Tennessee Off Thursday, Back To Practice On Friday
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – It is no secret that Tennessee’s primary emphasis on the offensive side of the ball this spring has been on getting the run game going. Much of the pressure of accomplishing that task has fallen on the broad shoulders of the offensive line, a challenge that they have fully embraced.
“We put pressure on them, I have since I’ve been here,” UT offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. “The bottom line is if a back rushes for 150 yards, you have a great back. If you rush for 50, the line is terrible. The Good Lord didn’t give us speed, so that’s part of the job and we understand that. At the same time, we have to do a better job running the football and that has been a great emphasis for us. We are going to take it upon ourselves that we are the reason, whether that is true or not. We are going to take it that we are the reason and we are the people that are going to try to fix it.”
For the first time in a few years, the Vols return an experienced group up front with six players that started last season and four who have at least 17 starts in their career. That experience has created a veteran group that has been quick to adapt to a new position coach in Pittman and implement the new techniques and schematic changes that he has brought with him.
“They know football, they understand football and I think we are playing faster,” Pittman said. “Hopefully it will show up on the field but it has been a pleasure to coach these guys and they are working hard. Obviously when I came in I knew that we had some guys coming back so it makes a big difference.”
Key to the offensive line’s success will be its ability to move players around to different positions without losing a beat. That versatility has been an important focus for Pittman in his first few weeks at Tennessee.
“The NFL keeps about eight (offensive linemen) and the guys they keep are the guys that have played different spots,” Pittman said. “Whether they are starting or not, players like James Stone and Dallas Thomas are so important to our offensive line. They are so important because they can play a couple of different spots. We are trying to find out where we are now and where we need to be in the fall so we are experimenting with a couple different spots.”
Highlighting the need for versatility on the line, the Vols recently lost junior Zach Fulton for two weeks to a stress fracture in his right foot. During his absence, fellow junior James Stone rose to the occasion and staked claim to a starting spot. With Fulton back in the fold, he will now have to earn his way back to the top of the depth chart rather than having it handed to him.
“(Zach) was out two weeks, so he has to earn his spot back and we had a talk with him about that. I thought he’d be rusty a little bit but the training staff did a nice job with him and he played well yesterday. We awful lucky and happy to have him back but Stone has been working at right guard and right tackle and Stone is our starter right now. Of course the depth chart is just a chart and Fulton is also playing with the ones, but Stone has started for two weeks and we wanted to make Zach come back and earn his spot. We’ll see what happens, but we are really glad to have both of them.”
TWO COMMON WORDS
The two words that have floated around Tennessee’s spring camp in terms of improving as a team have been fast and physical.
That’s no different when it comes to the Vols’ wide receivers.
Wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw used both words when describing what he wants out of his unit. Where these two qualities will show up most are in the run game, where the Vols have seen needed progress already.
“I want you to go as hard as you possibly can blocking because in the run game the difference between a four-yard run and a 20-yard run – and I showed them when we watched the scrimmage – there are a couple blocks we made that got us a 20 or 25-yard run that we weren’t getting last year,” Hinshaw said. We weren’t making the block at wide receiver. We made that block and it sprung loose a couple of runs.”
The goal now is to add another word to that mix: Consistency.
“If we play like that every snap in the run game, we’re going to have bigger runs that are going to help our run game,” Hinshaw said. “Our emphasis is to be physical, play fast and then we have to make plays.”
In his first season at Tennessee, defensive line coach John Palermo is already enjoying the opportunity to work in a base 3-4 system.
Although the Vols will deliver multiple looks in 2012, working with one less defensive lineman at a time than he’s used to has benefitted him and the UT front three.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve worked with only three,” Palermo said. “I’ve normally coached all four down guys because I’ve been in a 4-3 or an under-scheme a lot. I think it definitely helps from a reps standpoint, to be able to only have to rep three guys versus rep four guys in your individual drills.”
When head coach Derek Dooley assembled the defensive staff under defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, he made it as efficient as possible.
“There are some places that have two D-Line coaches, one linebacker coach and one secondary coach,” Palermo said. “I think the way we’re doing is the way you have to do it in order to run the system.”
Palermo is veteran of 37 years of coaching, including two seasons with the Washington Redskins and 15 years at the University of Wisconsin, where he coached four first-team All-Americans, four Big Ten Defensive Linemen of the Year, two Big Ten Defensive Players of the Year and a pair of first-round draft selections.
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.
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH JOHN PALERMO
(On Darrington Sentimore)
“I think right now Darrington has to become a more consistent player. He again has some good things, particularly form a physical standpoint. We’re throwing a lot at them right now. We’re doing a lot of things right now to get the right matches. It’s a work in progress right now to be quite honest with you.”
RUNNING BACKS COACH JAY GRAHAM
(On UT’s running backs)
“I’m pleased with the effort. Guys are doing some good things and I think it’s because of the effort they’re putting in every day in practice.”
(On the stats from last week’s scrimmage)
“I think it’s good. We don’t put much in that. It’s a per carry and managing every run. We’re looking at every run and then going, ‘What could we have done here better?’ or ‘This was good. Let’s try to recreate that and do it on a consistent basis.’”
