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March 21, 2013On Thursday it appeared to the casual observer that the Vol receivers were catching the ball better and showing improvement. Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni admits his unit has made some strides, but wasn't sure they made many in their final practice before spring break.
"We have progressed. There's little improvements here and there," Azzanni said. "I was a little disappointed today to be honest with you. I think they hit a wall a little bit. I'm not sure how much better got out there today on the perimeter. But I saw some improvements Tuesday. I was excited with those improvements, but we have a long, long way to go."
Azzanni said he wasn't sure the "wall" was due to fatigue or the fact that spring break starts on Friday.
"I don't know," Azzanni said. "Whatever the wall was, it was a wall."
As for the improvement, it's been in just how the receiver group has gone to work.
"Effort, strain, those guys come off the ball and getting bodies on bodies. There's some technique things showing up here and there. We are teaching them how to work period. That was the biggest thing from spring practice one till now yes there is a big jump in how they practice," Azzanni explained. "The technique still has a lot to be desired, but we are getting a little bit here and there.
"It's never going to be about scheme with us. This program is never going to be about scheme. It going to be about us playing harder, being more physical and wearing our opponent out. Anyone can draw up a cover two beater. It's how you run that play and how hard you play that day."
One of the bright spots thus far has been Cody Blanc the sophomore had a couple of big catches in last Saturday's scrimmage and seems to be improving daily.
"I thought Saturday Cody Blanc took a big step. He made some nice catches," Azzanni acknowledged. "He's trying to work the position and be better. I thought Croom and Paul both made nice catches today. Vincent (Dallas) made a nice catch. That's progress. It's the play after those catches where we are not in shape yet to go twist the knife on someone. That's disappointing but we have high standards here. There are some improvements here and there. You see some talent with some guys. Alton Howard and Devrin (Young) you can see what they can do with the ball."
After six workouts, the Vols will not return to the practice field till April 2nd. The receivers were the last group off the field and Azzanni had a message to them regarding their 'vacation.'
"You just challenge them. If you want to go on spring break then you got to get up on the beach and go run. You gotta eat 4 or 5 meals a day. We are teaching them how to be big timers right now. How to be pro's. They don't know how to do that right now. We have to tell them before they leave, 'here's what you need to do.' I can't babysit you. Guess what when we get back on Tuesday we will be able to tell who went on spring break and who really went on spring break," Azzanni said.
YOU'RE NOT WORTHY
Tennessee freshman Paul Harris was not sporting his normal number one jersey. Harris was given an oversized number 91 jersey on Thursday as a motivation ploy from the coaching staff.
"Paul wasn't playing deserving of wearing the number one," Azzanni said. "Around here, it's real easy, we reward achievement. It's kind of a jab at him that he needs to play faster.
"He's a great kid. And he's going to be just fine. He didn't like it and that was the point. He has pride. He didn't say anything. He's just working his tail off. He will be in my office the rest of the day watching every bit of the film. That's how he is. He will get better."
EVALUATING THE BASICS
Installing a whole new offense this spring was always going to be a huge undertaking. It's a job that's even more complex because of the nearly total lack of experience at the quarterback and receiver spots.
Naturally, growing pains are part of the process at the moment. That's expected, but from a coaching standpoint, it can make the simple task of evaluating your roster more difficult.
For instance, are the quarterbacks having a bad day or do the receivers not know the checks and what adjustments to make? Did the receiver run the right route and the quarterback misread the coverage? Those kind of questions have a tendency to pop up with regularity in the spring anyway, but when the players as well as the system their working in are brand new, they can occur frequently during the course of a practice.
Because of that, Bajakian said he and the offensive staff keep it simple when evaluating their skill players.
"Having so much youth, inexperience at both positions, it does make it a little tough to judge who's doing what and how well they're doing it. If there's a miscommunication or a misread, it's not always apparent who's at fault. But at the end of the day we've got to be able to play pitch and catch. The basic fundamental aspects of playing the positions, that's where we really evaluate them right now," Bajakian said.
"If you talk to a defensive coach, they call them 'point of attack plays,' regardless of assignments and everything else, when you're at the point of attack, do you make the play. We're a little bit like that right now in the passing game. When we have an opportunity to make a play, are we able to do that? That's what we're evaluating guys on right now."