Peter Sirmon teaches linebackers through cross-training

In some ways, Peter Sirmon wants his playbook to look like a treasure map.

Rather than use strong, weak or middle as his labels, the Tennessee linebackers coach prefers to have an ‘X’ mark every spot.

And anybody trying to fill out Sirmon’s rotation had better be able to know the roles at every position during film study, meetings and practice, or there won’t be any rewards on the field for them when the Vols start searching for wins this fall.

“My biggest goal is to teach concepts,” Sirmon said. “ Football is about concepts, and if you look up on the board, there’s just 11 little X’s. So, I think the more we see ‘X’ and the less we see SAM, MIKE and WILL, I think that’s when you start developing the ability to adjust on game day.

“Without conceptual learning, it’s very difficult for (defensive coordinator) Justin (Wilcox) or me to adjust during a game. If we coach it like this and we practice it like this, it becomes rote memorization. We’re trying to get out of that rote memorization and teach, this is football, this is 11 guys, some guys have to rush, some guys have to cover. It’s just a matter of identifying who is doing what on each snap.”

That can make nailing down exact titles for UT’s linebackers on the depth chart hard to do, even though there aren’t many names on it right now. Really that lack of numbers in the middle of the defense gives the cross-training of players added value for the Vols as they simply try to find their most talented options and put them on the field.

Heading into the final week of spring practice and Saturday’s Orange and White Game, that process may have hit a bit of a snag with senior Austin Johnson suffering a knee injury and junior Greg King going down with an apparent concussion, though the severity of each injury remains unknown at this point. But given the way Sirmon is approaching his first spring with the linebackers as a full-timer at UT, he should have some reserves with enough knowledge of the schemes and each of the three positions to slide in and have an idea of what they are doing.

“We’re lacking some numbers, but that doesn’t prevent us from doing what’s best for the program,” Sirmon said. “When we say cross-training, that doesn’t necessarily mean just the reps on the field. It’s in the meeting room when we’re teaching it, so I don’t think you can say he’s only taking reps at this position. Nobody is in the meeting rooms when I’m in there quizzing people on the different positions, so we feel there’s a lot of different ways to get people reps.

“Not every rep has to be taken on the field — there’s film reps, installation reps, there’s review, there’s testing, so there’s a lot of different ways to do that. It’s not always snap to whistle.”

The final exam comes between the two, though, which Sirmon certainly is aware of as a seven-year NFL veteran.

And that credibility he brings from his days with the Tennessee Titans seems to have gone a long way in helping Sirmon get his teaching methods accepted and his message across as he starts molding the Vols the way he wants.

“Coach Sirmon is a very intellectual guy,” Johnson said last week. “He played in the NFL, obviously, so we definitely look up to him and we know that he knows what it takes.

“The cross-training stuff, he wants us to know every position like it’s an ‘X,’ so that’s how we’re learning it. It makes it easier at your position if you know what the other guys are doing, so if we just keep listening to what he’s telling us, keep going out there watching film and working in practice, we should be good.”

And it should help UT find what it’s looking for at linebacker.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 21

TritanVol writes:

First!

TritanVol writes:

I'm really pumped about our football team this year, we will surprise a few people around the country.

voloffaith writes:

in response to TritanVol:

First!

Yea I'm happy 4u!! My question for every "FIRST" poster is when does the euphoria wear off? Is it your next post? Is it immediate? Or does that seem to go on 4ever?

I remember getting to be line leader back in 2nd or 3rd grade as I often relate being "FIRST" to that same situation. My elementary high was ok 4
then,but this "FIRST" thing just doesn't do anything 4me. So let me be the"FIRST" to congratulate ewe on this monumental moment and I tell you to savor it for all it brings.......

On topic, sounds like a good philosophy for lb's.

jjsteel writes:

I'll gladly go last if it'll shut up the first guy.

TritanVol writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Yea I'm happy 4u!! My question for every "FIRST" poster is when does the euphoria wear off? Is it your next post? Is it immediate? Or does that seem to go on 4ever?

I remember getting to be line leader back in 2nd or 3rd grade as I often relate being "FIRST" to that same situation. My elementary high was ok 4
then,but this "FIRST" thing just doesn't do anything 4me. So let me be the"FIRST" to congratulate ewe on this monumental moment and I tell you to savor it for all it brings.......

On topic, sounds like a good philosophy for lb's.

You need to chill out. This is not serious. I'm sorry it took you until the 2nd grade to be line leader, must have never really gotten over getting passed over in the "first" grade huh?

eVOLved writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Yea I'm happy 4u!! My question for every "FIRST" poster is when does the euphoria wear off? Is it your next post? Is it immediate? Or does that seem to go on 4ever?

I remember getting to be line leader back in 2nd or 3rd grade as I often relate being "FIRST" to that same situation. My elementary high was ok 4
then,but this "FIRST" thing just doesn't do anything 4me. So let me be the"FIRST" to congratulate ewe on this monumental moment and I tell you to savor it for all it brings.......

On topic, sounds like a good philosophy for lb's.

Yay gzus loves sarcasm!

pickinhick writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Yea I'm happy 4u!! My question for every "FIRST" poster is when does the euphoria wear off? Is it your next post? Is it immediate? Or does that seem to go on 4ever?

I remember getting to be line leader back in 2nd or 3rd grade as I often relate being "FIRST" to that same situation. My elementary high was ok 4
then,but this "FIRST" thing just doesn't do anything 4me. So let me be the"FIRST" to congratulate ewe on this monumental moment and I tell you to savor it for all it brings.......

On topic, sounds like a good philosophy for lb's.

