Tennessee Volunteers: 4 Things to Accomplish During Spring Practice
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Once recruiting has been completed and prospects have signed on the dotted line, Coach Butch Jones and his staff can set about the job of getting their current Tennessee Volunteers team prepared for the upcoming season. As with any new staff, there is a long list of things that must be accomplished.
But in his favor, Jones has an opportunity to seize upon the excitement being generated by the newness of the situation. Hopefully, players and coaches will come into the spring workouts with a fresh attitude after having suffered through several seasons that have not provided the results folks on Rocky Top are accustomed to.
Spring practice is set to begin on March 9 and will end with the annual Orange and White game on April 20 at Neyland Stadium.
During that time span, there are four things the Volunteers must accomplish.
Establish a New Mindset
All things Dooley must be purged from Rocky Top.
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The first, and perhaps most important, thing to get done during this spring is to purge the mindset of negativity that has taken hold within this program among players, fans and other interested parties.
Last season, negative comments from all sources served to divide the team, its coaches and the fan base. Listening to sport talk stations and reading message boards revealed a program that had become too used to losing.
That attitude has to be replaced with a more positive one on all fronts. No progress can be made if that negative mindset isn't turned in a more positive direction.
Most importantly, the players have to lose the losing mentality.
After three consecutive seasons (and four of the last five) of posting sub .500 records, the new coaching staff will have their work cut out for them in terms of getting players to expect to win rather than accept losing. That change must begin immediately if this program is to be turned around.
Tennessee football has to get over its inferiority complex. In other words, all the Dooley-isms have to go.
Determine the Starting QB
Whether it be Justin Worley or someone else, the Vols need to know who their QB is soon.
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The most important position on the field for any football team is the quarterback.
Not only is he the player who is charged with distributing the ball to those who can make things happen, but he is also commonly looked to as the team leader. To have that position solidified coming out of the spring would benefit all involved.
With a new coaching staff and all other issues surrounding the program, this team does not need to enter fall practice not knowing who their quarterback will be. And most importantly, the quarterbacks themselves do not need to enter the season not knowing which of them will take the snaps when the Tennessee Vols play their first game against Austin Peay on August 31.
By most accounts, the competition looks to be between junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Coach Butch Jones and his staff recruited Peterman while in Cincinnati, and some believe that may provide the younger of the two with an advantage going into spring workouts.
Either way, it's in the program's best interest for the issue to be settled sooner rather than later.
Many Tennessee fans can remember back to the disastrous 2005 season in which the Vols struggles were at least partly due to the inability to choose between Rick Clausen and Erik Ainge as the starting QB. A repeat of that debacle must be avoided.
The best solution, of course, would be for one of these two potential signal callers to step up and have a very productive spring because any hint of a QB controversy must be eliminated.
Few things can be more devastating to a football team.
Implement the Offense and Commit to a Style
If they are to be successful, the Vols can't have confusion in the offensive huddle.
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Along with establishing a quarterback, the overall offense needs to be firmly established during the spring as well.
Butch Jones was known for running an offense in Cincinnati that is a bit foreign to the SEC. And that's likely what what he'll bring to the practice field, and eventually to Neyland Stadium, while heading up the Tennessee Vols program.
“We’re a no-huddle, up-tempo offense. We like to run the football,” Jones said in an interview with the Charlotte Observer last year. “We’re balanced but we’re going to play with an up-tempo style."
If that's what it's going to be, then there can't be any wavering and the team must be made to buy in without reservation. Tennessee's defense of last season never fully bought in to the system Sal Sunseri tried to implement and that led to mistakes and poor play.
The mistakes of the 2012 defensive staff cannot be repeated on the other side of the ball.
Essentially, Tennessee has run much the same offense over the course of the last four seasons; first under Lane Kiffin and then under Derek Dooley. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had established Tennessee as a pass first and run second type of offense.
Now, it will be up to Jones to sell the Vols players on his brand of offense, and to do it within the space of 14 practices.
Set a Strong Defensive Tone Early
The Vols need to set a strong defensive tone in the spring.
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After a horrible year that broke records for ineptitude, Tennessee's defensive players have to have their confidence restored this spring. Coach Butch Jones and his staff need to establish a strong defensive tone early on and set this unit up to succeed rather than to fail.
Last year, defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri arrived in Knoxville and instituted a brand new 3-4 style of play that the Tennessee Volunteers were never able to grasp. Things even got so bad at one point that head coach Derek Dooley was forced to step in and take on a more active role in the defense's preparation as the season wore on.
A good defense is essential for success in the SEC, and Tennessee proved last year that a defense that isn't confident in what it is doing has little chance of playing to the level necessary to win football games in this league. Often times in 2012, players looked more like they were pausing to think rather than simply reacting to the movements of the opposing offense.
Jones and new defensive coordinator John Jancek must install a system in which the players feel comfortable enough to play without reservation and hesitation.
The Renewal of "Tennessee Football" Must Start Now
If Tennessee football is to return to the heights it once enjoyed, they must have a good spring.
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If the Orange and White are to return to prominence in 2013 and beyond under Butch Jones, the four things outlined in the previous slides must be accomplished during spring practice so that the fall can run more smoothly.
The Tennessee Volunteer program desperately needs to have a winning season and make a bowl appearance. There are at least seven very winnable games on this year's schedule. If the Vols can win those and possibly score a surprise victory or two the season will definitely be considered an improvement over recent years.
That can be done if the right tone is established early.
If that proper tone is not set this spring, doubt and a losing attitude will return quickly to Rocky Top. Jones and his staff have a very important spring ahead of them.