April 1, 2014

Jones takes hard stance on defensive softness

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has never been shy about using his practice microphone to take fun jabs and to challenge everyone from assistant coaches, to former players, current players and even media members.

Tuesday, it was the defense who endured the tones of Jones as he bellowed out "marshmallows" to his defensive backs and "soft" to his defensive front seven.

"He always has some kind of name for a unit or you as an individual on the field. You just have to block that out and go play," sophomore cornerback Cam Sutton said.

"As a unit our focus was on physicality and being more physical as a unit."

The focus on improved physical play came from Saturday's scrimmage, which left much to be desired and showed the growth the defense has to make starting now.

"We didn't have a good scrimmage as a defensive line," redshirt junior Curt Maggitt said. "There wasn't enough effort and there were a lot of small things. We always talk about effort, intensity, hands and eyes. There were a lot of things that weren't good.

"We are way far away (from what Jones is looking for). We know the expectation and the defense he wants and (defensive coordinator John) Jancek wants. Our position coaches and us know we are far from it. That's why we can't take any days off."

It must be noted that the defense is scrimmaging without senior A.J. Johnson who by coaches choice is being held out. Jones admits it's a factor in the defense stopping the run.

"I think it's everything compounded. First of all, one of AJ's attributes or strengths is his instincts. All great linebackers have instincts to get to the football," Jones said. "He's played a lot of football here. He understands blocking schemes. He understands how to read the pull of an offensive lineman. He understands how to read their stances. So he understands the mental side of the game. Where you take him out the mix at linebacker we're extremely young. You have Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who's never played linebacker before. He's played safety and running back. And then we'll welcome some individuals when they get here in June. When you take him out of the mix, we really miss his explosiveness, instincts, and just the overall communication as well."

Maggitt admits that not having Johnson is a key, but not an excuse. Nor is a lack of experience or depth up front.

"I think it's a factor. I wouldn't say it's an issue but it's a factor," Maggitt said of the Vols lack of depth. "We just have to get in shape more. Play what we got and go with it.

"It's starts up front. I can put it on us, me and the d-line. We didn't play well. It wasn't good."

Maggitt is playing the Leo position which is a hybrid of linebacker and defensive end. In individual drills he's working exclusively as an end and in Saturday's scrimmage he said he played just a handful of Sam linebacker in goal line work. Jones said the focus at this point on the guy he calls the heart and soul of his team is to learn all he can about defensive end.

"We're playing him in a number of those spots, and in positions especially down, because of repetitions. We want him to continue to learn," Jones said. "You know, the Leo position is a hybrid outside linebacker. So he has to be able to do both in terms of rushing the passer, dropping in coverage, playing the tight end in man-to-man. So we're going to ask a lot out of him. Right now we're needing him to put his hand down. He's played linebacker as long as he's been 7 years old. So we want to make sure that he knows how to rush the passer, hits points on the quarterback when he rushes the passer. How do you drop from a three-point. All the different things. We're trying to force-feed him as much as possible right now. He has a lot of volume going right now in terms of scheme that we're asking of him.

Maggitt added it's a work in progress, "I think I'm doing OK. I know I can get a lot better. I have been talking to coach (Walt) Stewart there's a lot of small things I can work on. My first step, my eyes, hands a lot of things that I can better better at. I'm working towards it."

Progress that Maggitt and the entire defense must make a lot of over the next two weeks.

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