KNOXVILLE – The confusion on the field in 2012 was painfully obvious to even the casual observer watching Tennessee.
Whether it was having 12 men on the field, players sprinting on and off the field at the last second or the familiar sight of UT players holding their hands up in confusion as the ball was ready to be snapped, there were numerous signs that last year’s 5-7 squad never had a great grasp of what the coaches wanted.
That’s why Butch Jones and his staff are trying to keep it basic. At least for now.
“We just have to narrow our focus and focus on a few things as a defense and we'll be a better defense if we can get down those things that we're trying to accomplish," said senior defensive end Marlon Walls, who is playing for his third defensive coordinator in the last three years.
“It's not too complicated,” added safety Brian Randolph. “It's just one concept for half the defense so once you know one play; you pretty much know how to run the others."
That’s a welcomed relief for a defense that was sometimes overwhelmed by the 3-4 defense brought in by former defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri last season. It was a defense inspired by Sunseri’s time as a defensive coordinator at Alabama and seasoned with some NFL-level concepts designed to make it more aggressive and big-play oriented.
The intentions were good. The installation wasn’t. The former staff threw a lot of information and concepts at the players at one time and let them digest what they could. It never quite stuck.
"It was a lot more complicated,” Randolph said of 2012’s defense. “We had a lot more checks. This year, we have a lot of calls that apply to each formation. Last year, we had different calls for different offensive formations so this is a lot easier."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is taking a similar approach for the offense, though for slightly different reasons perhaps. The 2012 offense was far from broken. But with new starters being broken in at quarterback, tight end, left guard and all three wide receiver spots, there’s going to be a learning curve.
“We have to master what we have in before we look to tweak and add wrinkles.” Bajakian said. “We have to execute inside zone on third-and-1, instead of having the M.A. (missed assignment) like we did today before we think about adding anything else.”
That can mean slow and steady as opposed to quick and flashy for the offense. Deep passes, trick plays and special packages sound more appealing than learning fundamentals, but it’s hard to master the complicated things without first making the fundamentals second nature.
"It is a little slow right now, but it is good that it is slow," said Nathan Peterman, who is battling Justin Worley for the starting quarterback job. "We really need to master things and that is what we are focusing on – mastering these basic concepts. These coaches are very into coaching the details and very little things. It makes you the best player you can be."
Vols teaming up with local charity on Saturday: Tennessee’s football is teaming with Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee on Saturday to promote the need for more male volunteers in the program.
The non-profit organization pairs at-risk children with adults who can serve as a mentor. There’s currently a need for more male volunteers in the program and all the boys currently on the waiting list for a mentor have been invited to Saturday’s scrimmage to meet the team.
"Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee hopes to see an extensive increase in the number of male volunteers through the Man Up campaign," said Doug Kose, CEO for the agency, via a release."The boys on our list will wait an average of 12 months for a Big Brother and we need to close that gap significantly."
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga