Dave Hooker Audio
Monte Kiffin has a pair of goals for spring practice.
A deep understanding of his system would be great. Practicing hard is a must.
“To get our players to quickly learn the system,” Tennessee’s defensive coordinator said of his expectations of spring practice, which begins Tuesday. “I’m taking for granted that they’re going to play hard, but we have to make sure of that. I’ve seen them work hard in conditioning.
“How fast they can pick up the system? That allows us to do more things in the system.”
Kiffin seems understandably frustrated with the constraints of college football. Imagine the longtime NFL coach overlooking a workout in which the NCAA won’t allow a football.
Imagine Kiffin being told that the sports governing body only allows 20 hours per week to devote to football.
Things are quite a bit different with NFL athletes.
“They can spend 20 hours a day if they want to,” Kiffin said. “Those guys will come in in the morning and stay all day.”
Yet there’s a tradeoff. Almost three decades since he last coached in college, Kiffin is ready to teach true students once again.
“This is what’s it’s all about,” Kiffin said. “You watch conditioning workouts and get a feel for the players but you really don’t know until you get out on the field.
“I’m excited to get out there and teach.”
Excited only begins to describe the emotions. Antsy is probably more accurate.
“We’re way behind on installing our new defense,” Kiffin said. “But that’s true with anybody coming in. (UT head coach) Lane (Kiffin) has the same thing on offense. We’ve got to get to our players and get the most out of our time.”
Monte Kiffin won’t be thinking solely about the 2009 season as he implements his defense. Long-term improvement also is in Kiffin’s mindset.
As proof that the best defenses can take time, Kiffin points to coach Nick Saban at Alabama, which went from 7-6 in 2008 to 12-2 in 2009.
“How much can they learn in one year?” Kiffin said. “With this system, there’s a lot to it but they have to draw the line as to how much they can execute in the system.
“I think Saban went through that in Alabama. The second year, they certainly got better.”
Kiffin will soon have to assess just how much his players have absorbed. The more they learn, the more diverse his defense can be. Yet expanding the playbook comes with inherent risks.
“You don’t want to do so much you confuse your players,” Kiffin said.
UT’s players have done their best to get better on their own during a hyper-eventful offseason. Sure, they’ve all watched tape — but that’s only so effective.
“It’s not the same as us being there,” Kiffin said. “You can watch tape but you have to learn to watch tape through the position coach that is coaching you.”
Kiffin is best known for his “Tampa Two” defense. In truth, every team utilizes some form of a Cover Two defense — most commonly characterized by two safeties downfield to prevent big plays.
UT ran a Cover Two defense under former defensive coordinator John Chavis.
“There’s some similarities,” Kiffin said. “They did quite a few things off the Tampa Two. But there are differences. Everybody plays Cover Two different.”
Being dubbed the master of the Tampa Two defense is a compliment — albeit somewhat trite.
“It just so happens we win the Super Bowl in 2002 and everybody calls it the Tampa Two,” Kiffin said, “but if we don’t win the Super Bowl, it’s probably not called the Tampa Two.”
While coaching the Minnesota Vikings, Kiffin used a more familiar moniker.
“We just called it Cover Two,” Kiffin quipped.
Playing the best defense this season will largely rely on playing the best defenders. Finding the right guys — and not just the right plays — will be the mantra of spring practice.
“This spring is about our players,” Kiffin said. “It’s very important to get our players in the right position. Who fits our scheme the best?
“We’re just looking for players right now. There are not many veteran starters that are locked in at a position.
“It’s going to be pretty wide open this spring; it really is.”
Berry Good: It’s hardly a surprise that star safety Eric Berry has caught Kiffin’s eye.
“He’s an awesome player but he’s also awesome just in workouts,” Kiffin said. “He’s here every day. He doesn’t miss. He loves football. He gets real fired up.”
Having an experienced safety in this year of transition is a luxury that Kiffin appreciates.
“Eric is one thing you can hang your hat on,” Kiffin said.
Schedule: UT opens spring practice Tuesday and will practice Thursday and Friday before taking a week off for spring break. UT will hold a pro day Wednesday for players to workout for NFL scouts.