Vol practice report (4/9)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/SUBMITTED) -- Crying babies, police sirens, car alarms. How do you deal when you hear them? Butch Jones is trying find out the Vols will deal with distractions.

"It is being able to focus and ex-out everything," Jones said of incorporating the annoying sounds. "Playing in the SEC and having to play at Oregon, some people describe it as the loudest venue in all of college football. You have to learn how to sort those distractions out. You have to focus on your communicative skills, your nonverbal communicative skills, and your command presence. We will continue to grow as spring ball progresses in using that."

Jones is known for thinking of everything that could come up in the heat of the moment in a game. So bringing the sounds of cracking glass and bells is nothing new to his staff. But for the players, it was a surprise -- a welcome one.

"The first thing I thought of was if this is how it's going to be in the game, we're not going to be able to hear each other," said redshirt freshman receiver Jason Croom. "(Jones) tries to surprise us with everything, so right away I just started looking to the sideline and I knew he was trying to make us focus on communicating today."

Jones waited until the 10th practice to debut one of his trademarks.

"I wanted to make sure we had the foundation and the bases," said Jones. "Obviously. it will be a staple in training camp. But I also like to do it when they are not expecting it. It is practice 10, that is why we did a live two-point play segment.

"Our defense has to understand, in order to play great defense the mental effort, the mental intensity, the energy that it takes, you have to bring it every practice, every day you have to live that way. Just like toughness, you have to live it every day.

"You don't learn how to swim without getting in the pool. It is that mental intensity, it really is. Our defense didn't have the same effort, the same energy they had on Saturday. It showed in our last team period, they got beat 18 to 4. You can't have that be a great defense. You play great defense by playing with a high level of consistency in everything that you do."

The players know having to hear the noises now will pay benefits down the road.

"We usually do the crowd noise on the speakers but when you have horns blowing and other things like bells it is a real distraction because we are not used to hearing those noises," said lineman Alex Bullard. "It will be beneficial."

Jones said Tuesday's commotion was just the start. "That was a C-minus, we will tune it up more on Thursday," he said.


A year ago, Corey Miller missed all of spring practice. This year, he is taking full advantage of the second chance he has worked so hard to earn in his final go-around at Rocky Top.

"It's a big opportunity for me," Miller said. "I'm disappointed in myself overall for missing last spring, that is my fault. This spring I feel like I have a chance to take advantage of the missed opportunity from last year and hopefully it will snowball into the fall."

The senior defensive lineman made his presence felt in the team's scrimmage on Saturday, serving as a disruptive force and recording one of the defense's numerous sacks.

He was quick to defer the credit for his success though.

"I'll never be one to say that it is about my general technique or anything like that, it is all about my teammates," Miller said. "These guys free me up all the time. I am just happy that they give me opportunities and I would do the same for them."

Looking forward, Miller says he is pleased with the play of the defensive line so far but nowhere near satisfied.

"We are taking everything in that Coach Strip is trying to teach us," Miller said. "It is coming step-by-step. We are getting better day-by-day but we still have a while to go. The pass rush is coming along and we are just going to keep listening to him."


As Tennessee completed its 10th practice of the spring, redshirt sophomore Trevarris Saulsberry is getting accustomed to his new position, defensive tackle, while fighting the incumbents for playing time.

"It's a rough battle," Saulsberry said. "I moved from end down to three-technique, so I'm having to battle with Big Dan (McCullers) Gregory Clark, Danny O'Brien, all them. It's a struggle but I'm pushing to excel in what I'm doing and try to get that starting position."

Saulsberry, who was an end in the previous staff's 3-4 system, feels the switch to a 4-3 allows him to use his size more effectively while reacting more and thinking less.

"I feel like it fits my body type better," Saulsberry said. "I'm big, I'm long and it's easier to read at three-technique. You don't have to look at everything in the backfield, you're just looking at that one man and focus on them."

Saulsberry said he used the off season to work on improving his strength and his reads, but that his main focus was on improving his pass rush with Coach Stripling.

"Coach Strip is a pass-rush guy," Saulsberry said. "You see he has a lot of pass-rushers in the NFL. He knows how to work the ball-points on offensive lineman's arms so we've done it a lot and it's really helped me in my pass-rush game."


Jones lamented the fact this the Vols' punt return game isn't where it needs to be. The coach considers returning punts one of the 'hardest skills in the sport of football' and is seeking some answers as to who will be the team's primary return man.

"Very concerned with where our punt returns are," he said. "Not only to catch a punt but with 10 guys running down the field to try and tackle you. So much goes into it. That is a skillset where you have to do more than two things at once. It really challenges your concentration levels.

Last season, Devrin Young was the team's main punt returner, bringing back 16 returns for 155 yards (9.7 average). This spring he has seen time there, as has Jacob Carter, who Jones called the team's 'most consistent individual' at the position. But Carter is sidelines with an ankle injury.

