Mike Strange: Sal Sunseri picking up Vols' spring tempo

Mike Strange
From left, Tennessee's Prentiss Waggner, Willie Bohannon, Eric Gordon and the rest of the Vols' defense jogs out for the first day of spring practice on Monday at Haslam Field.

Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2012

From left, Tennessee's Prentiss Waggner, Willie Bohannon, Eric Gordon and the rest of the Vols' defense jogs out for the first day of spring practice on Monday at Haslam Field.

Prentiss Waggner at corner, but learning entire defense

When Sal Sunseri was announced in January as Tennessee's new defensive coordinator, the name didn't ring a bell with Prentiss Waggner.

So he did what any college student would do.

"I Googled him,'' Waggner said.

And?

"I loved his background. I knew we were pretty much gonna have an aggressive style of defense.''

After numerous meetings and two sessions of spring practice, Waggner, a senior cornerback, has confirmed what he suspected.

It's an entirely new ballgame on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage at UT this spring. All new coaches, brand new scheme.

"It's like I'm a freshman again, pretty much,'' said safety Brian Randolph, who technically still is a freshman but will be a sophomore when the 2012 season kicks off.

The pace is set by Sunseri, a 52-year-old former All-America linebacker whom Derek Dooley hired away from Alabama to the tune of $2.4 million over three guaranteed years.

"Lot more vocal, lot more up-tempo,'' linebacker A.J. Johnson said. "When we do stuff wrong, they get on us right away. Ain't no holding back.''

Johnson was chatting with a clot of media types when — whack! — somebody smacked him in the back of the head with a folded paper.

A post-practice love tap from Sunseri.

As Dooley would say momentarily, "I've always felt like the really good coaches out there, the players know they care about 'em as people. ... You've got to prove that

off the field.''

Sunseri replaces Justin Wilcox, who after two years at UT made a lateral move to Washington and took linebackers coach Peter Sirmon with him.

Wilcox did a decent job considering UT's depleted state. The Vols ranked 28th nationally in total defense last season. Then again, that was only good for seventh place in the shark tank known as the SEC.

Dooley had a clear vision for his defense: bigger, more aggressive and in a 3-4 front. After considering several candidates Dooley chose the Alabama linebackers coach, with whom he had a history in Nick Saban's coaching tree.

"I know what the core of Sal is,'' Dooley said Tuesday morning. "I didn't have to figure him out and he didn't have to figure me out.

"And then we talk the same language on what we're doing.''

That language is Sabanese.

"He's a fiery guy,'' said Waggner. "When I see him it reminds me of Coach Chief (John Chavis), all up in your face trying to demand the most out of you.''

Like Chavis, UT's coordinator from 1995-2008, Sunseri was once defensive coordinator at Alabama A&M.

But drop the A&M. It's the link to school in Tuscaloosa that is relevant to Sunseri's new pupils.

"When I look at the Alabama defense,'' said Waggner, "I see four or five first-rounders, so anything I need or want, I'm asking a lot of questions. 'Cause they know what it takes.''

By the time spring practice ends, the Vols should have a better idea what it takes. The learning curve gets steeper today, the first practice in full pads.

"He let us know,'' said Johnson, "that they worked Alabama's tails 'til they were a top defense.

"And he's gonna work us and get us to be one of the top defenses.''

That's why Sunseri is here as one of the SEC's highest-paid assistants. Consider your tails warned.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange

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Comments » 80

philgreen5#410561 writes:

I love it... it's time to have a defense with some swagger back on the hill!

Vol43 writes:

Sunseri sounds like the man who can make it happen. Go Vols!

FWBVol writes:

Defenses tend to take on the personality of their coordinator and it seems as if Sunseri is an in your face, aggressive kind of coach that we have been missing the last couple of years.

GerryOP writes:

in response to FWBVol:

Defenses tend to take on the personality of their coordinator and it seems as if Sunseri is an in your face, aggressive kind of coach that we have been missing the last couple of years.

Probably just what is needed.

tovolny writes:

Defense is shaping up. I still think we need to find a place for Dale Jones and Al Wilson.

Offense depends on how well the big lineman guys have matured. Bray has proven he can throw...Hunter gives us hope...a couple of new freshmen look promissing. We need a killer RB
and someone to coach the kickers. Not just a special teams coach, but a person who knows kicking...Our kickers have had to coach themselves. Punt returns and KO returns will be fun to watch. Our tight ends don't have a clue about how the position is played; therefore, our QB doesn't know how to utilize them.

