January 10, 2013
Stripling seeking solidarity on DL
Tennessee defensive line coach Steve Stripling has plenty to teach as the Vols go from a three-man defensive front back to a four-man, 4-3 base defense.
But before Stripling does a bunch of teaching, the veteran coach, who has more than 30 years' experience, has to do a bunch of listening and likely has to do a lot of convincing.
Stripling inherits a defensive meeting room that has had as many coaches as the players in it had elementary school teachers. Six in six years for those keeping count.
The list of names that has been on the door since 2007 reads as follows: Dan Brooks, Steve Caldwell, Ed Orgeron, Chuck Smith, Lance Thompson, John Palermo and now Stripling. Not exactly a model for continuity and development. It's something Stripling admits he's mindful of.
"Any time you go into a new job [it's a factor to keep in mind] and I think this one has a little more concern because of all the transition of coaches prior to myself," Stripling admitted. "So I think you come in and continuity is what you are searching for. Developing a relationship with each young man; then they gain trust in you, but that's not going to happen overnight.
"I hope my track record with guys in the NFL and those type of things will help open the door to our players so that they might see that Coach Strip has spent time with quality players and can help get us get to where we want to go. It's going to be a process."
It's a process that's all too familiar to a group of players who are officially three less in number than they were a week ago due to the departures of Trent Taylor, Omari Phillips and Darrington Sentimore, who declared for the NFL draft. Only Sentimore's departure was seen as a real surprise, but the Vols also lost veterans Willie Bohannon and Steven Fowlkes as well to graduation.
"I didn't have a chance to visit with him," Stripling said of Sentimore's decision. "I would love to. I reached out to him. That's a young man's decision. Obviously on our end we are excited about being here and are excited about the future and I want to surround myself in the defensive line room with young men who have the same feeling. That they are cranked up to be here and ready to work."
Of those who are returning, Stripling said he sees a group hungry to work and a group excited about the changes --- particularly schematically.
"I believe they are (excited)," Stripling offered. "We have told them we are going to base out of the 4-3 and they have been coming up to my office asking me when are we going to start watching tape and start working on different things. I have had to remind them that the focus for a couple of weeks is recruiting. We have to come up with a strong recruiting class. But there are times when I'm here and we can watch things.
"They seem excited about playing a 4-3. With the transition we will have to see if there are position moves and how everyone fits in. We will see as we go."
Within the four-man front, Stripling said each position is different and that his job is to put guys in the best position to be successful; it's a process that will start in earnest after National Signing Day.
"All four defensive positions will be different. We will basically role play, which means we will put the young men in the best position for them to be successful so there will be two different distinct end positions and two different tackle positions. So we are going to try and match our personnel now into those positions to put them in the spots where they can be most successful.
"I'm a d-line coach and four is bigger than three, so I'm going to prefer a 4-3 to have four defensive linemen on the field," Stripling explained with a smile. "That's been the majority of my background, but we are going to be flexible. We will play some three-man fronts. Just like last year, I know they said they were a 3-4 but I saw a lot of four-man fronts on film. Our big thing is let's put the player in the position to be successful; that's our big thing."
Stripling, who played at Colorado and coached at Michigan, is the lone defensive coach who doesn't have SEC experience, but he has battled SEC teams through the years and knows what the conference is all about. It's a challenge he is excited about.
"I think like most of the country thinks, this is the premier conference in college football and there will be some differences," Stripling said. "But I have coached at the highest level also. I'm excited to be here. Going out and getting great players is a big part of it and we all understand that good coaches have good players. I'm excited about it. I don't think it will be that big of a transition.
"I think the speed of this conference shows up whether it is a lineman or is a skill position guy. I think the intensity in recruiting is a difference. I think it's a learning curve for all of us, but a lot of our guys have SEC experience. I'm ready for the challenge."
But before Stripling tries to tackle the rest of the SEC, his first challenge is getting those in his meeting room to buy in as a different voice and name plate occupies that meeting room for the sixth-consecutive year.
FINDING HIS ROLE
With the move to the four-man front, the question has been asked where does Dan McCullers fit in. Stripling made it clear on Thursday that McCullers will find success in his defensive front.
"Big Dan, I'm looking forward to working with him. Big Dan has athletic ability and we have to put him in the best position to show that. We are going to find a place for him to be successful," he said.
"He's probably the biggest I have ever coached. He's awful quiet. I'm trying to get him to speak up a little bit. I excited to get to know him."
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