March 14, 2013
Vols coaches urge greater pace
Tennessee football players for most of the past week have discussed at length the frenzied, frenetic tempo of the first few practices of the all-new Butch Jones Era.
On Thursday, the Vols' assistant coaches essentially told reporters: They haven't seen anything yet.
Donning pads for the first time under Jones' ever-pacing supervision, Tennessee players on either side of the ball hardly met the pace at which their coaches are demanding of them as the Vols work toward their spring finale with the April 20 Orange & White game.
Defensive coordinator John Jancek, a former Georgia assistant whose Cincinnati defense last season was among the nation's most-improved units, didn't mince his early assessment, though he did point to an optimism that improvement will continue.
"We are out of shape; they have to get in better shape. But that doesn't happen overnight," Jancek said. "We practice fast. It is a high tempo; they have pads on now, so that restricts them. There is a lot of anxiety with the first day of pads and hitting, but they are out of shape right now."
Jancek, who also labeled the defense right now a "poor tackling" group, didn't deliver a message much different from that of cerebral offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
"The message is every day improvement. Are we where we want to be yet? No not at all," said Bajakian, a Williams College product. "But are we better than we were after practice two? Absolutely. As long as we keep improving and understand the gradual process by practice 15 and [the season-opening game against] Austin Peay, then we'll be where we want to be. For us, it's a matter of the physical conditioning and mental conditioning that goes into getting through a practice at this tempo and this pace."
Similarly, offensive line coach Don Mahoney admitted that he held his veteran group, a core that's expected to be arguably the Vols' greatest strength and featuring multiple players touted as future NFL prospects, to a greater standard.
"I think the guys' attention to detail was good; we need to improve our overall effort and strain," Mahoney said. "I like the way the guys have gone about it. We just have got to get better at the fine details and the inches. Things that make a difference and we stress those to our guys all the time."
Tennessee worked indoors for the second-straight session on Thursday but will return outside Saturday morning with Jones' first work inside Neyland Stadium. The Vols are scheduled to scrimmage in their fourth practice, and both coordinators are adamant improvement is the theme.
"I want to improve our tackling, I want to improve our communication, I want guys running to the football," said Jancek, who noted his defense has only three blitzes in right now as the players learn the scheme. "I want to establish our style of defense. Those are the core elements every time we come out to practice. We want to chip away at those four things and develop our identity."
Bajakian said it's never too early to start to establish who the Vols can trust with the ball in their hands.
"I want to identify who the playmakers are, put guys in situations to make plays and seeing who steps up when the lights go on," Bajakian said. "Even (Thursday), it was good to see guys breaking tackles and making people miss. Those are the things you don't get a feel for when you're practicing in just helmets or even in a thud [not-full-tackle] situation.
"When you go live tackle --- like we did for the last segment of practice (Thursday) --- now a 3-yard gain becomes a 10-yard gain when they have to bring him to the ground. It's good to see who's going to have the ability to make a guy miss and break tackles."
It's good for the Vols' coaches, simply put, to see which players can keep up.
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