November 7, 2012
Dooley defense system: Head coach impacting D
Sal Sunseri emphasized his role with Tennessee's defense would be unchanged Saturday when the Vols host Missouri inside Neyland Stadium, but Tennessee's defensive coordinator also acknowledged he would not maintain play-calling responsibilities.
Calling the season frustrating but not as disappointing as his son, Tino, and Pittsburgh's loss last weekend at Notre Dame, Sunseri confirmed head coach Derek Dooley's decision to shake up the defensive flow-chart and Sunseri said he supported his coach.
"I think we're just going to do some things a little bit different, and you guys can see what we're going to do on Saturday when we play," Sunseri said. "Yeah [he agrees with the decision], he's the boss. Derek's the boss. I think it will be good.
"(Sunseri's role) won't change at all, you know what I'm saying? Someone will call the defenses and we're going to get going."
If Sunseri doesn't call plays against the Tigers (4-5), safeties coach Josh Conklin appears to be the most likely candidate to helm those responsibilities. Conklin spent the previous two seasons coordinating the stop-units at The Citadel and is going through a week where Conklin clearly is assuming a larger role on the practice field.
Dooley also is spending more time than ever before, not only this season but in his career as a head coach, helping orchestrate the defense.
"I just think we're, bringing Derek over, coach Dooley over, and having him get another set of eyes on it and kind of say 'Hey, here's what offensively we're looking at and here's what would maybe give you issues and not give you issues' has helped us I think," said Conklin, whose Bulldogs' defense ranked among the best in the Southern Conference and showed improvement both seasons. "It's given maybe a different perspective. You get in that day to day grind and you lose perspective sometimes, and I think we've maybe got a little bit better perspective on it and we'll just keep working through it.
"[Being more involved has] helped it out quite a bit. I've tried to make myself be more aware big-picture of what's going on. How we're putting it together, how we're structuring it. It's not anything I've been asked to do or anything like that. I'm just trying to get a better handle on how things are kind of fitting and marrying up from top to bottom and coach Dooley being over there and given us input has been really beneficial."
While Dooley said the defensive scheme would shift some and noted specifically some softer coverages in the secondary, defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley said the Vols' defense would largely remain unchanged.
"No, all our coverages are the same. We are going to pick and choose some of the times when we call some things. But as far as schematic changes there won't be anything," Ansley said. "It will be the same defense we have been running for the last 7 or 8 weeks. We just have to run those defenses better. That's the bottom line."
Noting that he had spent the previous seven seasons coaching from the press box, though not as a coordinator, Sunseri indicated he could see benefits from an elevated vantage point. The former Alabama assistant and one-time All-American linebacker at Pittsburgh also said he accepted the responsibility for a Tennessee defense that has plummeted to 112th nationally in total defense.
"I think like anything else you always have pride and you know what I mean, we're not playing as good as we need to play on defense. And I'm the one responsible," Sunseri said. "I'm the guy that's calling it so it's got to get done. I'm not one to turn my face away from it or my eyes away from it. We've got to get it done, and we're going to keep battling until we get it done."
Conklin echoed Sunseri's sentiments and made clear he felt the Vols showed good effort at Wednesday morning's practice.
"Well as a leader I believe you're the face," Conklin said of the coaches' responsibility to not show frustrations to their players. "Obviously like coach Dooley is the face of Tennessee and if they see confusion and they see anger, then that creeps into them. But our coaching staff and (Dooley) especially, guys come in, 'Hey guys here's the problem. Here's what we've got to fix.' And the face is confidence that we can get it fixed and our guys see that and you reassure them of that. And you've got to be the face of that as a leader and that's your responsibility. And I think that we've done a good job of that as a staff and kept these guys going in the right direction. This today, this was probably one of our best practices all season. It was clean. Our guys were into it. We were competitive with the offense. So those were good things to see."
Conklin continued as he noted that players seemed to view Dooley's increased presence on the defensive side of the ball as a positive jolt.
"Well I don't think they think of it as an act of desperation because (Dooley) is active all the time," Conklin explained. "He's just showed his face maybe a little bit more. And the way we presented it to our guys and what they've got to understand is 'Hey guys, what we're doing right now is not the way it continue to go. One answer is to put another set of eyes on it, I'm going to get more involved in it and I'm going to make sure you guys understand that the defensive side matters to me.' Which it does, and he's been active all season long.
"Our guys understand that and they know that and I think they've found a little bit new energy because he brings a fresh way of teaching it at times. And a fresh way of getting your guys to respond to an adverse situation, which we find ourselves in right now."
NO LOSS OF SWAGGER
After getting torched in the secondary Saturday by Troy to the tune of 496 yards passing, cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley feels like his unit still has plenty of swagger heading into Saturday's matchup with Missouri.
"In my opinion, I think our confidence is high," Ansley said. "Yea, Troy caught a lot of balls on us, but we made some plays also. It's a situation where you have to make plays and you don't make them all the time. When are put in the position all the time on the outside you are going to give up some plays.
"It wasn't anything mental or physical. They did a good job throwing and catching. Couple of times we were blanketing the guys and they made great catches. A couple of times, he had us beat by a couple of yards and a couple of times they out ran us. I don't think it was mental or physical. I just think they made more plays than we did."
Freshman cornerback Daniel Gray was lifted from the lineup twice in Saturday's game. Ansley said he wasn't concerned about the Florida native's psyche.
"I do when it's not someone like Dan Gray," Ansley offered. "Dan Gray doesn't have a problem with confidence. He was wanting to get back in there and we had to calm him down a little bit. The pass interference I thought was not a pass interference. I thought he had great coverage and knocked the ball out. That's one of those things that can go either way. He's not down on himself. He's a little under the weather this week and we are trying to manage him but he wanted to get back in there. He got back in there in the third quarter and did well. He gave up some plays but he's going to be good."
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