Vols practice, Sunday, Aug. 4
It’s a wince-worthy number every Tennessee defender should know: The team’s total number of sacks in 12 games last season.
The average came to 1.42 per game. That ranked 98th in the country.
Junior Jacques Smith knows the numbers. He’s also ready to move past them. The Ooltewah native played JACK linebacker in last season’s listless 3-4 defense, but is shifting back to his natural spot at defensive end in new defensive coordinator John Jancek’s 4-3 defense.
“It’s all simple,” Smith said. “We go out there, we get the call — it’s only one call — and then we’re going and we can do whatever we want.”
That’s a far cry from last year’s convoluted 3-4.
Smith said new defensive line coach Steve Stripling has brought clarity to the Vols’ pass rush. That clarity, he believes, will bring results.
“It works for our defensive line’s personality,” Smith said. “You’re going to see us get off the quarterback a lot. I’m telling you, we’re going to wreak havoc on some of them.”
Smith said the 2012 defense wasn’t able to “pin its ears back and go,” while Jancek’s simplified system promotes an unhindered attack.
“That’s something that this defense allows you to do,” he said. “You can tell by the statistics of this staff.”
Two years ago at Cincinnati, Jancek and Stripling spearheaded a defense that ranked second in the country with 46 sacks.
This year, Smith thinks defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, all 351 pounds of him, will be able to take up two defenders, allowing Smith to rush off the edge, while linemen Corey Miller and Maurice Couch penetrate the B-gap.
“I think the defense, as a whole, will have a lot of sacks,” Smith said.
Dialing in:Sunday’s practice was the Vols’ first of the preseason with shoulder pads, and began with one-on-one battles encircled by cheering orange and white. Jones said the hitting drills are a tool to ratchet up practice from the jump when he sees a player who “isn’t dialed in.”
Meredith still out:Redshirt freshman tight end Justin Meredith continues to reside on the sidelines. Jones said his lingering hamstring injury is to blame and there is no timetable for his return.
Early returns:Like birds migrating in unison, a flock of Vols began Sunday’s practice by heading toward the far end zone to field punts. Among them: wideouts Devrin Young, Alton “Pig” Howard, Vincent Dallas, Josh Smith, Marquez North, Johnathon Johnson, Tyler Drummer and Jacob Carter; running backs Marlin Lane and Reggie Juin; and defensive back Tino Thomas.
“We in no way, shape or form, at all, really know who our punt returner is right now,” Jones said.
Practice makes perfect:The Vols are scheduled to hit Haslam Field at 4:30 p.m. on Monday for their fourth practice in as many days. A day off still rests three days away on Thursday. Practices will be held under the lights Tuesday and Wednesday. The open practice at Neyland Stadium on August 17 will start at 6:50 p.m.
“Our bodies are starting to get sore and this is now where the mental toughness, the grind of training camp, is going to kick in,” Jones said.
The Vol whispererJones, or at least his vocal cords, could probably use a day off at this point. The 45-year-old sounds like Tom Waits with a whistle after just a few days on the field.
“Everyone I talk to is recommending some ailment,” Jones said.
The hoarse throat isn’t uncommon, but Jones admitted that this preseason is particularly raspy. He’ll return to using a microphone as much as possible from now on at practice.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee football and men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.