Justin Wilcox after practice, March 31, 2011
The playbook Tennessee's defensive players carry around this spring is a bit heavier in both a literal and figurative sense.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, now with a full year of experience at UT, has added a number of different schemes and complexities into the Vols' repertoire. A number of factors - including his personal comfort with the personnel and the experience gained by a handful of players who never saw the field before last season - have allowed Wilcox to settle in and attempt to stretch the Vols' football IQs.
The additions have been intimidating for some players, but time is on their side. There's still plenty of time to learn.
"It's kind of difficult stuff to learn because they gave us a lot of stuff," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "If we just get in our books and learn by working an extra 20 minutes at night then we should be fine."
Wilcox, who didn't land with the Vols until after National Signing Day last season, said the defense is "ahead of the game" compared to this point last year, when he was having his players learn the basics of his base defense. The lingo and terminology were brand new to a team that had seen three defensive coordinators in as many years.
Now, Wilcox is using the time that was previously devoted to rudimentary fundamentals to tweak certain things in one formation, or completely enhance another defensive package.
The key, Wilcox said, is not giving the players too much too quickly. There's only so much thinking he wants the Vols to be doing in the course of action.
"You've got to ride that line where you want them playing fast, but you want to give the offense enough to make it complicated for them," Wilcox said after Thursday's practice, the sixth of the spring. "We're always going to ride that line and make sure that we have enough in our arsenal but also aren't slowing our own guys down."
Coach Derek Dooley said, as of Thursday's practice, the defense was probably "starting to pull away a little bit" from the offense because it wasn't making as many mental errors. As a method of preventative damage control, Wilcox said he'll pare down his playbook for Saturday's scrimmage, especially when the younger, more inexperienced players are on the field.
"They can go out and just play fast and see what they can do physically and not lock them out mentally," Wilcox said. "We just need to continually every day make those small improvements and over the course of spring, summer and into the fall, that will make us that much better."
Goins Watch: Secondary coach Terry Joseph said Melvin Goins, a former point guard on the UT men's basketball team who started practicing with the football team Tuesday, has been asking plenty of questions and frequently stops by the Neyland Thompson Sports Complex just to "check in."
"What we do know is what we knew before he came: He's athletic," Joseph said. "He gets in there and competes. The biggest thing for him is to get back to a football mentality. That's going to be a work in progress but, obviously, he has the skill set."
Joseph said "I'm game as long as he's game" when it comes to working with Goins and exhibiting patience with a player who hasn't played organized football since his freshman year of high school.
"I think he has some ability there," Joseph said.
Worley Watch: Freshman quarterback Justin Worley isn't getting any special treatment as he learns the intricacies of a completely new offense.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said he hasn't slowed anything down for Worley, who ran a spread offense that predominantly featured short passes at Northwestern High in Rock Hill, S.C.
"He's a little lost on some things, but for the most part he's doing it really well," Chaney said. "He's doing a really good job."
Practice Report: The Vols were in full pads for Thursday's practice and will be again for Saturday's scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
The Vols installed their two-minute offense Thursday, Dooley said.
"We certainly found ourselves in two-minute situations we didn't finish last year. We've got to get a lot better," Dooley said. "We've got a long way to go from an ability to overcome some bad plays early on offense. I think that's still kind of hamstringing us right now."