published Friday, April 19th, 2013

Vols defenders say 'foundation' laid

Tennessee wide receiver Jason Croom (18) and defensive back Byron Moore tangle under the supervision of head coach Butch Jones during spring NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn.
Tennessee wide receiver Jason Croom (18) and defensive back Byron Moore tangle under the supervision of head coach Butch Jones during spring NCAA college football practice in Knoxville, Tenn.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — John Jancek went into his first spring practice as Tennessee's defensive coordinator prepared to adjust on the fly.

The installation plan included a gauge-on-the-go approach and needed no expectation level.

With the leg work of spring practice complete, Jancek is satisfied with the execution of it and the progress the Volunteers' much-maligned defense made.

"We got a lot in, I think," he said following Thursday morning's practice, noting that the Vols installed 70 to 80 percent of his defense.

"We need to work on tackling," he added, already thinking ahead.

After statistically having the program's worst defense in 2012, the Vols were eager to erase the memories and embrace a less confusing scheme with a new and more teaching-oriented coaching staff. The defensive coaches mixed a constant emphasis on basics such as tackling, swarming to the ball and playing with the attitude and mindset they demand with a steady installation process. The result was a step toward repairing a broken unit.

"I think we've got a good foundation set right now," safety Byron Moore said after Tuesday's practice. "We obviously weren't able to get all our stuff done during the spring, but we got a good handle on our base packages and most of our base coverages as far as defense. We can go into the summer and be going in on film reviews on our own.

"Even though our offense doesn't run a lot of two-tight-end sets and stuff like that, we were able to have certain days where we would do periods where our offense would service us so we could get those formations on film to be able to go in the summer, so once we get to August, it won't be the first time we've seen that. I think we've got a good handle going into the summer. Now it's going to turn over to us players and our leaders to make sure we keep everybody together all summer while the coaches are away."

First-year head coach Butch Jones said before spring practice the plan didn't involve throwing the entire playbook at either unit, and Jancek admitted he didn't have a goal for how much of his defense he wanted to have installed by the end of spring.

"I was just kind of feeling the players out," he said. "[When] we'd put something in, how did they execute it? How do they learn? Is it board work, film work, walk-throughs -- those things?

"You're just trying to see how they learn, how they grasp concepts, and the biggest thing is teaching them offensive football. We talk about our install all the time, but as a defensive coach we're so affected by the split of the receiver or the depth of a back or if they have two tight ends in the game. Really we're teaching them a lot of offensive football."

Jancek spoke positively throughout the spring of the team's attitude and desire to improve, and the coaching staff hopes the Vols carry that mindset forward.

"There's nothing that I shouldn't be focusing on, to be honest with you," rising senior defensive end Corey Miller said Tuesday when asked about his summer goals. "I'm staying here over the month of May. I'm staying in the weight room and I'm going to work out.

"I already called Mom and told her I wasn't coming home. This is the last opportunity. I want to work on my feet, my first step off the ball, quickness, hand placement and all types of things and just to take an extra step."

Tennessee likely didn't answer many of the questions it faced when spring practice began. Concerns remain regarding the lack of a disruptive pass rusher, depth at cornerback and linebacker and the defense's overall speed. The Vols showed plenty of inconsistency and often couldn't maintain a level of energy and effectiveness from a good practice to the next session, which Jancek diagnosed last week as a symptom of a defense still looking for leadership.

Yet Jancek said he's encouraged by what he did see from the Vols this spring.

"I think we're making progress," he said. "We're not where we want to be. It's not our final product, certainly, but I see progress with the guys and I see them doing it the way we're asking them to do it."

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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