KNOXVILLE -- Marlon Walls and the rest of Tennessee's defensive players are adding a twist to their student-athlete status.
The Volunteers' defensive end knows better than to show up to a meeting room unprepared.
"You've got to write everything down," Walls said after Thursday morning's practice. "Last year, they could write it on the board and you've got it. This 3-4 [defense], you've got to write it down. That way it sticks to you.
"You're there with a pen and paper every meeting trying to get it down."
The rising junior became the second player this week to compare learning UT's new defensive scheme to a regular college class. Other Vols have noted how much UT's new defensive staff is throwing at them this week. Adding pads threw another wrench into the process Thursday.
"Now you're trying to knock a guy out, and you forget what you've got to do," Walls said. "It's definitely a little but more confusing."
That's to be expected less than a week into spring practice. The two-way learning process between players and coaches is in full swing, and it's being done on the fly. Despite the complexity and heavy amount of installation, most Vols view coordinator Sal Sunseri's new defense with excitement and high expectations of what it can do.
The hope, too, is that confusion in spring practice ultimately translates into success in the fall.
"It's the never-ending dilemma of being simple but not enough, or being enough and we don't know what to do," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "It's something you battle all the time as a coach. I think schematically you want to do as much as you can do to put the players in a position to have success.
"Simple's good sometimes, but you have a hard time creating plays on defense. Complex is good, because you've got a better chance to stop guys and make plays and create negative plays, but the downside is it requires a lot of learning."
Ideal body types
Walls played end in UT's 4-3 defense last season, but he's added weight without changing positions for this spring. The Memphis-area native is up to 288 pounds, which he said will give him "a better chance" against the double teams he'll face when he's closer to the center of the line.
Dooley said Walls was one of the players who fits better into Sunseri's 3-4 scheme.
"Really what I'm looking at is body types," the coach said. "Jacques [Smith] is a good example: When he plays in a 4-3 and he's a defensive end, he's a little bit undersized. Doesn't mean he can't be good, doesn't mean he can't play, but just from a prototype of what you want, he's a little bit undersized. Then when you stand him up as an outside 'backer, he's the perfect size.
"Marlon's a good example, too. Marlon struggled the tighter you moved down there. Think of it this way: You've got 620 or 630 pounds coming at me on a double team versus I'm out here and I've got either a tight end or a single block coming. Big difference."
Old coach speak
At the age of 60, defensive line coach John Palermo is the oldest member of Dooley's staff. That wasn't a problem for defensive tackle Maurice Couch.
"I'm so used to being around real aggressive old-school coaches, so I kind of like that," the junior said. "He's not all about ball. He can be fun at times, too. We have a good bond with Coach J.P."
The Vols are trying to find a spot for Couch on their defensive line. He's smaller than the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle and shorter than a defensive end. The 295-pound Couch came on at the end of last season after making the adjustment from playing in junior college.
"A guy like Mo, I don't know, we'll see," Dooley said. "He may be OK playing nose, but he might be more suited for a one-on-one matchup with a guard. That's where you've got to have that flexibility."
Freshman early enrollee defensive lineman Trent Taylor missed practice again Thursday. ... Tight end Justin Meredith also did not practice, though the freshman early enrollee jogged around the practice field. ... Offensively the Vols continue to work on the wildcat and pistol formations.
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 ...