After grueling summer, UT D-line coach Steve Stripling looking for progress from spring

ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee assistant head coach Steve Stripling answers a question during a news conference in the Stokely Family Media Center at Neyland Stadium Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013.

Photo by Adam Brimer

ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee assistant head coach Steve Stripling answers a question during a news conference in the Stokely Family Media Center at Neyland Stadium Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013.

Tennessee associate head coach Steve Stripling speaks to Knoxville-area high school coaches

Snapshots of the summer for Tennessee football players include plenty of laughs and smiles — a white-water rafting trip, weekends on the beach, a barbecue and pool party at a coach’s house.

Associate head coach and defensive line coach Steve Stripling said the team bonding was important, but added there was grueling work to do, too.

Like nearly all major college football teams, the Vols endured regular workouts under the supervision of the strength and conditioning staff and even underwent a series of military-style boot camps by visiting current and former military personnel.

Stripling hopes the preparation will help the Vols ready for the start of fall camp. Players officially report on Thursday. The first practice session is Friday.

Steve  Stripling

Steve Stripling

“You hope you can start at a further point than you were at spring,” Stripling said Friday before speaking at the Knoxville Orthopedic Center kickoff luncheon at Thompson-Boling Arena. “Although we’re not able to direct the kids during the summer, you hope they’re further down the line.”

The Vols underwent military-style training with The Program, a traveling boot camp directed by former elite athletes and military leaders that tries to push athletes to their limit. The group has also worked with UT’s softball team.

Stripling said workouts in the deep end of the pool might have been the most challenging part of the program — both for poor swimmers and for the strong swimmers who were tasked with keeping their comrades afloat.

“A lot of our guys aren’t great swimmers. A lot of our guys don’t swim at all,” Stripling said. “So you’re thrown in the deep end and all the time you’re looking around making sure your teammates aren’t drowning.”

Stripling said this year’s team — and his unit in particular — has a strong group of seniors that has helped the young players adjust.

Coaches paired each newcomer with a “big brother” this summer.

“They come in the summer and kind of get thrown into the fire, so it’s good to have a big-brother-type personality to help them get through that,” Stripling said.

There are five freshmen on the defensive line: Corey Vereen, Jason Carr, Malik Brown, Jaylen Miller and Kendal Vickers. Only Vereen went through spring practice.

Linemen are always more likely to redshirt than skill position players because they can often benefit the most from a full year of strength training and weight gain. With six seniors and two juniors on the defensive line, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see most of the freshmen redshirt.

But Stripling said there would be plenty of time to figure that out.

“You ask them to all come here ready to play, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Stripling said. “We don’t talk in terms of redshirt years. If at some point in time during that first year you see they’re not going to play meaningful snaps, then you can talk about redshirting.”

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 12

Chappy writes:

I really like the team building (which I get the feeling hasn't necessarily been there in recent years). Also like the sound of "The Program". The hard work and sacrifices in the Summer pay off in the Fall.

Like everyone else, I'm very excited about upcoming season!

sameolvolalum writes:

Well. I, for one, am optimistic. GBO!

pingkr62 writes:

The coaching staff has implemented several team building activities since their arrived in December that I really like. I recently watched The Cincinnati-Louisville football game from last year to try to get an idea of how a Butch Jones coached football team performed. Although the Bearcats lost in overtime, the team played hard the entire game and never quit. I think we will see much of the same this year from the Vols. This will make a difference in possibly winning some close games. G.B.O.!!!

Snapshot writes:

in response to pingkr62:

The coaching staff has implemented several team building activities since their arrived in December that I really like. I recently watched The Cincinnati-Louisville football game from last year to try to get an idea of how a Butch Jones coached football team performed. Although the Bearcats lost in overtime, the team played hard the entire game and never quit. I think we will see much of the same this year from the Vols. This will make a difference in possibly winning some close games. G.B.O.!!!

I watched that game too, one of ESPN greatest games of 2012. Like yourself I wanted to see how Butch Jones handled the game and how his team performed. I was impressed on both counts. Game was played under adverse conditions (at night in the rain). Hopefully we will see that kind of effort from the Vols this year.

JSmith525 writes:

With all these players have went through during their time as a Vol, I expect them to come out with a chip on their shoulder. There is talent on this team and I believe that now, they will be shown how to use that talent.

