KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) - Prior to Thursday's practice on Haslam Field, Derek Dooley released several changes to the Vols' depth chart as the team heads into Saturday’s game against Akron (7:30 p.m. CSS).
The most significant change was the starter at left cornerback where sophomore Justin Coleman has moved ahead of senior Marsalis Teague, who started the first three games of the season. Coleman started four games as a freshman in 2011 including the first two games of his career. Coleman has played in all three games this season and has a tackle. Teague has seven stops with an interception, coming vs. NC State.
Junior Rajion Neal, who has started as the Vols' number one back in each of the first three games of the season was officially installed as the starter. Neal will be backed up by the tandem of sophomores Devrin Young and Marlin Lane.
At tight end, sophomore Brendan Downs is now listed as the backup to senior starter Mychal Rivera. Downs was limited early in the season since suffering a knee injury during the team's second scrimmage of fall training camp. Downs was back on the field for a few snaps in the Florida game last Saturday and will see more time this coming week vs. Akron. The previous backup listed was starting fullback Ben Bartholomew, who has seen his hybrid role expand in 2012. Bartholomew will continue to be listed as the starting fullback.
The backup X receiver will now be sophomore Vincent Dallas in place of freshman Cody Blanc. Dallas has played in all three games and has one catch for seven yards. Blanc has seen action in two of the first three games this season, but has no stats.
The Akron Zips piled up 66 points on offense last week as they racked up a school-record 753 yards of offense. The Zips are averaging 39.3 points on offense with the spread offense installed by new head coach Terry Bowden. Quarterback Dalton Williams is throwing for more than 334 yards per game with 10 touchdowns in just three games.
The Zips are ranked fifth in the NCAA in passing yardage per game (378.0) and is second in passing touchdowns with 13.
The Vols' defensive staff is well aware of the challenge the Zips' offense, which is averaging close to 500 yards per game, presents.
“We have a humongous challenge," cornerback coach Derrick Ansley said of Akron. "Those guys are really balanced in what they do. They are well coached. Coach Bowden does a really good job with the personnel that they have. The quarterback is a really steady guy. He has been there a long time and is battle tested so we have to do a good job of going in there and covering those guys.
"We have to get our hands on them and make sure we give the defensive line enough time to get to the quarterback. We have a really good challenge in the secondary, but it’s a great challenge. We look forward to it. They are going to put the ball in the air a lot and we are going to have a chance to make some plays.”
Akron has already completed 102 passes in the trio of games, a remarkable 34 completions per game. Defensive line coach John Palermo is prepping his players for the various sets that the Zips run.
“Their offense is about 80 percent spread, so we are going to be in our sub packages most of the night," said Palermo. "They will do some stuff with two tight ends which we will use our base defense, but for the most part we will be in our sub packages.”
The Tennessee secondary took a big hit last Saturday when starting free safety Brian Randolph went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Don’t expect anyone to use his absence as an excuse, however, as the Vols are looking at the unfortunate occurrence as a challenge and an opportunity for other players to step up.
“It means a lot to lose him because Brian was a steady guy, a really dependable guy,” assistant coach Derrick Ansley said. “He knew the defense really well and he was a vocal guy back there but this is SEC football. You are going to sustain injuries and you have to have enough depth to not let it kill you. It is a big blow, though. We have a lot of young guys back there. Brent Brewer has to answer the challenge this week, as well as Rod Wilks, LaDarrell McNeil and Geraldo Orta. We have a lot of guys we feel good about and that we can put in the game.”
One aspect of the UT defense that will help ease the blow is the fact that the team uses its two safeties interchangeably. Instead of one safety that plays down and one that plays up, they play left and right, adjusting to the opponent’s formation and location of the ball on the field.
That functionality will allow Byron Moore to seamlessly slide over to Randolph’s spot while Brent Brewer, who started eight games a year ago, will be inserted into the strong safety slot.
The combination of Moore and Brewer is one the Vols have no problems with putting on the field.