Well, being first must have made a big impact on you in second grade. You still remember it.

Huttdawg100 writes:

in response to PrideOfTheSouthlandBanned:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thanks for the link.

Maybe I'm reading too much into Sirmons comments, but I think we're going to see a defense that's far more complexed than what we saw in 2010. Along with the noticeable increase in size, speed, and strength, our defense looks to be installing more combinations and formations that will give opposing QB's and Offensive Coordinators a lot of plenty of problems. Looking at the SEC schedule next year, these teams are either breaking in a new OC or QB: Florida, Bama, LSU, Arkansas (and USCe if Spurrier would man up and kick Garcia off the team). New QB's/OC's facing a more complexed defense means turnovers for our D. GBO.

VOLliven2it writes:

We will need good linebacker play with the size or lack thereof of our d-line. I am excited at what Sirmon brings. It is not cool to hear of injuries. In any event, I'd love to see us even surprise ourselves a bit and contend in the SEC East. I know that is asking a lot but we will see. GO BIG ORANGE!

RashaadSalabeb writes:

Sirmon was a very good hire. He knows the game and he's still young enough to connect with the kids. I'm expecting alot from him and the linebackers. We've got to stay healthy though. Anyone know how bad Johnson's knee is?

Go Big Orange!

AWOLVol writes:

I like this sound of Coach Sirmon's approach. Smart coaches have a better chance of turning out smart players. With what we're hearing about the new strength and conditioning program, it sounds like our LB's (the leaders of the defense) will be physical AND smart! I like the combination.

Simply_Orange51 writes:

Before some of you ever followed TN FB during the late 60's and into the 70's, LB was considered one of the strengths of the UT's defense - names like Reynolds and Kiner are a couple I remember from my freshman year around 1969/1970 - they helped put a whipping on most everybody they played during that time (including Penn State) although there was one memorable exception with an Ole Miss team lead by Peyton's father and later on with some of the Bear's wishbone teams. In all honesty, I shouldn't discount play of other LBs from more recent history ...... UT's actually had some very good LB groups across several decades. I wish them luck and success this year.

ClassicVol (Inactive) writes:

in response to jjsteel:

I'll gladly go last if it'll shut up the first guy.

Lol. Everytime i see someone post "First" i can't help but think some kid got hold of daddy's account password.

Govolsinmemphica writes:

I like The Sirmon hire also. He is young and played in the NFL. He should be a really good recruiter I am expecting.

Maverickman writes:

NOT FIRST!!!!

voloffaith writes:

in response to TritanVol:

You need to chill out. This is not serious. I'm sorry it took you until the 2nd grade to be line leader, must have never really gotten over getting passed over in the "first" grade huh?

I thot that your response would be a lil gentler than it was...."you know I don't remember whether it was 1st or 2nd....are ya feelin' lucky? Go ahead and make my day...

The other poster said I like sarcasm and it is true,but that is a changin'. That style of communication is not uplifting to the hearer so the Lord has been dealing with me on that. Sorry for the rough rub it has created...those offended I ask that b4given.

RoadTrip writes:

in response to Simply_Orange51:

Before some of you ever followed TN FB during the late 60's and into the 70's, LB was considered one of the strengths of the UT's defense - names like Reynolds and Kiner are a couple I remember from my freshman year around 1969/1970 - they helped put a whipping on most everybody they played during that time (including Penn State) although there was one memorable exception with an Ole Miss team lead by Peyton's father and later on with some of the Bear's wishbone teams. In all honesty, I shouldn't discount play of other LBs from more recent history ...... UT's actually had some very good LB groups across several decades. I wish them luck and success this year.

I agree. When Wide Receiver U was being quoted it could have been Linebacker U. I liked Kiner so much I changed my number in high school to his #57.

I am past ready to see those days return.

givehim6 writes:

I like the cross-training idea great for a team with depth issues. Off topic Greg King had a good fresh year but hasn't he stayed on the injured or rehab list his soph now starting his Jr year?

V_O_L_S_GO_VOLS_GO writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Yea I'm happy 4u!! My question for every "FIRST" poster is when does the euphoria wear off? Is it your next post? Is it immediate? Or does that seem to go on 4ever?

I remember getting to be line leader back in 2nd or 3rd grade as I often relate being "FIRST" to that same situation. My elementary high was ok 4
then,but this "FIRST" thing just doesn't do anything 4me. So let me be the"FIRST" to congratulate ewe on this monumental moment and I tell you to savor it for all it brings.......

On topic, sounds like a good philosophy for lb's.

Bring back the claws, kitty.

GOJO writes:

in response to Simply_Orange51:

Before some of you ever followed TN FB during the late 60's and into the 70's, LB was considered one of the strengths of the UT's defense - names like Reynolds and Kiner are a couple I remember from my freshman year around 1969/1970 - they helped put a whipping on most everybody they played during that time (including Penn State) although there was one memorable exception with an Ole Miss team lead by Peyton's father and later on with some of the Bear's wishbone teams. In all honesty, I shouldn't discount play of other LBs from more recent history ...... UT's actually had some very good LB groups across several decades. I wish them luck and success this year.

**********

Ah Yes, "Hacksaw" Reynolds who was a fullback converted to LB. Remember how Reynolds earned his nickname in 1969 by cutting an abandoned 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air in half with a hacksaw.

Juzkruzin writes:

in response to TritanVol:

First!

First at what. I see you know nothing about football or you would have said whether this was a good ideal or not, The x's instead of Will, Mike or Sam. Most likely you thought this was the names of the starters at the three linebackers positions. Next time put something in your post or go to the Titans site and post their.

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