KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - While much has been made of improving the run game this spring, Tennessee is also focused on improving its short-range passing game. Junior quarterback Tyler Bray's arm has struck fear into the opposing secondary, specifically when covering deep.
But as his ability to read the defense improves, the Tennessee offense is becoming more lethal, especially with its speed on checkdowns.
"It's a point of emphasis," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said of checkdowns after UT's Wednesday morning practice at Haslam Field. "I think when you have guys that can run like Rajion, trying to get him the ball any way you possibly can is a benefit to our offense. Also, checkdowns demonstrate a quarterback's ability to work through a progression on a play."
It's as easy as one, two, three.
"It means he's moving to one to two to three," Chaney said of Bray's progression. "If we're doing that, usually you're seeing a lot of patience and maturity out of your quarterback position, which is what I think I saw a little bit on Friday. I hope to see more of that as spring goes on."
One particular checkdown during UT's first spring scrimmage was arguably the highlight of the day, when Bray found the electric Devrin Young, who turned it into a 35-yard gain.
Chaney is looking for more accuracy from his starting quarterback during the Vols' scrimmage on Saturday.
"His decisions weren't bad, but he was off-target with the football," Chaney said. "I think the numbers would indicate in this case that he didn't play particularly well. I don't think that always means that as we've spoke about before. I think he continues to develop. He's worked on some little fundamental things this week that we needed to get cleaned up from Friday's scrimmage."
Bray is entering his third season at Tennessee seventh all-time with 35 touchdown passes, ninth with 3,832 passing yards and 10th with 272 completions.
DEFENSIVE STATE OF MIND
With nine practices under his belt as the Vols' defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is "extremely happy" with the progress of his unit.
"These kids have bought in; they have worked their butts off," Sunseri said. "They are trying to get better. They are out here every single morning. They want to become a good football team and that is all you are asking for."
The differences with the defense have also had an impact on the offense, as the Vols' units scrimmage against each other daily. The changes have certianly been noticed by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney
"They're all over the place and they're fun," Chaney said. "It's creative. It makes us be rule-driven in what we're doing offensively in making sure we're very sound in our plays that we're doing. I like that. I'd much rather deal with that in the spring than I would one defense. That bores the heck out of me. I enjoy seeing multiple blitzes and multiple things. We're getting that from our defense. They're really grasping the system and playing good too right now over there."
The defensive players have really taken to Sunseri's style and the longtime NFL assistant is striving to build the Vols not only as players but as men.
"I am not going to tolerate anybody not doing it to the best of their ability, let anybody down," Sunseri said, "because the product we want to put in that stadium is people and the Tennessee nation to be happy with what we are putting out on the field. To me when you go out on that football field you don't know when it is going to be your last play so you better play like it is your last play and give everything you can to this university.
"This university is giving these guys an education and that is what they need to understand, they are getting an education, they are going to go out here, they are going to represent us, not only this year but years after that but have a chance to go where they want to go. And then once they do that they have a degree in their hands and they will be successful in life."
The defense is still a work in progress for Sunseri, but he calls the adjustments "normal," as the team preps for its second scrimmage on Saturday at Neyland Stadium. "It is like anything else, you are taking a new system and they are doing a bunch of fronts adjustments and coverage adjustments and they are thinking out there," Sunseri said. "But that is just normal at this point in time. That is why you have spring ball. You have 15 days to get better. And not only are we just looking at the first group we are looking at the whole, we have 22 people, we want to have as many people as we can to go in there and give us depth to be successful on defense."
DISH O&W GAME SET FOR APRIL 21
The DISH Orange & White Game will take place on Saturday, April 21 with a 2:30 p.m., kickoff. Admission and parking will be free for all fans. In addition to free admission to the game, Fan Appreciation Day will feature an autograph signing with head coach Derek Dooley, assistant coaches and Vol players. The signing, held in recent years at Haslam Field, will be held on the field at Neyland Stadium from 12:15-1:15 p.m.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM CHANEY
(On his overall thought on the offense)
“I’m comfortable. I’m seeing more physical play throughout all 11 positions which is what we’re after. Even the quarterbacks are bootlegging harder and trying a lot harder to do things right. We came out in the scrimmage and we wanted to play hard and play physical. We did so we achieved that goal. We turned it over a couple of times which we didn’t like. We laid the ball on the ground today a couple times so I’m not real tickled with the ball security right now. As far as physicality, what we’re trying to get done, I’m pleased.”