"We are looking for the individual that gain a first down for the offense, get ten yards, but all secure the football," said Jones. "A missed judged punt can be the difference in 10, 20, 30 yards of field position. Obviously being able to perform the skill and catch the ball under demanding circumstances. Today we spent 10 minutes just trying to figure out and trying to continue to evaluate who our punt returners are going to be. I couldn't tell you right now. Thank God we don't have to play a game tomorrow."


(On changing his assessment of the quarterbacks performance after watching film)
"I can see them progressing. I think our quarterbacks are getting better. There are so many things that I think the naked eye, when you watch a scrimmage, obviously all eyes are on the quarterback, but a lot of times that people don't see a missed assignment by a receiver, a receiver not winning at the line of scrimmage, not beating our one-on-ones, maybe a missed assignment upfront at the line of scrimmage by the offensive line. We had five dropped passes. A dropped pass in our offense is equivalent to a turnover in our offense. Those five dropped passes were big time drops. One was a coming out situation that is a change of about 50 yards. Another was a coming out situation that is a difference in about 12 yards. When you go back and you look we were very close but we didn't execute offensively the way we want. I warned out defense, there is a couple of times where it was a tackle for loss, but one communication flaw and breakdown by the offense, if we that communication going it could be a big play for the offense rather than a tackle for loss. Those are the things you try to point out. I thought being able to come back and watch the film Monday and really be able to teach them. With this football team everything is a teaching opportunity."

(On the difficulty of evaluating Nathan Peterman with so many receivers injured this spring)
"It is challenging and if you have any eligibility left we will ask you to practice on Thursday. It is challenging. That is why today we mixed it up. We left Nate take a couple repetitions with the ones. It is what is it. It is the situation. Today I believe we had Paul Harris new, Jacob Carter has been out, Vincent Dallas has been out, we expect to have Vincent back on Thursday. It is very challenging because so much of the throw game is rhythm, spacing and timing, and developing trust. Receivers speak through non-verbal communication of when they are coming out of their breaks. That is formed over repetitions and time. Right now that has been a great challenge for all of our quarterbacks."

(On the offense as a whole)
"Our offensive line plays exceptionally high. That is something that we have to do a better job and they are doing a better job of it. Also there are a number of misreads by our backs. Our backs are bouncing the ball outside when really they have to take the run reads, lower the pad level and get three or four yards. It is like I told our backs, sometimes a 1-yard gain would be the best run that you had in the scrimmage because you had to lower your pads and we can't have TFLs. We can't have negative yard football plays when we run the football. At times it was the offensive line, but I think it was a team effort, it was the backs sometimes, it was the tight ends with a missed assignment. One time it was third-and-2 and the tight end had to cut the backside edge off, has a mental error, goes frontside and it was a tackle for loss when really it should have been a four or five yard gain and a first down."

(On what he is looking for out of A.J. Johnson)
"Playing with his eyes, being extremely disciplined, understanding his reads and winning the junction point and being able to get off blocks. Having great linebacker play is playing instinctual, making people right when they are wrong, the ability to make plays and having great discipline with your eyes, you play with your eyes. But it is about the ability to get off blocks. That is what separates the guys that play at the next level is the ability to win the junction point and get off blocks."

(On Justin Coleman)
"Justin Coleman is a quiet individual and a lot of times it is great if you are not being noticed at corner because that means you are doing a good job. I think the overall fundamentals and our eye discipline. Today he gave up a deep ball because he was peeking in the backfield. Those are all great teaching points but we are going to need him to really step up."

(On the defense's performance in Saturday's scrimmage)
"It was a good effort overall by the defense the whole day Saturday, so we were pretty proud of ourselves. But like Coach Jancek said, we still have a lot of room for improvement and a long way to go."

(On what the defense needs to improve on)
"MA's, missed assignments. Of course everybody was hustling and everybody was going hard, so overall great effort but at the same time you still have to correct your plays and correct your mistakes."

(On the competition along the defensive line)
"There is a lot of competition. It is not really about athletic ability, it is all about the respect we have for one another. We have all been here for a long time together. We push each other every day."

(On if the defensive line is starting to gel)
"Most definitely, with time comes respect for each other and we work well together. It is coming along but we still have to keep on working."

(On what it's like when the coaches allow the QB to be hit)
"I was lickin' my chops. I'm trying to get back there as fast as I can. It doesn't happen many times, so you have to make the best of that opportunity."

(On how much confidence it gives the defense when it performs well against the highly-touted O-line)
"Knowing that they're one of the best offensive lines in the country, it gives us confidence that we can play with anybody now, since we proved our point in the scrimmage, we just have to keep it up."

(On the good things from practice)
"We didn't turn the ball over at all on offense so that is a positive. That is a direct correlation of wins and losses is not turning the ball over. We started out good but things didn't go our way and we kind of shut down. We have to learn that when things don't go our way to keep pressing on."

(On the defensive line)
"They are definitely playing with a lot of passion and just playing better. But when we do everything right and what we are supposed to do we can block anybody in the country."

(On the competition along the defensive line)
"There is a lot of competition. It is not really about athletic ability, it is all about the respect we have for one another. We have all been here for a long time together. We push each other every day."

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