KNOXVILLE – It was a shaky start for the Tennessee secondary in last Friday’s 35-21 win over North Carolina State.
NC State quarterback Mike Glennon completed passes of 49, 17, 11, 31 and 28 yards in the first quarter. Wolfpack wide receivers were running unchecked through the secondary. It appeared that no Tennessee defensive backs were even covering them in some situations.
That’s because they weren’t, at times. At least on a few plays, the secondary had a miscommunication about responsibilities, says safeties coach Josh Conklin.
“I thought we did some positive things, but we had some breakdowns in communication, which we were a little bit nervous about going in to it,” Conklin said. “The bottom line is, we’ve got a long way to go. There were some bright spots, but we have a lot to improve on. Thankfully we did enough to win the game.”
The bright spots he referenced included four interceptions – one each from cornerbacks Marsalis Teague, Eric Gordon and Prentiss Waggner, along with one from safety Byron Moore. The Vols had only nine total interceptions in all of 2011.
The early busted coverages still bother Conklin and defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. The improvement was almost immediate, though. The Vols adjusted their hand signals and simplified the calls after the misses in the first quarter. Glennon threw for 144 yards in the first quarter. It took him the next three quarters to match that total—he finished with 288 yards.
“They had better communication,” Sunseri said. “Every time they came off the field, you can see none of the defensive coaches watch the game (when the Vols are on offense). We’re getting with the players, telling them what the next play is going to be. I thought they did a good job, but you’re never pleased.”
Sophomore safety Brian Randolph had the same assessment as his coaches. He saw communication as the one barrier the unit had from playing a more complete game in the Georgia Dome.
“I thought we did pretty good overall,” said Randolph, who recorded two tackles Friday. “Most of the times, when we got the call, we did good. We have to do a better job relaying the calls on the field and just getting on the same page.”
Carter proves to be more than a spring sensation: Wide receiver Jacob Carter, a former walk-on who recently was put on scholarship, proved to be more than just a good spring storyline on Friday.
Carter led the team in receiving through three scrimmages in the spring, but that was before Cordarrelle Patterson and three other freshmen receivers arrived on campus. Justin Hunter was also limited in the spring.
The junior proved to still be part of the rotation, playing meaningful snaps against NC State, including an important 20-yard reception on a comeback route to keep a Tennessee drive alive.
“He’s worked really hard, put in a lot of time,” wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said. “He’s been here going on his third year. He understands the offense, he understands all four positions – we can put him anywhere. Plus he makes plays. That’s what makes him valuable.”
Tight end outlook: Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the staff managed how many snaps starting tight end Mychal Rivera took on Friday. Rivera missed much of fall camp with a sprained knee, and, says Chaney, broke down some in 2011 when he had too many plays in a game.
Guard Alex Bullard will continue to take some snaps as a tight end going forward, and Chaney said converted linebacker Greg King is close to contributing as well.
“I think he’s getting there,” Chaney said. “I just have to be aware when he’s in the game of what he knows and what he doesn’t. I would hate to call something he doesn’t know what to do on. That would be a bad situation for everybody involved.”
Senior Ben Bartholomew will continue to work in a hybrid tight end/fullback role. He caught two passes for 19 yards Friday.
• The Vols are unranked in both the coaches and the Associated Press Poll this week. They’re getting close, though. They received the 27th most votes in the AP, and the 29th most votes in the Coaches. This is the highest the Vols have been in the AP Poll since the 2008 preseason.
• Wide receiver Josh Smith, a 2013 Tennessee commitment, will miss the next four- to six weeks of his high school season at Christian Academy of Knoxville with a broken collarbone.
•What kind of numbers will quarterback Tyler Bray put up against Georgia State? Bray might not get a whole game, but the Panthers’ first opponent was South Carolina State, and its quarterback Richard Cue amassed 300 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-6 win last Saturday.