and his staff have been working on for the past few months. They are looking forward to an exciting stage for the 2013 Vols to make their debut.
"I think it's good for atmosphere wise, how we do things, and the culture change," said wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Azzanni. "It's good for the recruits to see. They won't a perfect product out here on the field. I just want everyone to see improvement, a different attitude in kids, and a different culture of doing things and tempo; and the excitement around the program."
Along with the energy and raucous environment expected at Neyland for the fans, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is looking forward to putting the Vols in as close-to-a-game situation they will see prior to the August 31st opener vs. Austin Peay.
"We always talk about trying to create stressful situations for all of our players, especially our quarterbacks," said Bajakian. "For the first time it is not just going to be Coach Jones' reel of annoying noises. It is going to be the pressure of playing in front of a real crowd. Putting our punt returners out there and the pressure of them being the only ones on the field and catching a punt with however many people that they will be watching. I am looking forward to that added element of having a little more pressure and a little more stress to their game."
JANCEK SEEKING CONSISTENCY
As Tennessee heads into the DISH Orange & White game on Saturday, defensive coordinator John Jancek is looking for one characteristic from his defense above everything else. Consistency.
"I think we're making progress," Jancek said. "We're not where we want to be, it's not our final product but I see progress with the guys. I see them trying to do it the way we're asking them to do it. We're just staying consistent. Don't be up one day and down the next. Just stay consistent with your teaching, stay consistent with your message and just keep building on it."
This progress, according to Jancek, is the result of the defense's constant approach to improving as a unit.
"Their attitude has been great," Jancek said. "Their overall want to. We've got a great group, an older group. They just want to be coached. They want to be held accountable. They've responded and done everything we've asked them to."
He named Justin Coleman, Marlon Walls, A.J. Johson andDontavis Sapp as players who have performed well for him this spring, but added that the team still needs to improve in some fundamental areas.
"Obviously the things you can improve on are angles to the football, body position," Jancek said. "The physical part you can't, but you can work on those other things like angles and body position."
Jancek is confident that the fans will be pleased with what they see come Saturday.
"I think you're going to see guys running to the football, guys that are communicating," Jancek said. "We're not going to show a lot, we'll be pretty vanilla, but I think you're going to see a good product."
SPRING'S DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS
Jancek was asked about Vols that made major strides during spring practice. He was quick to point out cornerback Justin Coleman, who made perhaps the play of spring so far with a leaping one-handed interception during last Saturday's scrimmage.
Jancek also pointed to several linebackers in junior A.J. Johnson and senior Dontavis Sapp. On the front line, the players that Jancek noted were sophomore Trevarris Saulsberry and senior Marlon Walls.
"Justin Coleman really had an unbelievable pick in the last scrimmage. He's really come on," said Jancek. "Sapp has done a great job. A.J. has gotten better. We really like the fundamental improvement A.J. has made. Our safteties are doing a much better job of communicating and taking charge. I'm really pleased with those guys.
"Up front, Marlon Walls has really come on the last couple practices. Saulsberry, they're so much better with their hands after these spring practices. it's amazing if you watch the film. I showed a clip today of the defensive drills and then them actually performing it in practice so they can see that "hey, this stuff works."
Jancek can see the players' receiving and processing the gameplan, which is always a pleasure to a coach.
"We're really excited to work with these guys. They've done everything we've asked them to do. We just have to keep moving forward and I keep saying it: It's a level of consistency. It's not up one day and down the next. As a coach you have to continue to lead your side of the ball, lead your position and be consistent with your messages and your teaching and it will grow from there."
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, BUT NEVER SATISFIED
With an entirely new coaching staff teaching an entirely new system to players they've never coached, making progress in the allotted 15 days of spring practice was never going to be an easy task.
However, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is happy with his side of the ball leading into Saturday's DISH Orange & White Game at Neyland Stadium.
"We accomplish a lot," Bajakian said. "I don't think you ever leave spring ball feeling satisfied with what you have accomplished but we are happy with the foundation we've laid."
