published Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Scrimmage intriguing for UT defensive staff

KNOXVILLE — The green light will be on at Neyland Stadium today.

Tennessee's defensive coaches hope to see some players go, too.

The Volunteers will scrimmage for the second time this spring, and eight practices in, the coaches are looking to see some players make moves, create separation and show more consistency.

"I put a lot [of worth] into the scrimmage, because that's football, when you don't know whether it's run or pass," defensive coordinator John Jancek said after Thursday morning's practice. "A lot of times we do an inside drill, and they all know it's run, or we go pass skeleton and they all know it's pass. It's advantage defense, but when you go 11-on-11, it could be a screen, it could be a run, it could be a pass, it could be a boot[leg] -- those are the things that you want to see your guys react to.

"Then obviously tackling, that's going to be big, [becasuse] you can't be a good defense and not be able to tackle."

Tackling has been an emphasis this spring, but the Vols have been in "thud" mode during many team periods, meaning players aren't supposed to take the ball carrier to the ground.

Jancek said the Vols have drilled tackling "pretty hard," and the scrimmage will provide a chance to see if that work has improved and where more improvements are needed. The live, full-speed play will provide the coaching staff with an important evaluation in multiple areas.

"You get to see who can make plays in space, who can make plays when they're fatigued, who can overcome their adversity," linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said. "When they're starting to move the ball, who's the guy that's going to step up? There's a lot of little intangibles that we're all looking for out there.

"Any time we can line up and scrimmage, that's always a plus for our defense."

Though Tennessee essentially returns the same cast from the SEC's worst defense last season, the transition of a new staff and new schemes this spring have caused some natural inconsistencies, but at some point over the course of 15 practices, players begin to know what's expected and reach a comfort level that allows them to make noticeable improvements.

"There's some guys you want to see step up," Thigpen said. "Kenny Bynum's getting in there a lot more, and I want to see him. I want to see a guy like John Propst, because in all his fundamentals he's a technician, he's very smart and to me he's a guy that has to find a way to help us.

"There's some guys like Christian Harris, who I think is doing a great job, and [Channing] Fugate's doing a great job. It's an older group, and I've got an old room, so there's a lot of experience that we have in that room, but we've got to get everybody to contribute."

From a big-picture standpoint, though, the defensive coaches simply want to see more consistency and progress from practice to practice.

"We all want guys to make plays and stuff like that and more consistencies in our calls and executing our defense and their fundamentals and their technique," secondary coach Willie Martinez said. "It's just too inconsistent right now. You've got to keep in mind these guys have [their] third or fourth new coaches in their careers, some of these guys.

"These guys want to work, they're focused and they want to improve. They've got a great attitude, and that's what's encouraging. If they can get better from the last practice, or if they can get better from this practice to the next, that's all you're really asking for, and they're doing that, and they're making the effort to do that."

Now the coaches would like to see some players make tangible strides.

"It's funny. Everybody's a little bit different," Jancek said. "Some players can continue to get better and improve, and some guys are up and down. We want a level of consistency.

"We talked to them about, 'Hey, consistency is the truest measure of performance,' and guys that come out every day that are consistent and you know what you're getting usually are the guys that end up on the field at the end."

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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