Justin Wilcox talks after Thursday's practice
The system has been in place at Tennessee for a full season.
That's obviously a positive for Justin Wilcox.
Quite a few of the Vols figuring into the defensive coordinator's schemes are entering their first year with it.
That's not nearly as encouraging, though Wilcox is far from chalking it up as a negative.
Considering how impressive some of UT's new talent appears to be early in fall camp, Wilcox could have worse problems as he starts a month of overseeing position battles that could easily spill over into the season. Of course, the addition of freshmen and transfers to the mix is critical for a defense largely missing a veteran presence, but at least through three early practices the pros outweigh the cons heading into Year Two for Wilcox at UT.
"Potential and production, OK, those are the two words," Wilcox said after practice Thursday. "Potential gets everybody excited — coaches, fans, you guys (in the media). We're in the same boat, but what we're going to be interested in from here on out is production.
"I think we're obviously ahead of where we were because the systems have been in for a year. Now we're introducing some new players into the system, but we're excited to get going and let these guys go out there and compete."
The fresh faces and the returners haven't yet had a chance to do that on the same field, though that will come this afternoon when the whole team is brought together for a workout for the first time in camp.
The practice will also provide an official start to the jockeying for jobs. The competition will be particularly important in a front seven with one returning starter and a secondary that added five bodies to the mix since the end of last season.
Wilcox stressed multiple times that the Vols might not finish sorting through all their options until several weeks into the season. But that doesn't mean he's necessarily wasting the head start that came with installing his defense at UT a year ago.
"Obviously there's some inexperience at certain positions, but there's also some guys coming back in the back seven that have played some — there's going to be a lot of competition in this camp, which is great," Wilcox said. "To be real honest with you, I'm not comparing this year and last year. We're moving forward, and that's the only way to do it in this business.
"Obviously there were a couple older guys last year that had played some, but we had some younger guys in the back end obviously. There's always going to be something you're looking for, and we just need to get into camp and let these guys compete so we can find out who's going to be there first game to help us."
Clearly those guys might not be there for the second game or the third as Wilcox and the defensive staff continue to evaluate and develop the younger players.
Janzen Jackson and Brent Brewer appear to be established at safety, and Malik Jackson and Jacques Smith are likely locked into roles on the defensive line.
The Vols might also have a good idea who would fill out the rest of the starting lineup if they had to turn one in today — but given their available options, that could change often as practice progresses.
"We're going to find that out through fall camp, and it may be two, three, four games into the season where some of these new guys continue to emerge," Wilcox said.
"In terms of being comfortable, I don't think you're ever comfortable. I mean, nobody has ever said they've got too much depth.
"It's way too early to begin to speculate on who is doing what. We're excited about these new guys that are here, and we're excited to get them rolling so they can learn a little bit and hopefully play fast and compete."
The competition will really pick up this afternoon.
And apparently it won't be over for a while.