UT's new defensive coordinator, Sal Sunseri, speaks with the media
The Tennessee defense won't be defined by one scheme.
Sal Sunseri is bringing more elements of the 3-4 alignment to the Vols, which is not a secret given his background or the success he's seen that defense have over the last few years.
There also will be 4-3 looks, multiple fronts and a pro-style approach that might make it hard to label the Vols under their new defensive coordinator.
But if the system itself might be tougher to identify, Sunseri came prepared for his first meeting with the media on Wednesday with plenty of other ways to describe what he plans on doing with the UT defense.
"What I want to do is put a product on the field that everybody is going to come to this stadium and say, 'You know what? These guys are playing hard, they're playing reckless, they're giving up their body for this university and they're making plays,' " Sunseri said. "That's the most important thing. Understand this, what I'm looking at first is the discipline we come out on the field with, the discipline we play our techniques with, our toughness, our awareness of plays.
"Being smart, tough, that's what it's going to be all about."
For the most part, Sunseri kept the focus on those characteristics and the importance of improved fundamentals instead of an expected transition to a defense predicated on three defensive linemen and four linebackers.
Given the diverse experience for the new-look defensive staff, Sunseri wasn't ruling anything out for the Vols as they move forward with a group that will return nine starters from last
season. And particularly since Sunseri hasn't even led a practice with those players, he wasn't in a hurry to lock himself into one way of doing things with more than six weeks to go before spring camp opens.
"I think what you have to do is you have to understand that we're going to be a multiple-front defense, a pro-style defense," Sunseri said. "We're going to do what we have to do. I can't wait to get out here and see the guys move around and see their talent and see what we need to run. We're going to adjust the defense and play the things we're capable of based on our personnel.
"I've got to see the personnel and see what we're able to do. When you guys are watching us, you're not always going to see us in the 3-4. You ain't going to always see us in a 4-3. You're going to see multiplicity of fronts."
That flexibility is designed to make preparing for the UT defense as challenging as labeling it, though Sunseri offered repeated reminders that simply being unpredictable won't be enough to shut down an offense.
Citing a game tape from last season he watched on Wednesday morning but wouldn't identify the opponent, Sunseri suggested there was enough talent on hand for the Vols to "have a chance to be pretty good" if they played with better technique. And since the majority of those players are coming back for the Vols, that's now his responsibility — no matter how they eventually line up on the field.
"You've got to make sure that the personnel that is on the field is capable of playing our techniques and doing what we need to do," Sunseri said. "What you've got to do is throw as much at them early in spring ball, see what sticks in their minds and go evaluate them. We'll do a quality control right after spring ball, see what we're doing right. Then we'll come back and run what they can run.
"A lot of these kids have smiles on their face right now, and I think it's because they're excited, too. They're up for the challenge, and they want to go out there and perform like a top SEC defense."
That definition for Sunseri's new unit would work just fine for him.