August 28, 2012
Defensive communication improving
There will be one more practice, a Thursday walk-through and plenty of film review before Tennessee opens its 2012 season Friday night against N.C. State inside the Georgia Dome.
Mostly, however, the Vols cannot simulate too much more to determine how far they've progressed in their installation of first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's 3-4 system until the Wolfpack begin to flash their different offensive looks following kickoff. Tennessee's projected starting defensive front --- Mo Couch, Daniel McCullers and Darrington Sentimore has just the four career starts Couch accumulated last year in his first season at Tennessee.
"It's fine in practice. Now we've got to go see if we can communicate in a game," said third-year coach Derek Dooley. "And that's just kind of where our team is. We're going to have to go see what we look like, and whatever we look like let's correct and adjust moving forward."
Added Sunseri when asked about the communication, "I'm happy with it."
State's offense features veteran quarterback Mike Glennon, a fifth-year senior who threw for 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions a year ago. Tennessee counters with a fifth-year senior as the quarterback of its defense in Mike linebacker Herman Lathers.
"It definitely helps when you've got your Alpha dog in the middle (Lathers) calling out the plays for the front and getting the right checks for the back end," defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley said. "The safeties are the signal-callers for the back end, that's the way we develop our defense, so a lot of the burden has fallen on them. The safeties make the checks and adjustments for the corners, and the corners have to do a good job of knowing what their assignments are too. That way if they get the wrong check they can talk to each other and get on the same page.
"All of that has been better. It's still a work in progress but it's definitely gotten better in the last week and we feel good about the people that are back there."
Safeties coach Josh Conklin, a former defensive coordinator at The Citadel, noted that the Vols will ask sophomore free safety Brian Randolph to handle many of the back-end calls but that much also is expected of and Brent Brewer in terms of communication at strong safety as well.
"(Randolph) is for sure, but we're putting a lot of responsibility on B-Moore and Brent. Both of those guys understand the package really well," Conklin said. "Not just one guy knows it but both of them know it and it really does help you out."
So, too, Conklin emphasized is the ability for the defense to play aggressive, smart football Friday night.
"They really are [playing faster], and that's the one thing that we've really stressed. I just told them (following Tuesday's practice), when we go into Friday night there's really two things that I want to see. But the one thing that I want to see them play is at a high, high tempo," Conklin explained. "And to do that, you've got to be able to take all those fundamentals and all those techniques that you've got and combine that with your God-given instincts.
"And I think that's important for them to understand. Don't just be a robot out there, don't just understand the rules out there. But understand that I'm going to take those rules, take that understanding and apply it with my God-given instincts. And that's what we're really trying to make sure they understand playing at that high, high speed and that high, high tempo."
Coaches are anticipating considerable pre-snap movement on both sides of the ball when State has possession.
"I think that's one thing that we are anticipating, a lot of shifts and a lot of motions. I think our comfort level as a defense right now is pretty good," Conklin said. "We've worked it a ton, we've worked it against our offense a little bit and we've done it all fall camp. We touched on it this spring. So there is a little bit of anxiety early on. But when we came off the field (Tuesday), our guys were pretty sharp and they felt good about the adjustments and what we have to do with the shifts.
"But also within that, not getting into too much scheme but we're going to keep it to where we allow our guys to play fast as well. That's what it really comes down to, the one-on-one battles everywhere."
Added Dooley, "That's (the Wolfpack's) style of play, number one. And number two, they know that we do a lot of adjusting on defense so it will probably be a little more elevated than that."
The defense, veteran tackle Daniel Hood said, believes Sunseri has the group ready to play.
"It's been a long time. I'm just starting to get excited about it. With coach Sal, it's a lore more in-depth than it has been in the past. I feel like we're more ready for this game than we would have been in the past," Hood said. "We know all of our checks. We're starting to get everything down and stop making mistakes.
"Yeah (communication is better), but we've still got a ways to go on it. But it's definitely gotten better."
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