April 4, 2012

Sunseri likes progress on D

Spring pracitce is always a time for some excitment and a little blind optimism, a feeling that's even more true for Tennnessee this spring. With an entirely brand new defensive coaching staff to go along with a new 3-4 alingment that's being installed, there's no shortage of interesting adjustments taking place on that side of the ball.

New coordinator Sal Sunseri brings an enviable reputation with him from Alabama, where he served as linebackers coach. He also is bringing a massively different defensive system with him. Learning that system is priority No. 1 for the Vols at this stage of the game, along the way, they're also trying to show their new coach how they can fit into his scheme.

Sunseri's enthusiasm for his job is obvious to anyone who has seen him go about his business on the practice field. His up-tempo style has found a warm-reception among his players, as has the ultra-aggressive attitude he's seeking to instill.

"They've responded, they've done a lot of good things, they're trying to work hard. It's a lot of new language for them, but they have given me everything they have," Sunseri said of his new charges and how they've adjusted through the first six days of practice. "I'm extremely pleased with their effort. I'm extremely pleased the way that they're trying to come learn it.

"Are they going to learn it overnight? No, they're not. They're going to keep on working. We've got 15 days, and that's the way I look at it. Then we're going to have another 27 days (in August). But these guys have come in here, they've bought in, they want to get better, they want to go out and want to play like a champion. My whole thing is if you go out and you put your product on the field and your name's on your back, I want toughness, I want discipline and I want you to act like a pro."

While the Vols appear to be headed towards being a team that operates out of a base 3-4 package, Sunseri is quick to point out that his defense will be multiple. The four man front won't completely go away, and behind that front fans could see all manner of different sub-packages when the team goes to a nickel or dime look.

That kind of variety makes for a cumbersome playbook to be sure, but Sunseri feels like the potential payoff is worth some early growing pains. Better to be confused in April and prepared in September.

Sunseri adds that while the overall scheme may be complicated, there's a reason for the complexity. Put simply, the coach wants a defense that's versatile enough to match up with the increasingly sophisticated offenses that are dotting the college football landscape.

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