Mike Bajakian discusses Tennessee's offense
Tennessee coaches still will be yelling during Saturday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium. They’ll just be doing it from the sidelines.
That means young players, some for the first time, will be totally on their own in the seconds leading up to the snap.
“You’re looking for accountability without the coaches,” said defensive line coach and associate head coach Steve Stripling. “It’ll be the first time they’ll be out there without the coaches, just playing ball.”
In some ways, Tennessee’s second scrimmage of the year will be similar to the first. The Vols will work on different situations and field positions rather than letting the starting point be set by a kickoff or punt.
But the first scrimmage was only a few days into spring camp, and players were still learning the basics. Today, coaches will give them more autonomy.
“The coaches are off the field,” Stripling said. “You’re looking for communication, because we’re not going to be out there directing everything.”
Those changes could be more noticeable on defense, where players will be challenged to make the right calls in response to the Vols’ fast-paced offense.
Defensive coordinator John Jancek said scrimmages offer the best way to evaluate players because the offense is unpredictable.
“That’s football, when you don’t know whether it’s a run or pass,” Jancek said. “A lot of times we do an inside drill and they all know it’s run or they all know it’s pass. It’s advantage defense.
“But when you go 11-on-11, it could be a screen, it could be a run, it could be a pass, it could be a boot. Those are the things you want to see your guys react to.”
Jancek has been critical of the Vols’ fundamentals, including poor tackling, and he said scrimmages are the purest way to evaluate tacklers.
“You can’t be a good defense and not be able to tackle,” he said.
For players battling for jobs, scrimmage grades are especially important.
Stripling has 13 scholarship defensive linemen to work with in the spring, and three more will arrive in the fall.
The lineup is still in flux, but most recently Marlon Walls and Jacques Smith were working outside on the first team, while Daniel McCullers and Daniel Hood played inside. Smith was the “Leo end,” the sort of linebacker hybrid in Jancek’s 4-3 set.
All four players on that hypothetical starting front are seniors.
More veterans are on a potential second team, including Corey Miller, Jordan Williams and Trevarris Saulsberry. Senior Mo Couch has been limited this spring due to injury and won’t be playing in the scrimmages.
But it’s the crop of youngsters behind those groups that most intrigue Stripling, especially because the spring is the best time to get an extended viewing.
That group includes freshman Corey Vereen and redshirt freshmen LaTroy Lewis and Danny O’Brien.
“They’re not getting as many reps as the ones and twos, but they are getting experience,” Stripling said.
Jancek wants to see every defender — young and experienced — make strides Saturday in wrapping up tacklers.
“We’ll find out if all the drills and things we’re doing work,” he said. “It’s a live day, and they’ll be able to play some football.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.