“I’m really comfortable with it,” safeties coach Josh Conklin said. “It’s unfortunate that you have an injury, but what you try and tell guys and make them understand is that you have to go to the next guy and you always have to be ready. You try to impress that upon them early. You never know when it’s going to happen and you’re going to have to be the guy that comes in and make the plays. Right now, Brent’s time may have been limited with the money in our dime-wrapped package in passing situations, but he’s a good based safety and he can do that for us. He can be a physical presence, so now he has to step that part of his game up.”
MIXING MCNEIL IN
Another player that is likely to see increased playing time due to Randolph’s injury is true freshman LaDarrell McNeil.
Bumped up to be Brewer’s backup at strong safety, McNeil is the only true freshman on the defensive two-deep for the Vols, a testament to his makeup and talent.
“LaDarrell is a very focused guy,” Conklin said. “He’s an extremely focused individual and he’s a very conscientious guy. It’s just a matter of giving him live reps. I think the reps he’s taken on special teams has helped his confidence on getting out there this week. What I want to see from him is to put the extra time in and continue to develop as a football player and continue to gain confidence. When you get out there and your mind doesn’t go blank and you’re ready to play football when the ball is snapped.”
Hailed as an instant-impact type player when he signed last February, McNeil has demonstrated the ability to play at this level. That was best evidenced by his open-field tackle to stop Florida short of a first down on a fake punt play last Saturday. The only thing he has lacked is experience, something he will continue to get more and more of over as the season progresses.
“LaDarrell is a very instinctive guy,” Conklin said. “He’s very explosive, what we call a ‘twitch’ guy. He can make plays and show up when you don’t think he’s going to make up. He’s very explosive to the point of attack. It’s just getting him going in the right direction, but he’s as advertised, the type of guy that you want to play at the safety position, especially in the middle of the field.”
WHEN PIG FLIES
Last week marked the return of Alton “Pig” Howard to the gridiron.
The heralded freshman recruit had surgery on his foot in the middle of July and worked hard all fall camp to get back on to the field, like he did against Florida.
"When you say he's 100 percent, he missed camp,” said Hinshaw. “It's really hard. We've got to practice him into shape. He's been running. He's been working hard, but it's not the same as going full speed and running a route, coming back, running a route, coming back, running a route. He's done that this week."
Howard, a four star recruit from Orlando, Fla., brought more speed and elusiveness to the Tennessee wide receiver corps. He will look to get that speed back, and get more in-game snaps, as the season continues.
"He didn't play very many [snaps],” said wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw. “A few. Again, he didn't have a ton of reps last week in practice. This week, he’s had a lot of reps in practice. It's easier to trust a guy who's been practicing a lot, so we're going to put him out there and let him go play."
THE BETTER YOU FEEL, THE BETTER YOU PLAY
UT defensive line coach John Palermo has had to prepare his players for a different offensive style each week so far this season, a significant task as attempts to keep the calls simple and versatile enough for his charges to play fast and be successful.
Last Saturday, the Tennessee front three played well enough to contain Florida’s base offense, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
“When they let us play base defense, I think the three inside kids did a nice job on Saturday," Palermo said. "Can we get better? Absolutely. I think we definitely left some plays on the field. We had a couple of chances to sack them and we lost contain, we didn’t wrap up or things like that, but I saw a bunch of guys competing their tails off.”
The problem is, you aren’t going to have the same base offense every week, so the defense needs to be prepared for something different week-to-week, or in the case of Florida, throughout the game.
“I think it does drive you a little crazy when you have to go back-and-forth between a standard offense and a spread offense,” Palermo said. “Although when Florida lined up in their base offense, we didn’t have any issues. It was when they went to their wildcat and some of their spread stuff that we got hurt. We just have to prepare for all of those things.”
And that is what the Vols will do and have been doing each week in practice. Making improvements.
“I think any time someone makes an improvement it is encouraging, whether you are coaching them or whether you are the player," Palermo said. "With players, the better they get fundamentally, the better they feel about themselves. The better they feel about themselves, the better they play.”
