published Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Tennessee Vols defenders 'excited'

  • photo
    Tennessee safety Byron Moore catches a ball during the first day of spring practice Saturday at Haslam Field. He says the Vols defenders are eager to get a new start and forget last year's disaster.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Last season's defensive debacle is easy to forget for Byron Moore and the safety's Tennessee teammates.

After delivering the worst season in yards and points allowed in the program's history in 2012, Tennessee's defense is eager to embrace the present and the future of a move back to a 4-3 base defense under a new coaching staff.

"That team is dead and it's a new team," Moore said after Saturday's practice, the Vols' first of the spring. "We've got to start our own legacy and put a new identity on our team and come up with our mentality of how we're going to play this year. I don't think nobody really wants to talk about [last year] no more.

"We're definitely looking forward to creating a new identity and getting everybody's mind changed about Tennessee's defense."

Defensive coordinator John Jancek, a former assistant coach at Georgia who was new head coach Butch Jones' DC at Cincinnati, has the task of improving a unit that finished last in the SEC and 107th nationally in yards allowed and allowed every conference opponent except Kentucky to score 37 or more points last season.

"Whenever you have a breakdown like that, there's a lot of factors that go into it," Jancek said Friday. "The kids have been extremely, extremely positive with the things that we're doing, and I want to build on that. We're a work in progress right now.

"We're going back and transitioning back to the 4-3, and we've moved some guys around. We're trying to get more speed on the field. We know that's a factor, but we are what we are right now and we've got to continue to win each and every day and get better from day one to day two and so on and so forth."

Though players were looking forward to moving to the 3-4 defense when Sal Sunseri began installing it last spring, they later talked about the scheme's complexity. When the season began, the confusion showed and caused some alignment problems that led to disastrous results, including a whopping 74 plays of 20 or more yards by opposing offenses.

Tennessee had better pieces last season than it did in 2011, when Justin Wilcox coordinated a unit that finished 28th nationally in total defense.

Even as the struggles mounted, Sunseri kept the same yelling and screaming approach in practice, but all of that now is water under the bridge for the Vols.

"We're excited about it," defensive tackle Daniel Hood said. "Things are a lot more simple to allow us to get up the field to play and just give us an opportunity to make plays. As a D-line we're not really place-holders anymore, and it's play your blocks, get off, make a play.

"I think just the change in general has made us more eager. We've got a new strength coach in here, we've got Coach Jones, Coach Jancek and all them, and the energy they bring each day has encouraged all of us to amp up whatever we've got. I think that's what's given us that extra push."

Both Jones and Jancek said the schematic installation would come gradually this spring, and initially Jancek wants to establish his expectation, stress effort and the details and instill what he calls a "rule base" with his defense.

"You always have to consider the players," he said. "It's going to be their package, and they have to execute it. They have to own it, and that's what we're working on.

"I think to have a system of defense that's easy to understand, it has rules so that when things come up that aren't expected and the offense maybe does something different, they can follow and play by rule and you have easy adjustments."

Moore said the new defense is "a lot simpler" and lacks an overload of pre-snap checks.

"We can just go out there and play fast," he said. "We just line up and play."

Those are welcome words for the Vols, who are aware of the challenge they face.

"I think they're very eager, and I think they just want to win," Jancek said. "They're like, 'Coach, just tell us what we need to do.' They're very coachable, they've got a good attitude and they're putting forth great effort in everything that they do.

"You can see that when it's a strength and conditioning coach or a position coach or a coordinator or even Coach Jones -- they're going to try to do it how we're asking them to do it, and that's exciting for us. We, as coaches, feed off that."

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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