March 11, 2009

Vols embrace simpler times

If energy and tempo were the two most-frequently uttered buzzwords of Tennessee's opening to spring football practice on Tuesday, "simple" wasn't far behind.

As in, players insist a much simpler system of football has been set before them to learn as they prepare for the 2009 season -- the first of head coach Lane Kiffin.

"Compared to last year, it's way simpler. It's not complicated at all," said junior wideout Gerald Jones. "It's straight to the point -- a lot of tags and reads and all that. It puts you in a lot of positions to make great plays, like USC did. We've watched a lot of film of them, and they were just put in great positions to make plays in open field, and that's what a lot of people are good at, especially at the wide-receiver position here.

"So yeah, it's a lot simpler. It puts you in great positions."

Kiffin preached a fundamental, straightforward approach to an offense that he indicated would accentuate efficiency and execution rather than an overwhelming playbook.

"On offense, we've got to establish our running game and our personality. We've got to be a physical offense, and that starts up front and starts in the way that you go about in the running game. We won't run a lot of run plays in the spring as far as different run, we've got to learn how to run zone and we've got to learn how to be so good at it that it doesn't matter who you play or where you play or what front they're in," said Kiffin. "In the passing game, we have to get our connection between our quarterbacks and our receivers. Everyone is involved in the passing game but the passing game that we want, when it's really running and what I've been around before, is wide receiver dominated. You'll see a ton of time spent with our quarterbacks and our receivers and getting them on the same page so that our receivers can drive our passing game."

And while Kiffin spoke of getting the ball to his wideouts, senior tailback Montario Hardesty expects tailbacks to flourish in the system as well.

"I think this system is very good to the running backs. I think the running backs and offensive line dictate to be in the system," said Hardesty. "There's a lot of outside or zone plays. I think most of the pass plays come off the run -- a lot of play-action and things like that. I think we'll definitely be very much improved on offense."

Though two starters are gone from the offensive line, senior center Josh McNeil expects vast improvement up front.

"It's a really great system, in my opinion, that we've caught up with right now," McNeil said, "and we're just running with it. And I think we're going to have a lot faster start to the spring and going into the summer and fall camp.

"It's a lot more different, especially some of the schemes in the run game. Obviously we're not flip-flopping lines so people are kind of getting back to their natural position of one side. So that makes things simpler. You don't have to learn both sides of the line. It's a little bit simpler, and I think that's why it's different. It's simpler, and coaches are all about getting the ball into the playmakers' hands and making us do our job."

Even consensus All-America safety Eric Berry said the defense of fabled coordinator Monte Kiffin isn't rife with complexities.

"It's multiple, but there's not as much thinking. It's kind of like ‘this is your job for this play and don't worry about anything else,'" said Berry. "It's kind of like that. He basically wants us to run around, don't do too much thinking but fly around and make plays."

And since a high school coach was a fan of Monte Kiffin's Tampa Bay Bucs' defenses, Berry already possessed some familiarity with the system.

"I was pretty familiar with it (Tampa 2) because my defensive backs coach in high school was a Tampa Bay fan," Berry said. "He told me about how he loved that defense, how those guys played. I was pretty excited when I heard he was coming."


CLEAN SLATE

It's a popular theme since the arrival of the new coaching staff and it was again the chatter of Tuesday as the Vols opened spring practice. No one wants a clean slate more than senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton. From starter to the bench and back to starter, Crompton's 2008 season was a nightmare, but the North Carolina native is not dwelling or worried about the past. Instead, the more relaxed Crompton is just happy to be starting anew.

"I am a hundred percent fresh," Crompton said. "It's a totally different ballgame and that is how the whole team has gone about it. We are all out here and having fun doing it. That's the main thing: we are learning and competing against each other but we are having fun doing it. I think that is one of the big things that this staff has brought to us."

KEEPING AN EYE OUT

It's no secret that the Vols are thin up front at both offensive tackle and defensive tackle. The lack of depth and lack of experience is so significant at defensive tackle there has been talk of senior Wes Brown sliding inside and being an undersized tackle. But Brown thinks that help is coming at tackle.

"We have some bodies and there are guys who are going to step up," Brown said. "Montori Hughes and Donald Langley, those guys are practicing hard and those are guys to watch. People are going to doubt us, but that is going to be motivation for us to prove people wrong."

On Tuesday, redshirt freshman Willie Bohannon got a few snaps in individual drills at defensive tackle just as a look.

BEING DISCIPLINED

As strength coach Mark Smith noted to VolQuest.com last week, his biggest message to the football team is discipline. Every player has to wear the same uniform to workout in. On Tuesday as they stretched, players had to line up in a perfect line with their helmets to their right in line with the helmet in front of them and behind them.

Wide receiver Gerald Jones acknowledged how disciplined things have become since the arrival of Kiffin and said the team has adapted to it pretty well.

"We have made a dramatic change from being somewhat disciplined to being pretty good discipline wise," Jones said. "It took a while and it took an adjustment to get used to it, but we have made that adjustment and look pretty good."

Added Rico McCoy of Smith's offseason influence, "He's all about discipline and stuff like that. He'll give you a couple of jokes, too. He's going to be on your (rear) when you're in there working out and stuff like that. But outside of a workout, he's a cool dude.

"He rarely has over 15-20 guys in a group. That allows the strength coaches to watch you and help you in every rep. I think that is a good thing, I like that adjustment."

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