(On emphasizing physicality)
“I think you get what you emphasize. So many times personally, I get involved with schematic attacking defenses and I have to make myself go back to ground zero. You don’t win a game if you don’t know how to hit somebody. We’ve made it a point of emphasis as a coaching staff from the beginning of the spring to now. You get what you emphasize. Let’s make sure we’re emphasizing the key things, the physicality of the game, the team-takeoff periods and playing the way you’re supposed to play the game of football.”
(On Rajion Neal)
“I think Rajion did really well on Friday’s scrimmage. I’m tickled with what he’s trying to get done. Today, I’m mad at him because he laid the ball on the ground so I’m not tickled with him right now. He needs to continue to work on ball security. He’s trying to play more physical for us and that’s always been an issue with Rajion and I. We talk about it. We get along with one another well, but I wish he’d be a little more physical running the ball. He did that on Friday and I’m pleased with that. He’s improving that game and I’m improving trying to be patient.”
(On Tennessee’s tight ends)
“We feel comfortable with that right now. I think I spoke with you guys the first time we got together and I thought the tight end room is an awesome room for Charlie (Coiner) right now. There’s maturity in there with Bart (Ben Bartholomew) being able to play in the backfield and on the line and all four of those kids being able to play in the backfield and on the line. That just gives you a lot of flexibility. It really does. We’re excited about those guys. Every time I see Cam Clear, I don’t even recognize him. He just keeps getting larger and larger. I don’t know. I must be eating what he’s eating so I have to watch myself. Downs is playing real physical. Mych is being Mych, trying to improve some technical things as a senior. They’re a fun group to be around. They understand the game and I’m real pleased with where they’re at.”
(On Tennessee’s multiple defensive looks making the offense better)
“I think without any question. I’m a big proponent of that. Throw as much at an offense as you can all spring. I don’t know if I believe that every bit will carry over, but I think I believe in repetitions. If you see something enough, it’s just more times you’re seeing it.”
(On the physicality of UT’s receivers)
“When you go to the three-receiver deal, it’s all about the physicality of the wide receivers. Can they execute in an inline position. Some kids can and some kids can’t. I’ll wait to see that midway through two-a-days next year. We’ll know the answer to that, what we have in this class as far as physicality. I think Da’Rick can do that just because of his stature right now. I don’t know about Justin because he’s still not at full speed. I think Vincent Dallas is a physical kid who might be able to do some of that.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR SAL SUNSERI
(On Jacques Smith)
“I'm challenging Jacques and asking him to do a lot of different things, so I'm excited about him and he's done an excellent job. It's like anything else: these kids, once they get in the system and they hear it, then by the time we get into fall camp it will make a lot more sense to our other guys. (Jacques) is doing good. I'm really pleased with all these kids. Their effort is outstanding and they just have to keep doing what they're doing.”
(On what a prototype JACK looks like)
“Size, speed, strength. That's what I look for. You take people like I've coached in the past and you utilize their skills and the next minute they switch their protection for the jack and he's dropping in coverage or he's rushing when they think he's not. It makes it a lot easier for us when you have a bigger, stronger guy who has a lot of athleticism it's a good deal.”
(On personal attention from assistant coaches)
“It's been outstanding. The coaches have done a great job. It's like anything else, you want to get close to one-on-one, with a 1-to-1 ratio, so any time you can get 3-to-1, 2-to-1, these kids are getting more attention. If there is one secondary coach, you say, you can't coach the whole back end, you just can't do it. It's physically impossible. With the linebackers, if I can coach two and you can coach two then it's 2-to-1 for both, and they're getting good attention. The whole thing is making sure these kids get a good chance to work every single day to work against each other and work with each other to get better.”
(On Greg King)
“He played better in the scrimmage and all that. But once again, I want to see him go through a full week and give me a full week of participation and stay healthy. The most important thing is that we have to rely on people to stay healthy so we can build 22 people on the depth chart. Be reliable and accountable, dependable, I mean I can use all the different adjectives and everything else. I am looking for people who are going to be in there day in and day out performing to a high level.”
(On Darrington Sentimore)
“I see a guy that when he's ready to go, he can play and make some plays, push the pocket and do some things. It's good. He knows some of the things we're doing. He still has to do some more but Darrington has bought in and he's doing the right things.”