published Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Defense dominates Vols' scrimmage

University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones gives instructions to players before their team's scrimmage Saturday in Knoxville.
University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones gives instructions to players before their team's scrimmage Saturday in Knoxville.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Daniel Hood could sense it from his Tennessee defensive teammates before they took the Neyland Stadium field Saturday morning.

The energy was there, and the Volunteers put it to good use.

Tennessee's second spring scrimmage went decisively to the defense, which controlled its offensive counterparts for a big chunk of the situational work.

"I think a lot of it starts with energy," Hood said, "and we've been working on that since day one with [strength coach Dave] Lawson. If you come in one day and you're not bringing energy, he kicks you out. Then you've got to come in another day at 6 a.m. and get it right.

"When that's your standard and that's what you're being held accountable to, you know what it is and you know what's expected of you. We came in today needing to play better knowing that this was our day we needed to prove something. The guys came in with energy, and we saw what happened."

Though Tennessee's offense sputtered through some penalties, dropped passes and inefficient play, the defense was active and instinctual in making stops, delivering some big hits and flying around the field.

In the 14 situational series before simulating various overtime scenarios, defensive coordinator John Jancek's unit earned wins in 10 of them, including six victories in the six drives the offense began at its own 35-yard line.

New head coach Butch Jones liked how the defense translated its energy into fast and physical play.

"It's been building, and it's been coached," he said. "Name me a great defense that doesn't play with an energy level. That's been ongoing, that's been work in progress, and I'm really encouraged by what I saw in terms of that.

"You can't have fake energy, and how do you find fake energy? [When] you take the field and give up a big play, it's how you respond. Great defenses, you're not always going to go three-and-out -- although we had nine three-and-outs today -- but you're not going to go three-and-out all the time, so it's how you respond, and it's that snap-and-clear mentality that we talk about."

Jones said he saw more what he calls "Vol piles" -- swarming to the ball with all 11 players -- Saturday than he had all spring.

"People made mistakes, but if somebody broke a tackle, we had another guy there or another three or four guys there," linebacker Brent Brewer said. "That was a good thing. Since day one we've been preaching that."

As he has been throughout the spring, Jones was vocal on his microphone throughout the scrimmage. He urged Justin Coleman to use that "snap-and-clear mentality" to move quickly to the next play after the rising junior cornerback was flagged for pass interference.

After defensive end Jordan Williams planted quarterback Nathan Peterman, declared live for contact by the coach before that particular series began, for a sack, Jones lamented the "soft" second-team offensive line.

When Tennessee backed up its offense to its own 2-yard line to practice that situation, Jones paused the scrimmage to deliver a message to the defense about the importance of the first play in such a series and how it can set the tone for the next two plays.

"Every time out here," he later explained, "is a teaching moment."

Many moments for the defense Saturday were good ones.

Linebacker A.J. Johnson crushed tailback Marlin Lane to end one possession, second-team safety Geraldo Orta showed no fear in a couple of collisions and Coleman and safety LaDarrell McNeil delivered some big hits. Orta, McNeil and second-team defensive backs Naz Oliver and Max Arnold each broke up a pass. Freshman Corey Vereen and rising senior Corey Miller also were credited with sacks, and Miller, Daniel McCullers and Jacques Smith tipped passes at the line of scrimmage.

"I saw more out of our front seven," Jones said. "I thought our linebackers were extremely active. With [Dontavis] Sapp and Johnson especially, I thought they were active and played downhill.

"It's a line-of-scrimmage game, and I thought our defensive line won the line-of-scrimmage game, but we still need to develop more of an edge presence to our defense and the ability to rush the passer."

Though both sides are implementing new systems, Tennessee's defense, albeit the SEC's worst unit last season, didn't lose nearly as much production as the offense, and a couple of players said they expected the defense to be slightly ahead of the offense.

The two sides have alternated practice wins through seven practices and two scrimmages, but the winner Saturday was evident.

"Coach Jancek's done a great job simplifying things down for us," Hood said, "and making it so we can play fast, know what we're doing and be efficient."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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