AND, fans like me need to just stay at home. I walk out of Neyland a nervous, p'd off wreck.

Vol43 writes:

Yep, a little bit of jeffy goes a long, long way. I see that 'Peyton Manning' got kicked to the curb. Curious to see his new screen name when he returns. lol!

givehim6 writes:

My wifes kids live in washington most up there have low emotions and like the intelligencs factor more. With Sunseir in your face way of playing I hope UT D will look more like it did unger Cheifs.

Tru138 writes:

Anyone following Da'Ricks tweets?

1 day ago
I keep a lot bottled in but it's okay. It'll never change.

1 day ago
People wonder how I stay so real when all I deal with is lies and deceit.

21 hours ago
Expose. Make it general knowledge.

19 minutes ago
Georgia State. Wasup?

36 seconds ago
I cannot wait to talk to the media tomorrow. It finally comes out.

???????????????

Dalton writes:

We needed this type of coach....no more reacting to small punches until we get dizzy and fall down....NOW WE HIT EM IN THE NOSE!!! First thing...the better to communicate in our spirited competition....GOVOLS!!!!

BleednUrnge81 writes:

in response to Tru138:

Anyone following Da'Ricks tweets?

1 day ago
I keep a lot bottled in but it's okay. It'll never change.

1 day ago
People wonder how I stay so real when all I deal with is lies and deceit.

21 hours ago
Expose. Make it general knowledge.

19 minutes ago
Georgia State. Wasup?

36 seconds ago
I cannot wait to talk to the media tomorrow. It finally comes out.

???????????????

Unbelieveable. GTFO Da'rick. we will just reload with Cordarelle Patterson. on a different site, i said janzen jackson all over again, but i meant bryce brown. this stings more though, because da'rick showed how beast he really is. makes me sick.

TennesseeV3 writes:

in response to Tru138:

Anyone following Da'Ricks tweets?

1 day ago
I keep a lot bottled in but it's okay. It'll never change.

1 day ago
People wonder how I stay so real when all I deal with is lies and deceit.

21 hours ago
Expose. Make it general knowledge.

19 minutes ago
Georgia State. Wasup?

36 seconds ago
I cannot wait to talk to the media tomorrow. It finally comes out.

???????????????

The comments are even more in depth than what you have posted. I am so fed up with bad news, and this is seeming to be really bad news. Go to his page and don't just look at his posts, but also his replies to posts. It's not looking good. I think at one point he even said "don't come here bro, nobody should come here." I hope to god he wasn't referring to Tennessee!

born2ride writes:

Dooley has a defense?

BleednUrnge81 writes:

in response to TennesseeV3:

The comments are even more in depth than what you have posted. I am so fed up with bad news, and this is seeming to be really bad news. Go to his page and don't just look at his posts, but also his replies to posts. It's not looking good. I think at one point he even said "don't come here bro, nobody should come here." I hope to god he wasn't referring to Tennessee!

I just don't understand why all this bad news keeps happening to us. I don't even know what to say about this one.

BigOrangeSmoker writes:

Sunseri is going to make it happen

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to Tru138:

Anyone following Da'Ricks tweets?

1 day ago
I keep a lot bottled in but it's okay. It'll never change.

1 day ago
People wonder how I stay so real when all I deal with is lies and deceit.

21 hours ago
Expose. Make it general knowledge.

19 minutes ago
Georgia State. Wasup?

36 seconds ago
I cannot wait to talk to the media tomorrow. It finally comes out.

???????????????

Watch it. Been telling these folks on here about him for a while and I got bashed. Just warning you. Some don't wanna hear the that kind of stuff. Shouldn't be long before someone calls you a poser, fake fan, etc. just warning you my man.

BleednUrnge81 writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

Watch it. Been telling these folks on here about him for a while and I got bashed. Just warning you. Some don't wanna hear the that kind of stuff. Shouldn't be long before someone calls you a poser, fake fan, etc. just warning you my man.

don't know if you remember me, but i wrongly accused you of trashing the vols several weeks ago. I beleive i apologized, but in case i did not, i am sorry for that. I am blown away by what is happening at our university. i mean, what's next?

OrangePride writes:

Now......if we can generate that kind of intensity and confidence on the offensive side of the ball, we might have something going this fall! We need Bray to establish his leadership and display a huge work ethic, we need the O-line to come together and perform. We need our receivers to generate the kinds of offense they did at the beginning of last year. Most of all, we need running backs that run north and south for positive yardage. Too much to ask? I guess we'll see. We have an awfully lot of the pieces; the staff needs to fit them together. GO VOLS!