(On Marlin Lane)
“He’s doing well. He’s really getting better with pad leverage. He’s doing well in his pass protection. He just has to continue to improve every day. He’s done good.”
(On Devrin Young)
“Devrin can make some plays. He’s fast. His big-play ability, you can put him in certain situations where he can put a defense at a disadvantage. He’s done a good job.”
(On trusting the offensive line)
“There are bodies all over the place. You have to hit it full-speed, run through the line of scrimmage and trust that the hole is going to be there. When you stutter your feet and you’re unsure, you don’t have that kind of time, especially in the SEC. You have to go.”
TIGHT ENDS/SPECIAL TEAMS COACH CHARLIE COINER
(On Matt Darr and Michael Palardy in the first scrimmage)
“I thought they performed well. We have some young guys we are testing out. You might have a little leakage on your protection, but I thought they looked good. We work very hard right now with the steps for the punters. Coach Dooley is working very hard with that, working with (Matt) Darr on his steps. (Michael) Palardy has worked on it a little bit more, but we were happy with them. We will find a little bit more this Saturday.”
(On if Matt Darr has the tools to succeed)
“Absolutely, and he is working very hard with the steps. It’s like golf. You have habits, good and bad that are hard to get out of. Coach Dooley works with him quite a bit, and he is getting better. The thing I think is obvious is when I watch him on video, and he does what he is supposed to do, he is a very good kicker or punter. When he doesn’t, I think he sees that also.”
(On Brian Randolph’s blocked extra point in the first scrimmage)
“It was a great play by (Brian) Randolph. We have to get better for our protection. When you scrimmage, you are going to be happy or sad, especially if you’re a special teams’ guy. Offensive guys are happy when they do well, but the defense is sad when the offense does well. I was happy to see Randolph blocking the kick because that’s what we are trying to do, but I’m not happy about the right side of our protection. A little bit of both happened there. That was a great effort on him to block it.”
(On Mychal Rivera’s leadership with the tight ends)
“It is critical. The hard part is knowing what you are supposed to do. The fun part is that you get to line up in a different spot every day. Most good tight ends that I have been around enjoy that fact that the offense is dependent on them knowing what to do.”
WIDE RECEIVERS COACH DARIN HINSHAW
(On the absence of Justin Hunter during the scrimmage)
“Anytime you have a guy like Justin and he is there, it’s nice. I don’t think that when you break it down that the mistiming throws or the situations where we could have run our routes a little bit better, if we work on those the passing game is going to be fine. So I don’t think it has anything to do with Justin Hunter. It has to do with us doing our job every single snap and executing the offense. Obviously, if you get Justin in there, who is a really good wide receiver and go make plays and go do what Justin does. Justin has gotten better and better as spring has gone and he’s got to continue to work on his strength in that leg.”
(On Da’Rick Rogers not having a catch in the first scrimmage)
“We said be physical, run, play hard with unbelievable effort and that is what we are grading and looking at. I was really proud of Da’Rick. He was doing that the whole scrimmage, he didn’t have a catch and it could get frustrating as a wide out. It also teaches you a lesson that sometimes in the game it may be three quarters and you haven’t caught a ball. It’s just because of the coverages and the different situations that are happening; the ball isn’t coming to you. Well, keep playing. Get ready for that opportunity. In the fourth, you may have to catch six balls to win the game and now the balls are going to come to you. I was really proud of him in how he practiced and how he worked hard throughout the scrimmage.”
(On Vincent Dallas)
“Vincent has gotten better. I use the word accountability. The best ability you can have – Coach Dooley says it all the time – is accountability. Be in the right place at the right time, get open when it is your time and then make the play when the ball comes to you. Vincent has to continue to work on that. His blocking has gotten a lot better. He’s continuing to work, he’s getting better, but he’s got to be accountable every single time that his number is called.”
CORNERBACKS COACH DERRICK ANSLEY
(On Jaron Toney at nickelback)
“He is really a good guy in space, he can change direction, he can back pedal, and he has a good burst in a short area. We thought his body type and physical skills would fit better in defense.”
(On settling in at the cornerback position)
“We are still in the wait and see stage. The first scrimmage we had some good guys step up. Justin Coleman made some plays. We are just trying to find two or three more guys to have some depth in that position. We have some bodies, but we are trying to find the right combination of guys.”
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH SAM PITTMAN
“Anytime you are able to redshirt anybody it is going to benefit your football team, especially offensive linemen. When you get really good, you are playing juniors and seniors and not freshmen and sophomores. Obviously some guys are going to be able to play earlier, but it has helped us and I think our depth is going to be a little bit better this year.”
(On whether he would be big or fast)
“We’re trying to stay as big as we can to play as fast as we can. If we aren’t able to move quickly then we are going to have to lose weight. We would rather have fast feet than we would bulk. You would like to have both, but if we have to give up one or the other, our feet have to get faster and that has been what we have been concentrating on which we know will make us a better run team.”
(On working against a multiple-front defense)
“If we pick them up it’s a great benefit. It’s spring ball and usually in spring you are going to see a lot more than you see in the fall. Obviously I have a great respect for Sal Sunseri, love him to death, but he keeps me on my toes, I’ll just say that.”