Like any new coach at a new school, defensive coordinator John Jancek was curious about what he inherited in Tennessee’s defense.
Mainly, a bad rap.
UT’s defense was sufficiently awful in 2012 to get a coaching staff fired.
But when Jancek studied videotape of last year’s debacle, he wasn’t interested in charting all the big plays and third-and-long conversions that sabotaged a season.
Secondary coach Willie Martinez talks Saturday about the depth at safety.
“I watched it,’’ Jancek said Saturday, “just to kind of evaluate the individual players, to see how they performed.
“To see what kind of effort they have. Just to see how they played ball.’’
Since UT was switching from a 3-4 defensive look to a 4-3, there was little to be learned from a schematic standpoint. Like Jancek said, he just wanted to see how his guys played ball.
All that matters now, of course, is how they play ball in 2013 and beyond.
Using their failures of the past as motivation for the future is a tactic to be handled carefully.
“I don’t bring it up,’’ Jancek said. “I don’t throw it in their face. I tell them that we’re forward thinkers. That was the past and we’re developing a new identity and a new focus for the future.’’
Still, he and the other new coaches hope they don’t have to throw it in the players’ faces. The players should have done that themselves at some point.
Jancek: “I think the guys should take it personal. If they’re a competitor, it bothers ’em.
“We should be a defense that has something to prove.’’
There’s the solid middle ground — don’t relive the past, look to the future. But do it with a chip on your shoulder.
“We’re just worried about this year,’’ said junior Justin Coleman, a veteran of that beleaguered secondary.
Safety LaDarrell McNeil: “We’re moving on.’’
Moving on with a new sense of purpose and some new bodies.
Two days into practice, there’s a storyline emerging with a pair of true freshmen installed as the first reserves at cornerback behind Coleman and spring arrival Rihayd Jones.
Malik Foreman and Cameron Sutton are the freshmen. Their heads are certainly spinning after their introduction to how college football teams practice.
Early in Saturday’s session at Haslam Field, Foreman was singled out for a one-on-one test against receiver Cody Blanc. With the entire squad watching, Blanc beat Foreman and made a catch in the end zone.
“It’s a lesson to Malik,’’ said head coach Butch Jones, “that every time you step on the football field, you’ve got to be ready to play.’’
Jancek says they will in fact play. In a best-case scenario, they’ll be ready. Qualify that to as ready as a true freshman can be.
At least they’ve got the skill sets. That’s a start.
“I’m encouraged,’’ Jones said. “I think we really helped ourselves at that position.’’
Enough about the new. Some old faces are especially critical in determining to what extent this defense can spruce up its image.
When Jancek watched to see how his guys played in 2012, he determined tackle Dan McCullers and middle linebacker A.J. Johnson need to be more disruptive.
McCullers has to play as big as his dimensions. Johnson has to take ownership of the defense.
“He’s the middle linebacker,’’ Jancek said. “That’s a badge of honor.’’
There was little honor in being part of Tennessee’s 2012 defense.
A new identity would be well received.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.