KNOXVILLE — When Tennessee's football team returns from spring break next week, the Volunteers will get back to work.
There are nine spring practices remaining, and while there's more to install schematically on offense, defense and special teams, the new coaching staff has no intentions of relenting their focus on the details that form the foundation of the program.
"There's a lot more that we have to get in," defensive coordinator John Jancek said after the Vols' last spring practice eight days ago, "but it doesn't do you any good to have a bunch of calls if they don't know how to tackle, if they don't know how to run to the ball, if they're not doing the things necessary to play great defense. I'm not even worried about that. I want them to learn how to play the game and [have] the tempo and the passion that we want to have on defense.
"Once we establish that, then we can implement things."
Offensively the focus has been the tempo, which multiple players have said is faster than last season's. Jancek and his defensive assistants have spent a lot of time on teaching techniques, and tackling figures to be an emphasis after Jancek tabbed it as a concern last week. The initial special-teams work has been on kickoff returns and punt protection and coverage.
New head coach Butch Jones said before practice began that he planned to take the schematic part of spring slowly. Even as the installation progresses through the second half of his first 15 Vols practices, every play and drill will be a competition and Jones will continue roaming the practice field barking reminders like "Blades of grass -- we're fighting for blades of grass!" as he instills his blue-collar style and attention-to-detail approach to a team trying to reverse the trend of losing seasons the past three years.
"We're always stressing how to practice," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "We will progress into installing more offense. But we'll never step back when it comes to fundamentals, when it comes to techniques, went it comes to assignments and things like that."
Jancek said the defensive installation likely will expand when the Vols return from their one-week hiatus. During the open periods of the first six practices, Tennessee has used a nickel defense with two linebackers and five defensive backs almost exclusively. That's been to counter the spread multi-receiver sets the Vols' offense has used, and Jancek said some of the attention after the break will turn toward defenses for other offensive personnel groupings, such as two-back or two-tigh-end formations.
"We're seeing a lot of spread," he added, "but you know in this league you better be able to stop the run when Georgia and Alabama are coming at you with two backs in the backfield. You've got to know how to defend that. That's really where we're going to go when we come back."
Some of the schematic foundation of the new and simpler 4-3 defense already has been laid.
"We do have a lot of our rule sets in place, so anything that we add should make total sense to these guys," Jancek said. "It's not something foreign. That's why we're really taking it slow."
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 ...