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to born2ride:

Dooley has a defense?

born2ride = butt hole idiot

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

Don't sweat it my man. I don't take it personal unless it leads to continual repeated attacks like those that come from the idiot XkcbigorangeX. I've done the same as you said you did. And like you, I've had to publicly appologies on here. I don't remember you bashing me, been too many that have over the Da'Rick thing. But if you did, don't sweat it. Heck, I might have deserved it, LOL.

UT4prez writes:

I admit I love the sound of this but don't we have depth issues on the D line and LBs? I'm not being negative. Just curious about how everyone feels about the depth in these areas. It will certainly be interesting to see how we fare. I feel better about the offense but maybe the D will surprise.

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to Tru138:

Anyone following Da'Ricks tweets?

1 day ago
I keep a lot bottled in but it's okay. It'll never change.

1 day ago
People wonder how I stay so real when all I deal with is lies and deceit.

21 hours ago
Expose. Make it general knowledge.

19 minutes ago
Georgia State. Wasup?

36 seconds ago
I cannot wait to talk to the media tomorrow. It finally comes out.

???????????????

Not on twitter, but you could be lying just to stir stuff up.

However, if it is true and he is leaving than good for UT if that is how he feels. staying here would mean he would be a cancer to the locker room.

If you are making this up it shows us all what a little dillyweed you are and you deserve all the grief you get in life. So for your sake, I hope you are telling the truth.

SummittsCourt writes:

If the players execute this defense will be much better next year. If Wilcox can coach this group to #28th in the nation, Sunseri can get them into top 20 territory for sure.

Go Vols! When is kickoff?

BleednUrnge81 writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

Not on twitter, but you could be lying just to stir stuff up.

However, if it is true and he is leaving than good for UT if that is how he feels. staying here would mean he would be a cancer to the locker room.

If you are making this up it shows us all what a little dillyweed you are and you deserve all the grief you get in life. So for your sake, I hope you are telling the truth.

don't put the ' in his first name when you look him up. i saw the tweets myself as well. for shame da'rick, for shame.
you owe our brother in orange an apology.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to OrangePride:

Now......if we can generate that kind of intensity and confidence on the offensive side of the ball, we might have something going this fall! We need Bray to establish his leadership and display a huge work ethic, we need the O-line to come together and perform. We need our receivers to generate the kinds of offense they did at the beginning of last year. Most of all, we need running backs that run north and south for positive yardage. Too much to ask? I guess we'll see. We have an awfully lot of the pieces; the staff needs to fit them together. GO VOLS!

I think the RBs are gonna make a huge difference on this team. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I don't think the o-line was as bad as it seemed last year. Quite a few times the RBs missed wide open holes, or Lane would dance around all day and the hole would close. Many times they had the cut back lane when the D would over pursue, and the backs wouldn't see it. Not having a RB coach was not a good thing. I've got two names for you...1)Jay Graham, 2)Rajion Neal. Don't know what they were thinking giving Neal's reps to Lane. But as a frosh, Neal was turning some heads. Then for whatever reason they put him at WR.

tovolny writes:

L00k at the last 6 or 7 posts, all but one are way off subject of this article. The "rich_is_reborn" guy lives in his own little world. The Witch Doctor is our best poster. If not for him, I probably would not bother reading the posts.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

Not on twitter, but you could be lying just to stir stuff up.

However, if it is true and he is leaving than good for UT if that is how he feels. staying here would mean he would be a cancer to the locker room.

If you are making this up it shows us all what a little dillyweed you are and you deserve all the grief you get in life. So for your sake, I hope you are telling the truth.

So you call him a liar. Then you say "if it's true". Then you call him a liar. This the craziest post I've seen in some time. DaRick has been acting up on twitter for a while now. Just cracks me up when someone like you considers others liars when they simply know something you don't know.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to tovolny:

L00k at the last 6 or 7 posts, all but one are way off subject of this article. The "rich_is_reborn" guy lives in his own little world. The Witch Doctor is our best poster. If not for him, I probably would not bother reading the posts.

This post you just posted is off topic. And your first post was a joke at best. If you don't like one's post, simply skip it.

