published Friday, April 19th, 2013

Mike Bajakian says play installation sufficient for now

Tennessee coaches, from left,  John Jancek, defensive coordinator; Mike Bajakian, offensive coordinator/ quarterbacks; and Robert Gillesipie, assistant coach for running backs; talk at a news conference.
Tennessee coaches, from left, John Jancek, defensive coordinator; Mike Bajakian, offensive coordinator/ quarterbacks; and Robert Gillesipie, assistant coach for running backs; talk at a news conference.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Mike Bajakian paused, then assigned a number as an answer to the question.

Then Tennessee's offensive coordinator sufficiently explained why the number was misleading.

Bajakian estimated after Thursday morning's practice that the Volunteers installed 50 percent of his offense over the course of 14 spring practices, but he quickly noted he's comfortable with the progress his unit made in the last month.

"The offense is going to be molded to the skills of your players," he said after practice at Neyland Stadium. "At the University of Cincinnati, we ran plays that we never ran at Central Michigan University because we had different personnel, and vice versa. At Central Michigan, we ran plays that we never ran with the University of Cincinnati because it didn't fit our personnel.

"Are those plays quote-unquote in the offense? Sure, I guess they're in the offense, but they never made it in. I've said for a while now I feel comfortable going into a game tomorrow with the volume of offense that we have in. We have enough in to execute all the different situations that might come up in a game.

"We have a large chunk in, so it's hard to an overall percentage number on it."

Tennessee's offense, with a veteran line but with new quarterbacks and receivers and a backfield in flux with Marlin Lane's ongoing absence for disciplinary reasons, took a methodical approach in installing a new power spread system.

The Vols battled inconsistency from practice to practice, but head coach Butch Jones, Bajakian and the other offensive coaches were constant in stressing tempo and pace to their players.

"Tempo is not something that comes naturally to players, and it's something we need to coach and have coached since day one," Bajakian said. "Like any other skill set, it's something that you can improve upon, and it's something that if you're not constantly stressing, you can take steps backward. There are times where I'll be in the quarterback's pocket and coaching him up, and I'll get the feel that we're not moving with a good enough tempo, so now I've got to focus on getting the offense going a lot quicker.

"It's something that we will always coach all the time, and again, you're never satisfied, just like you're never satisfied with depth and you're never satisfied with where you are at the end of spring -- I don't think you're ever satisfied with tempo. Are we much better than where we were day one? Absolutely. Are we much better from an effort standpoint than where we were day one? Yes, but we're always going to stress that."

Work to do

Based on the tone of Zach Azzanni's post-practice interview, Tennessee's young, injury-riddled receiving corps had another down practice Thursday. The receivers coach admitted his unit has more work to do than he expected to have at this point.

"We're very inconsistent at making plays right now," he said. "We find a way to slip, and we find a way to drop that ball. We find those ways right now.

"Good teams and good players find ways not to slip. They find ways to make that play, and that's what we're searching for, those inches every day. I thought Saturday there were some signs there that they could do it."

Azzanni bemoaned his group's lack of leadership and his disappointment in that missing aspect.

"There's guys, quite frankly, that have no idea how to work and no idea how to win," he said, "and that's my job to teach them all those habits to do those things.

"I can't assume things will get done the way I want them to get done out there," he said later. "I can't assume when I turn around, they're coaching each other; I can't assume that their thigh [pads] are in; I can't assume that they're going to jog onto the field -- I can't assume anything. I can't assume they're going to be on time to meetings.

"I've got to make sure all that happens. When you have really good leaders, they make sure those things happen. We'll get there -- it's just going to take a while."

Jacob Carter, who's still wearing a boot on his right foot, and Jason Croom and Paul Harris, both sidelined with hamstring injuries, won't play in Saturday's Orange and White Game. The injuries leave Tennessee with five healthy scholarship players, meaning walk-ons will get plenty of action. Azzanni said Sam Cranford, from Nashville's Christ Presbyterian Academy, has been one of the Vols' most consistent receivers this spring.

King's catches

With Brendan Downs and Justin Meredith sidelined with injuries the past few practices, Justin King has come on at tight end, adding a one-handed toe-tapping catch during 7-on-7 work Thursday morning to two impressive touchdown catches he made in last Saturday's scrimmage.

The rising sophomore played quarterback, tailback and linebacker for Dunwoody (Ga.) High School and said after Tuesday's practice he caught just two passes in his high school career.

"It felt good, just making plays for my team, putting the offense in a good position and answering when my number was called," he said. "Downs was a big part in this offense. We've just got to step up and play that role.

"If the ball's coming to me, I'm going to come down with it no matter what."

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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