AKRON HEAD COACH TERRY BOWDEN
(On Akron's game at Tennessee)
“(I am) anxious to play this game. Like I said, Tuesday press conference, we have kind of put the last one behind us and been working on this one for a couple of days. You can’t start too early when you are going down to play Tennessee. This is a really good football team. They have a much improved football team from last year. They played their biggest rival in a critical game where they lost (eight) in a row and they lost a tough game in the second half. Things just went wrong, back-to-back-to-back, and it got away from them real quick. With 3 1Ž2 minutes left in the third quarter they were winning the football game. They are a very talented team. We have not illusion; we believe always that we could win this football game. You don’t have to talk about once in a decade or once every ten years – it is every week. Whether it be Louisiana-Monroe or Western Kentucky, a team beats another team that they are not. We’ll get them ornery, and that’s how it’s going to be. We just have to take them the way we get them.
(On Tennessee's Florida Game)
"Everything was going well until the third quarter, they were up by seven with about 3:30 left and they had some defensive breakdowns, Florida had some skill people that made some big plays and (Florida's) quarterback did a great job as well and made a huge play on a touchdown pass that was just phenomenal and got them back in the game. Will Muschamp was one of my graduate assistants at Auburn, so I am always anxious to watch him go."
(On weekly focus)
“There’s just too many cases to show guys. We’re not talking about being the one big win this decade. We’re talking about the one upset this week. There will be one. If we go do our jobs, everything else would have to fall into place.”
(On Tyler Bray)
"He really gives (Tennessee) a chance. He has that NFL arm and size. He really gives them a chance to get very good on offense, when they mix that play-action pass and running attack."
WIDE RECEIVERS COACH DARIN HINSHAW
(on WR Justin Hunter's dropped passes against Florida:)
"Not doing anything different. The ball was a little awkward on one of the drops. The ball was a little low on the other. It was right in that area down here where you have to flip your hands quickly. The ball was on him fast, he dropped the ball and it would have been a big play in the game."
(on the physical toll a no-huddle offense takes during a game:)
"It's really tough. I was really proud of the guys on Saturday. Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Zach Rogers played a lot of snaps and they went out there and did a good job. The bottom line is I have to roll guys during the game and get young guys in the game, get them in there and trust them."
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH SAM PITTMAN
(On the running game against Florida)
“They’re a good team. They’re a good front and their linebackers are good. I was proud of how physical we played. I was proud of the way we protected the quarterback, but you’re right, in the fourth quarter, we didn’t do the things we needed to do to win the game. That comes with maturity, that comes with coaching by me, a lot of things need to get better.”
(On the offensive line’s frustration against Florida)
“You could kind of feel it a little bit on the sideline. You could kind of feel that we were wondering a little bit and Coach Dooley had even talked about it this week. We have to finish that stuff. You could feel it about us ‘come on, come on, come on,’ where the first three quarters it was ‘we’re going to win the football game.’ So, we have to do a better job as coaching of doing that, or I do. I don’t know about the rest of the coaches, but I have to do a better job.”
(On running out of the spread against Florida)
“You know we’ve got good players. We would do a little better of getting them in the right positions, which we thought we did on Saturday. We’re a physical offensive line. In the past, people say we haven’t been, but I say we’re pretty physical. I think we played a physical team the other night, and we’re only going to get better. It was a hard one to swallow, but it’s over now and we have to go beat Akron.”
(On early success against Florida’s linebackers)
“We pulled really well. We got on their linebackers really well. Their gap schemes were better than our inside zones. We ran the inside zone away from Sharrif and he made three plays on us. I mean, he’s going to make three plays on a bunch of people. He’s a good player. Then, we ran the gap schemes to him and we had success.”
CORNERBACKS COACH DERRICK ANSLEY
(On guys having a chance to play this week)
“That starts in practice on Monday. We are putting guys in a position to make plays and giving everyone an opportunity to go out there and compete during the week. So whoever comes out of the week making the most progress and are the best at those positions, those are the guys that are going to see the bulk of the reps. But there is a good chance that a lot of the faces we haven’t seen, we will see this weekend.”
SAFETIES COACH JOSH CONKLIN
(On freshmen playing the safety position)
“You’ve got to adjust some things. You have to keep it, maybe a little more simple. You have to simplify things, or at least you have to simplify how you teach it. You use less words, make sure what you’re giving them are correct words. Get them out there and make sure they understand what they are going to see. Like you said, [Akron] has a very explosive passing attack. It’s going to be controlled, it’s going to be short, but they do a great job of getting the ball out and they do a great job of running routes. It’s clean. It’s crisp. We’re going to have to be right on this week when we get out there.”
