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March 15, 2013Zach Azzanni had enough Wednesday night. It was late. He was worn out. He had to kick Devrin Young out of his office.
With Tennessee's first full-pad practice roughly 10 hours away, Young was drawing up scenarios on the whiteboard in Azzanni's office, trying to soak up every ounce of information he could about his new position from his new position coach.
"I gotta go home. I'm tired. Go," Azzanni told Young. "It's 10 o'clock at night and he's on my board. He really wants to get better. He wants a role on this team."
And based on the numbers -- or lack thereof in Tennessee's receiving corps -- the role is there for Young, or any of the other impressionable and inexperienced wideouts, to take.
Azzanni couldn't emphasize the blank canvas enough after Thursday morning's workout inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex.
"There's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of work to be done," Azzanni said. "But we're just teaching them how to practice right now at our tempo, at our style. That's half the battle."
Learning that practice pace has been the biggest battle for the entire Tennessee roster over the first week of spring camp.
But Azzanni -- who described his on-field coaching style, saying with a laugh, "I don't hold back" -- isn't letting the learning curve get by as an excuse.
Instead, he's on his wide receivers from whistle to whistle; stance, splits, route running, ball skills, making catches, finishing plays all are teaching points.
You name it and Azzanni has been in one of his wideout's ears about it over the first three practices.
"That's just my style," Azzanni said. "Even old guys, you can't let them breathe, you can't give them an inch. They're 18 to 22 year old kids, they'll take what you give them.
"You've got to be on them all day and you've got to be demanding."
Azzanni is forced to demand a lot from a little.
In total, Tennessee lost 187 receptions, 2,914 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns to either graduation or the NFL Draft with the departure of Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, Zach Rogers and Mychal Rivera after the 2012 season.
"Obviously we would love to have Justin and Patterson and all those guys back," Azzanni said. "But, the silver lining between them not coming back is I have a bunch guys that really have no foundation.
"I just kind of get to mold them my way. Because there are no habits yet, they're just out there. I get to put my stamp on them."
And Azzanni has plenty of stamping to do -- not as much from a lack of skill as much as the lack of experience.
"I would put their route running at well below average," Azzanni said candidly. "There was no foundation there. They're all young, they didn't play. So they had no idea what they were doing.
"Let's be honest," Azzanni continued, "Cody Blanc was a safety in high school. He's never played the position. Devrin Young we moved, he's never played the position. Paul Harris is a true freshman, (he) has never been coached to play the position at this level.
"So there's a lot of raw guys out there that couldn't run a route Day 1. And we're teaching them to run routes."
That's where it all comes back to pace. Routes won't be the long-term problem. Neither will knowledge of what Azzanni called a "not real complicated" offense.
Instead, it will be putting everything together in order to execute Tennessee's new 'fast-and-furious' scheme.
Or 'being comfortable being uncomfortable,' as Azzanni put it.
"Not only are they learning new terminology, but they're also learning, again, pace," Azzanni said. "So they're flipping terminology, they're getting brand new signals, brand new calls, reading the defense and going as fast as we can.
"It's not a habit yet. It's not like brushing your teeth for them yet."
But, just like Young's late-night study session in his coach's office, Tennessee's young wide outs have been putting in the work to get the new material and techniques down to a habit.
"They're all in. They might not know what they're doing, they might not know the pace of practice yet, but they're coming back for more," Azzanni said.
"They're living in the office, they're living in the meeting room. They're trying to get better and I can appreciate that.
"I can coach that."