Tennessee Football: New Playmakers Transforming Vols' Offensive Identity

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Tennessee Football: New Playmakers Transforming Vols' Offensive Identity
Wade Payne/Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If everything goes according to plan in 2014, Tennessee football fans won't recognize the Volunteers offense from a season ago.

The scheme hasn't changed, but head coach Butch Jones didn't mince words when discussing how much healthier the Volunteers' power spread offense will look with an injection of all the young talents who enrolled mid-term.

"Really, what you saw this spring was the same offense, just different individuals," UT's second-year head coach told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview.

"I think we’ve taken great strides in moving forward and building our own offensive identity with the addition of Von Pearson, Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd, Coleman Thomas and the two tight ends.

"Those individuals changed our offense the minute they walked in."

During a woefully inept offensive campaign in 2013, the Vols averaged 23.8 points per game while finishing 12th in the SEC in total offense.

Orange Offensive Ineptitude: Vols' Woes in 2013
Category Stats SEC Rank
Scoring Offense 23.8 11
Rushing Offense 188.4 9
Passing Offense 164.9 13
Total Offense 353.3 12
Passing Efficiency 105.5 14
First Downs 223 11

SECDigitalNetwork.com

The only player on UT's offense with real game-breaking talent was true freshman receiver Marquez North. Now, thanks to a stacked recruiting class, the Vols have surrounded him with potential playmakers who should make an immediate impact.

The best thing for the Vols is they already have a spring practice logged beside the classes on their syllabus.

Former elite prospects such as running back Hurd, receivers Malone and Pearson and tight ends Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm have revitalized a stagnant offense.

USA TODAY Sports

As a result, the timing and tempo of Tennessee's offense improved noticeably this spring. The Vols simply didn't look anything like the team from a season ago, especially during a highlight-reel spring game.

They were crisp. They were sharp. They scored points and moved the ball.

It was more like the offense Jones grew accustomed to seeing during stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

Jones wants UT to establish a tempo-dictating offensive mentality that leans toward speeding up the game. It just hasn't had the horses to do it, but may now.

"Every great team has its own unique style of play," Jones said. "We've talked to our players about building our own identity and unique style of play. But we do want to play uptempo, and we weren't anywhere near where we need to be. Of anywhere else we've been, [2013] is probably the slowest that we've played.

"We have to take monumental strides moving forward in terms of our overall speed and tempo. I thought we did it this spring, but we're still nowhere near where we need to be."

Even though the Vols aren't where Jones envisions his offense yet, the infusion of talent is making a profound difference.

He noted he was "absolutely" more confident in his quarterbacks now than at any point last season, and while they've made strides in leading the offense, a weaponry upgrade is the biggest factor.

"I also think that, again, they're a byproduct of improving overall speed-wise," Jones said. "At times last year, our quarterbacks had to play perfect. We had very little big splash plays, and it's hard to play perfect. This year, they can throw the ball up and have trust that when you play a jump ball, we're going to go up and get it.

USA TODAY Sports

"I think our quarterbacks now have great confidence with the players on the perimeter, so I think their overall improvement of the position is a byproduct of the improvement of the running back, receiver and tight end positions."

A study of statistics posted on UT's official site showed that, a season ago, the Vols had just 69 offensive plays go for 15 or more yards. Only 46 went for 20 or more.

Jones expects improvement, but also cautioned against anointing high school stars like Hurd and Malone All-Americans right away. Their ceilings are limitless, but they will be thrown to some of the nation's top defenses all season.

"We have to make sure we don’t place too much pressure on them right away or put too many high expectations on them right away," Jones said. "They’re going to be great football players. They’re going to help Tennessee win because they have great competitive character, are great individuals, they take ownership of representing their home state, they're very, very talented and gifted players and they're hungry.

"They want to be the best. But they should be finishing up high school right now. Fortunately for us and for them, they graduated and have that spring football under their belt."

 

Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Brad on Twitter here: 

@Brad_Shepard

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