BleednUrnge81 writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

Don't sweat it my man. I don't take it personal unless it leads to continual repeated attacks like those that come from the idiot XkcbigorangeX. I've done the same as you said you did. And like you, I've had to publicly appologies on here. I don't remember you bashing me, been too many that have over the Da'Rick thing. But if you did, don't sweat it. Heck, I might have deserved it, LOL.

it was not about da'rick, it was about something else that pales massively in comparison to da'rick. I was upset, but after seeing that he would openly post about leaving the day b4 he announces it, it shows that he thinks he is bigger than UT football. I don't think we will miss him much with cordarelle patterson coming in, plus a good crop of backups for our new number one wideout, justin "randy moss" hunter. Yes i went there lol. GBO, Buck Fama, F*** Florida and have a good'n.

BleednUrnge81 writes:

in response to tovolny:

L00k at the last 6 or 7 posts, all but one are way off subject of this article. The "rich_is_reborn" guy lives in his own little world. The Witch Doctor is our best poster. If not for him, I probably would not bother reading the posts.

rich is a top 5 poster and witchy is number 1. you may be a top 10 jackarse if you keep up these comments. i see a future for you on this site similar to "peyton manning"

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to BleednUrnge81:

rich is a top 5 poster and witchy is number 1. you may be a top 10 jackarse if you keep up these comments. i see a future for you on this site similar to "peyton manning"

Don't know about a top 5. I'm just a 3* poster my man.

BleednUrnge81 writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

Don't know about a top 5. I'm just a 3* poster my man.

at least 4 star dude. its all about being real, and you are one of the few we have, including myself.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to BleednUrnge81:

at least 4 star dude. its all about being real, and you are one of the few we have, including myself.

3* poster, 4* prima Donna.

dalvol writes:

If it's true that Da'rick is on his way out, then he is costing himself a ton of money, imho. With Bray throwing to him this year, and a healthy Hunter on the other side, the sky is the limit for him and he could be a first rounder next year. On the other hand, if he is a cancer in the locker room, and that seems to be the case, then I say, "don't let the door hit you in the A** on the way out."

VOLet_parking writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

Not on twitter, but you could be lying just to stir stuff up.

However, if it is true and he is leaving than good for UT if that is how he feels. staying here would mean he would be a cancer to the locker room.

If you are making this up it shows us all what a little dillyweed you are and you deserve all the grief you get in life. So for your sake, I hope you are telling the truth.

It is on twitter, here is the link

https://twitter.com/#!/darickrogers

Stooley_Dinks writes:

Lots of questions this year for Dooley, but Sal has all the makings of a good DC. Unfortuntely, if you look at the GA Defense moving to the 3-4, there is a year of transition which Dooley cannot afford.

And, the comment about Neal needing to be back at RB was dead on. If you are looking for someone to step up and surprise, this might be the guy. He has really good size and speed. And, he will be a JR. Bet on Raijon for Recycle Player of the Year.

And, for those doubting the Da'Rick Da'Bate, look at how many wideouts we signed. And, a great JUCO. I hammer on Dooley regularly, but so far, he is only dumb during a game. Off the field, I bet he was hedging against Da'Rick and Da'Knee(Hunter).

GiveHim6TDTennessee writes:

Who cares if Da'Rick leaves? He's a pot smoking tool. As for Sunseri, aka the point of this article, he seems to really be making a difference. Hopefully it translates on the field. It'll be interesting to see how much we implement the 3-4 this year without his recruits.

FWBVol writes:

in response to 10seVol85:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

If DaRick really does plan on saying something to the media in the morning he's not being very smart telling everyone he's going to do so on Twitter.

If there is something to what he wants to say this gives CDD a chance to make unavailable to the media.

It seems as if almost everyone on the team is saying the right thing with the possible exception of Da'Rick. It will be interesting to hear what is said in the morning or to see if nothing is said at all.

Derek Dooley is still calling the shots and I doubt if Da'Rick gets withing 20 yards of a media member in the morning.

TheVolSnake writes:

I when though and read all the posts and have a few comments:

D. Rodgers may leave and then again he may not, but when you look at what he will have this year I don’t see him leaving. Bray is healthy, Hunter is healthy. He would get tons of opportunities this year and little or no double teaming like they did when Hunter went down last year, he would have a lot of one on one match ups which I know he can beat 90% of the D. backs one on one. Why would he decide to leave now when all spring practices have started and he would be behind no matter where he went? A complete new offensive scheme and terminology will only hurt him this year; if he was going to leave it would have been at the start of the school Semester which was in Jan.