Although he would probably prefer to run two-a-days for the remainder of the semester and through the summer months, Bajakian believes Team 117 will have taken full advantage of its 15 sessions this spring.
"We have a better understand of who are leaders are," said Bajakian. "We have a better understanding of our strengths that we need to accentuate and we have a better understanding of our weaknesses that we need to work on.
"It has been a valuable spring from my standpoint and the guys' standpoint in terms of being able to learn different techniques, mechanics and the schemes we are asking of them."
As for the first public appearance in front of the Vol faithful this Saturday, Bajakian is looking for his guys to go back to the basics.
"My goals are to play hard, play fast and to play with great effort and emotion," Bajakian said. "That is No. 1. From all positions, I am looking for them to go out and execute."
Here are a few of the most important quotes of the day:
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
(On the players having their ability to teach themselves during the summer)
"They will get out of the summer what they put into it. Obviously, as coaches we aren't allowed to be around them at all. So it is a good time to develop leaders. It is a good time for leaders to step up and take control of the team and of the position groups and stuff like that. Install the offense on their own, meet on their own, work on specific routes or team drills on their own."
(On the lack of depth a receiver)
"I don't know if it is as much an issue as the depth as much as it is the spring game being on television. Any team that goes into their spring game with the whole package available, we will limit it, especially with us being a new staff, it is not like we want to go in there and show every little ripple that we have. The key for us is really the same key that we have had since the first day of spring ball. We are going to come in with a package that we want to execute, play hard, play with great tempo, play fast, we are about effort, tempo, and finishing. That is what we are looking for on Saturday. As much as it is how much they have mastered specific plays or skill sets, that is not as important as playing with great tempo and playing with great effort."
(On what he has seen from the quarterbacks)
"Number 1 it starts with leadership and I like the way both of them have stepped up. I have seen drastic improvement over the course of the spring in their command presence at the line of scrimmage, their presence at the sideline, their presence in the meeting room. I am very happy with the steps they have taken to take a leadership role. That is first and foremost. With the other part of the game, we have ironed out some wrinkles in techniques. They have always demonstrated with day 1 a good ability to learn the offense quickly. I am happy where they are."
(On play calling for players)
"As a play caller I am always thinking players, more than plays. There are different ways that we will try to get different guys the ball. When you are in a spring setting like this and you are shuffling so many guys in and out sometimes it is hard to get a grasp on exactly who is in the game and how we accentuate their skill sets. The purpose of Saturday will be to execute the offense, play fast, play hard, and see what guys can step up and make plays."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
(On what he expects to learn about his defense during the Orange and White game)
"We just want to see who can compete and take what they've done in practice situations, obviously there's more adrenalin. It's going to to be the closest thing to a game before our first game. We'll see who can carry over from practice and drill work into a competitive situation."
(On what he was looking for from the coaches)
"You're looking for communication. You're looking for the guys in the box to communicate with us on the field. See the problem, see the personnel. It's a dry run. See what happened on that play, what'd the corner do, what'd the lineman do, what'd the linebacker do. Those are conversations that will take place."
(On if the defense met his goals going into spring practice)
"You know, I didn't have a goal. I was just kind of feeling the players out. When we put something in, how did they execute? How do they learn? Is it board work, film work, walkthroughs? You're just trying to see how they learn things and how they grasp concepts. The biggest thing is teaching them offensive football. We talk about our install all the time but as a defensive coach we're still affected by the split of areceiver or the depth of a back. Really we're teaching them a lot of offensive football."
(On what they need to work on)
"We need to work on tackling and those things. We need to work on offensive recognition. Why is the received lined up in that location? That's where we've got to go. That's where these guys have to do a great job over the summer and not lose that."
(On if the install has gone at the pace he expected)
"Yes, i think it's pretty tight. The guys seem to have the system. We did a lot of things with some bigger personnel groups the last couple practices to have it on film for them. Go over the sets andalignmentsand all that."