KNOXVILLE — The spring preparation for Tennessee's upcoming football season in some ways resembled the end of an injury-plagued 2016 for defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's unit, just with less urgency.
Tennessee's 14 spring practices forced some players out of their natural positions or onto the field in back-to-back possessions during scrimmages out of sheer necessity. It was the result of numerous injuries and the toll of graduation leaving just a shell of the depth chart Shoop should have at his disposal during the season.
But in the spring, success is not measured by the scoreboard, and Tennessee's second-year defensive coordinator is taking a wide view assessing his group heading into Saturday's Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium.
"The thing I like is that they're doing things the way we're asking them to do, for the most part," Shoop said Thursday. "I think that will translate into the fall, when we get all our players back and healthy."
Shoop shouldered the blame for the late-season decline of a Tennessee defense that appeared to adapt well to his scheme before Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt posted gaudy numbers against the depleted Volunteers in November.
A silver lining from the limited spring roster is that those who may be called upon to replace injured players in 2017 — as so many were in 2016 — will carry the experience gained this March and April with them onto the field.
"It's good because you're getting a lot of reps, but it's bad because sometimes those guys get fatigued," Shoop said. "It's given those guys an opportunity to get ready for the fall. One of the things that was unique about this team last year was how many injuries we had."
Linebacker Dillon Bates, who is listed at roughly 30 to 45 pounds heavier than his defensive back counterparts, found himself playing nickelback in spring scrimmages. A host of injuries along the defensive line forced a crew of walk-ons and DeAndre Johnson, an early enrollee, onto the field with the second-team defense in scrimmage situations.
Shoop has also gotten creative with keeping the injured players involved by assigning them to coach a position group or to watch for specific on-field trends.
"I've even called on them to report on it at times," Shoop said, "and I think they've done a good job of helping the young guys or the other players when they haven't been in there."
The addition of two new defensive coaches — Brady Hoke overseeing the line and Charlton Warren coaching the secondary — has thrown a new wrinkle into spring drills. Warren said he thinks his players have responded well to his coaching style.
"We're not where we need to be in this moment," he said. "But we're where we need to be in the progression to get to where we need to go."
Shoop described the defense's spring depth as "not so hotsy totsy."
"It hasn't always been perfect," he said. "I think the issue is obviously we have some injuries and guys not playing, but we've coached really hard.
"I think the players are pretty tight-knit. They've approached most every practice with good passion. It's been a hot spring. They've fought through and been pretty tough, and they've competed."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.