(On the safety positions being interchangeable)
“They have to be exclusively interchangeable. They have to be, like I’ve said before, you have some body types that have to adjust to the strong safety or the free safety a little bit better, but you have to be interchangeable and they have to be exclusively interchangeable, so we put those two guys out there, left and right, and there’s a formation when they play on either side.”
SPECIAL TEAMS/TIGHT ENDS COACH CHARLIE COINER
(On the kicking game mishaps)
“I wouldn’t say common things. Something here, high snap here, maybe the ball’s not down fast enough here, head pulls up here. It’s a three-man operation, and when they’re all good they all reap the benefits, and when one of them is bad, it’s not good enough. “
(On confidence going forward)
“I don’t know that the confidence is ever going to be there until they get out there on Saturday night or Saturday afternoon and they do it. It all goes back to the beginning. When you turn the lights on and you go out there and perform the way you’re supposed to perform, whether you did it in practice or not, that’s when the confidence will come. They’ve got to go through that out here, and they have to get good enough, and do it the right way enough, and make sure they get to the game, that they are out there. When they get to that point, where they are out there during the game and all that other stuff doesn’t matter, they’ll make kicks. As they make kicks, they’ll become more confident and it’ll be a cycle of going that way, instead of the way it is right now. It ties into what I just said. I’ve been a baseball player before and I’ve had the ‘yips’ before and you wonder why you can’t throw the ball from second to first. It starts here, it’s obviously not a physical thing. I go back to if it’s the ‘yips’ and it may be, how do you get out of it? You get out of it by blocking out everything except the technical stuff that makes you good. You do it over and over and over again. Then once again, you go back like a golf swing, you start seeing the results, and then you get in the main theater, and they turn the lights on and you do it that way there. That’s where the confidence comes from. If you want to get out of the yips, you have to block out the negative and get the positive. Before you get the positive in your head, is by doing it right out there.”
(On psychological factors in kickers)
“It’s hard to say. The quarterback position and the kickers and guys that are out there, in a role to where everyone thinks they know what they do. It’s that one guy that you don’t notice, you don’t notice the left guard or the two techniques quite as much, and all you see is a result there. But when the quarterback takes the ball and drops back, you’re like ‘I know what’s supposed to happen here, I’ve seen the good happen.’ Kickers do the same thing. I believe that with the public knowing or feeling like they know exactly what should happen here, it’s a lot of pressure on them. But once again, how do you handle that? You have to block that stuff out. They’re in a very magnified, very specific thing, that people are looking at them and evaluating them every time they step out there. That’s not how good we are.”
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH JOHN PALERMO
(On drop off from production when the defense isn’t in the base defense)
“I don’t think there is a big drop off. To be honest, the way the game went, particularly early, our guys had plenty of rest because our offense was on the field. So we really didn’t have to substitute very much in the first half because our guys were pretty fresh. As far as drop off, I don’t really know because those guys haven’t really had a chance to play in the base defense. Like Corey Miller, he plays mostly in the nickel, but he has not been in base very much. Marlon Walls has done a good job in base defense and I think Dan Hood has done a good job in base defense. They just haven’t had an opportunity to play as much.”
(On playing teams back-to-back weeks with different offenses)
“I think it does drive you a little crazy when you have to go back-and-forth between a standard offense and a spread offense. Although when Florida lined up in their base offense, we didn’t have any issues. It was when they went to their wildcat and some of their spread stuff that we got hurt. We just have to prepare for all of those things.”
RUNNING BACKS COACH JAY GRAHAM
(On the running backs pass protection against Florida)
"I think we did some things good, but there are still things to work on. We could still be more physical and punching and doing those things. The IDs were good, I thought for the most part we got better with pass protection than the second week. We just have to continue to improve."
"They have some linebackers that will get after you. They play a defense where they have a lot of guys in the box, they are aggressive and you can see the effort is there. They will chase you down and pursue you from behind. They have a good defense."