SouthPaVol writes:

What a difference a year makes. Last year, the only positive that the "other coach" could muster about big McCullers was that he could maybe clog up the middle and make running the ball difficult. This year, Big Dan is a possible standout. Our D will be better all around.

What I'm most excited about is three incoming freshmen that could raise the bar at defensive end to a new level. Corey Vereen proved himself in the spring. The player that I'm most excited to see is Jaylen Miller out of Carolina. Right there with him is the highly coveted Jason Carr out of Memphis. Both Miller and Carr had over 25 sacks each last year.

All three will get PT early this year and, on a long shot, I'd say one will start by the 3rd or 4th game. The exciting part is, it could be any of the three that works their way into a starting position.

Go Vols!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Chappy:

I really like the team building (which I get the feeling hasn't necessarily been there in recent years). Also like the sound of "The Program". The hard work and sacrifices in the Summer pay off in the Fall.

Like everyone else, I'm very excited about upcoming season!

I love it, too, but Dooley did some of the same kinds of things. It's not about the activities, per se, it's about whether these things rise up naturally, whether they fit with the overall vibe of the organization.

If there is better morale on the team now, which I suspect may well be the case, it is because relations between players and coaches seem to be more cordial, yet more consistent and respectful both ways than they may have been in the past. This staff seems prepared to deal with the players like men all the time and the players no doubt appreciate it. It remains to be seen how this carries over to the field, but it can't hurt.

baldingalum writes:

Please take a look at this guy. He looks like a football coach! He talks like a football coach. If he were your dad and he told you to clean up your room and you didn't do it, I see this guy offering more than a little constructive criticism.

We have talent. Going back to a 4-3 helps that talent. Couch and McCullers are going to cause problems in the middle and I think Smith has a breakout year on the edge. Our defense is going to be surprisingly good.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

What a difference a year makes. Last year, the only positive that the "other coach" could muster about big McCullers was that he could maybe clog up the middle and make running the ball difficult. This year, Big Dan is a possible standout. Our D will be better all around.

What I'm most excited about is three incoming freshmen that could raise the bar at defensive end to a new level. Corey Vereen proved himself in the spring. The player that I'm most excited to see is Jaylen Miller out of Carolina. Right there with him is the highly coveted Jason Carr out of Memphis. Both Miller and Carr had over 25 sacks each last year.

All three will get PT early this year and, on a long shot, I'd say one will start by the 3rd or 4th game. The exciting part is, it could be any of the three that works their way into a starting position.

Go Vols!

Good post. I do think the D-line will be much improved this year against both the pass and the run. Those young guys need to be groomed this year in every possible way. If they are good enough to help, get them on the field. They will need to grow up fast so they can help integrate the next class into the Jones way of doing things. Young as they are, they can be leaders if they are the right kind of guys and are fully in synch with the program; they will almost have to be if the D-line is not to fall off considerably in 2014.

romevol writes:

Like many on here, I realize we have a long climb back, but it certainly feels like CBJ and crew have help arrest the fall and we will begin our ascent to the top in short order. Building brick by brick, and I can't wait to see what's been built.

GBO!

bUTch_please writes:

A simpler defensive scheme with clear-cut situation responsibilities will bring a lot of unexpected improvement and vault us back into a top 30 overall defense, quickly. Lots of true talent on this DL and in our LB corps.

The greatest improvement and biggest defensive impact this year will be brought by McCullers. This off season he has completely transformed his body. The man has become physically ready to absolutely blow up backfields. Prepare to see some very frustrated offensive linemen this year, starting in Eugene.

Go Team #117.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to bUTch_please:

A simpler defensive scheme with clear-cut situation responsibilities will bring a lot of unexpected improvement and vault us back into a top 30 overall defense, quickly. Lots of true talent on this DL and in our LB corps.

The greatest improvement and biggest defensive impact this year will be brought by McCullers. This off season he has completely transformed his body. The man has become physically ready to absolutely blow up backfields. Prepare to see some very frustrated offensive linemen this year, starting in Eugene.

Go Team #117.

I can easily see something like that happening. It just makes, or certainly SHOULD make, a world of difference how a team plays when they know what they are doing and trust the coaches not only to TELL them the right things to do but also to TEACH them the right things to do, and have them in the best possible frame of mind to do them. I think this is the attitude Jones is building. We should see some evidence of that difference fairly early on.

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