May 1, 2013

Vols' Coach Jake takes pride in all-day access

Open door policy? Laughable. Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has an open life policy. He makes himself available all hours, all days.

And no, he doesn't expect the conversation to be football-centric. In fact, Bajakian prefers that it is not. There is no reason to call Bajakian at midnight to discuss the proper read on a spread-set read to the flat. But life? That's entirely different.

"I'm always available to my guys," said the Vols' cerebral first-year play-caller. "Twenty-four seven. Middle of the night? If they want to pick up the phone and give me a call, they're welcome to do that."

If Tennessee is to reach its potential in the 2013 season, its quarterbacks will do just that. Maybe they won't phone Bajakian at 4 a.m. Maybe they won't need their first-year offensive coordinator to explain some wrinkle of this new high-speed, high-execution offense.

Regardless, the guy everyone calls 'Coach Jake' will be available.

"Even if we had a group of four-year starters at every position, we're always teaching," Bajakian explained. "You know, the offseason is a great time for them to work on their leadership. I don't give them much direction at all. I'm not permitted to."

Fair enough. But Justin Worley, the savvy junior and former Gatorade National Player of the Year, knows what must be done. Worley, not Tyler Bray, organized far more of last summer's offseason workouts than any other quarterback. Pick a random day last June. It oftentimes was Worley, the Rock Hill, S.C., native, working with fellow Rock Hill native Cordarrelle Patterson.

If Butch Jones preached anything this spring, he preached leadership. If Bajakian hit on any one note more than others, it was leadership.

"Sure, I'll tell them 'Hey, we want to work on routes with the wide receivers, running backs and tight ends," Bajakian admitted. "It's up to them to figure out when, where, what routes. All that stuff. I think they have a pretty good understanding of what they want to accomplish in the course of the summer. A lot of it is specific to them. Again, I bet you Nathan Peterman has a pretty good idea of 'Hey these are the routes I want to throw because I need to work on them. And hey, Justin Worley the same thing.

"I think that more than anything it's an exercise in leadership for them. Which is welcome."

It's welcome for Worley, who has long embraced the intangibles of the quarterback position.

"This is a big summer," Worley recently told "We know we have to work this summer to be the team that we want to be."

Worley exited spring camp as the Vols' top signal-caller. He was more polished, more protective of the ball and simply more in command of the offense than Peterson. Both players, however, absolutely displayed some flashes of promise.

Their challenge is to take that next step, and neither Bajakian nor any other coach can be present for that evolution.

"There's a lot of similarities that go along with trying to institute the tempo that we want and the effort level that we want. This being the third transition together as a coaching staff, we're able to anticipate the problems that are going to arise and try to cut those off before they occur," Bajakian said. "So, again, it's been similar just to get the guys to understand the effort that we want to play with and the tempo we want to play with.

"We're always teaching. That's what we do. We're teachers. To say we do more or less would be a little deceptive. Even if we had a group of four-year starters at every position, man, we're always teaching. There's always that element. It's hard to say that we've done more or less teaching."

What Bajakian could have said was that the teaching never stops. Not at noon. Not at midnight.

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