published Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Vols to receive 'instant' fixes

University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones talks about spring practice plans during a press conference Friday.
University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones talks about spring practice plans during a press conference Friday.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — With a new coaching staff, Tennessee's football team must relearn how to crawl before it can walk.

And the start of the process may have the Volunteers running in place.

Literally.

"We had a walk-through today," quarterback Justin Worley said Friday, "and there were quite a few people running in place."

It's what coach Butch Jones told the players to do if they forget what to do or where to go when the horn sounds in this morning's practice, the new coach's first spring workout with the Vols since taking the job three months and two days ago.

His first spring goal? Instilling the program's foundation in the team.

"We're going to teach them our standards and expectations by which we're going to play first," Jones during his pre-practice news conference Friday at Neyland Stadium. "I think that's critical, but obviously the scheme is critical, too. I think what separates coaching is really the ability to see the final details, the small details right when they occur.

"I want instant correction on the football field. I want our players after practice when we're walking off the football field knowing that they've been coached on every single snap. As much effort as we demand from our players, we demand from our coaching staff as well."

Since most of the Vols' new staff know the routine from previous stops together, Jones compared it to riding a bike. The players are hopping on with the training wheels still attached, but after three losing seasons, two postseasons at home and the in-season firing of the last head coach last season, many Vols are eager for the freshness of a new regime.

"We told them when we first came here, 'Hey, we're going to ask you to do things differently,' and they haven't questioned anything ever," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "That gets me excited. I get pumped to be around them, and it's an infectious attitude."

Their respective Twitter accounts serve as evidence players have embraced the slogan "Team 117," a term that emphasizes the 2013 Vols as the 117th in the history of Tennessee's program.

"The coaches definitely came in and set the tone to how they wanted things ran and not being late for meetings and workouts and things like that, but definitely the players have taken hold of that, too," Worley said. "You can see a different energy about us, different attitudes being brought to meetings and different things like that. You can tell there's excitement in the air, and we're all ready to get started."

It's Jones' intention to test that readiness. He dubs his practice style "controlled chaos," aimed at testing the players' conditioning and mental toughness. Examples he provided Friday included blaring annoying noises like glass breaking or crying babies over the loudspeakers randomly during practice or mimicking the sudden-change situations that happen in games.

"A football game is controlled chaos," Jones explained. "You never know what's expected. Things flying everywhere, but we're in control."

From Jones' perspective, staying in control requires leadership, an intangible he's already tried to develop through the "Volympics," an offseason competition of 10 intrasquad teams each with two players as captains. One focus of the competition, which encompasses performances on and off the field and in the classroom, is accountability, a theme from players and coaches who spoke during Friday's media conference.

"As captains, he wants us to be leaders," said rising senior right tackle Ja'Wuan James, one "Volympics" captain. "He's saying, 'You can't lead a whole team if you can't lead a group of 10 guys on the team.' I feel like he's doing a good job of getting us prepared."

In practice, every rep between the offense and defense will have a winner and a loser, and the scoreboard will keep a running tally. Winners wear orange, while losers are relegated to white jerseys. When practices ends, the two sides will meet for a midfield handshake.

"When the whistle blows and we step out on the green, I want them competing each and every day," Jones said. "When that double horn blows and its over with, there's no offense or defense -- it's one Tennessee. That's what we do.

"We shake hands and let each other know we're on the same team, but I want them competing on every single rep."

As Jones noted, the Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule the Vols will use for their 15 allotted practices allows for learning. Not once will they practice on consecutive days, meaning coaches and players can pore over video to improve deficiencies, highlight positives, teach and correct. The schemes will come slowly.

"We're not going to throw everything at them [at once]," Jones said. "I know each coaching staff has different philosophies, but because of the style of play that we want, we've got to teach them how we're going to play, how we're going to line up [and] how we're going to finish plays, and we'll gradually move on. Again, I don't want the mind tying the feet up.

"I really want to take our time, because obviously this spring ball is probably the most critical spring ball we will have here at Tennessee."

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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