Now on the 3-4 defense, looking at our personnel this scheme will dramatically improve our defense this year and I see us stopping a lot of high powered offenses this year. For example the Gators have a new QB and the first team they really play is us at home. This will be the game that tells us how far we have improved.

Neal as running back I think this is a good move and I hope he has learned how to hold on to the ball this has been his only issue. I feel Graham was one of the biggest coaching changes we made this year.

O. Line as anyone that has played the game will tell you pass blocking is easier than run blocking and last year the line took a lot of heat for their run blocking the real problem was the musical chairs of positions and left side right side. Run blocking is a timing thing and if you move from one spot to another it takes a lot of time to learn the timing and position. Seemed like we changed every week, whom played where. I think we will be stable this year and we will see a dramatic improvement in the run game.

Go Vol's

CoverOrange writes:

Da'Rick isn't leaving. He is going to expose the new tattoo on his face. Some of you are too sensitive.

CoverOrange writes:

Of course, it doesn't help his ego that the media will be his lackey.

FanNotSheep writes:

What I'd really like to see is Bray and Hunter and Rodgers play football and win some games for Tennessee, and everyone who is hoping they all fail go somewhere and hibernate for a few years.

Have you ever had to work with people that didn't always have a positive attitude and didn't always pretend they were happy with the way things went? Sometimes those people can bring down morale, but other times they give a workplace some sense of reality when others just buy into every single thing the management is selling.

I don't know Bray and Rodgers. I am not their age and definitely have no inside locker room information. But in the old days the coaches would shelter the players from as much as they could and it helped the team. These days, with Twitter and sites like this, it's amazing any team in any sport can focus and function, much less a football team with 100 kids on it (counting walk-ons).

wigmeister writes:

Wish we had a no nonsense OC like Sunseri on the D side, then any stupidity with Rodgers would be taken care of quickly.

TheVolSnake writes:

in response to wigmeister:

Wish we had a no nonsense OC like Sunseri on the D side, then any stupidity with Rodgers would be taken care of quickly.

I agree we really need to look at a good OC from the Pro ranks. One that doesn't put up with bad behavior.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

in response to TennesseeV3:

The comments are even more in depth than what you have posted. I am so fed up with bad news, and this is seeming to be really bad news. Go to his page and don't just look at his posts, but also his replies to posts. It's not looking good. I think at one point he even said "don't come here bro, nobody should come here." I hope to god he wasn't referring to Tennessee!

Why would this shock you. Gerald Jones told a UT recruit to chose Auburn after he was through with Dooley ball. With all the defections in coaches and players maybe its time to see the truth and quit labeling these kids as the problem. When 7 coaches quit for no bigger positions, it starts at the top. How many players or former players must tell you the team has QUIT and dont wanna play for UT under this head coach. The list goes on and on.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

DaRick may or may not be leaving, don't know what to take from the texts. But I just think it would be best for him and his TEAM if he were to watch what he says.

Clarkrm0706 writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

DaRick may or may not be leaving, don't know what to take from the texts. But I just think it would be best for him and his TEAM if he were to watch what he says.

The drama has carried on too long also.
Time for something to change.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to BlueTickHound4:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I like the screen name.

rtrchatt writes:

in response to GerryOP:

Probably just what is needed.

Outside of AJ Johnson who would challenge for serious playing time on Alabamas defense?? No one and he would not start in front of Johnson and Moseley, but Sal will do a great job and take the first HC job offered.....

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to Clarkrm0706:

The drama has carried on too long also.
Time for something to change.

It has carried on too long. I hope he can get it straight and be an All-American this year. But it wouldn't destroy my world if he would get booted either. Nobody is bigger than the team. Hopefully he can see this, but I have my doubts. It's a touchy situation. Losing him would be a HUGE loss from a talent standpoint, but team morale is also important. And I've seen lot's of comments about Cordarelle stepping in and us not missing a beat. I'm not so sure. As we've seen with Jucos, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I remember 5* Kenny Oneal and Brent Vinson. And even the Jucos who do work out, sometimes they don't just jump right in and get it done. At times it can take half a season to a season for it to click. Here's to hoping all is well with DaRick and the team.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to rtrchatt:

Outside of AJ Johnson who would challenge for serious playing time on Alabamas defense?? No one and he would not start in front of Johnson and Moseley, but Sal will do a great job and take the first HC job offered.....

Darrington Sentimore, Mo Couch, Curt Maggit, Daniel McCullers, and Prentiss Waggner. Anymore questions?

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