UT LB Dontavis Sapp on the importance of a positive attitude.
Will the Vols sport a special uniform this season?
Tennessee’s defensive players won’t be led by imperfect strangers when they step on the field for practice Friday, commencing a ready-or-not buildup to the 2013 college football season.
An overhauled coaching staff has brought new faces to Neyland Stadium. They’re new to the Vols, but not to each other. To hear UT defensive players tell it, the familiarity, and a return to a 4-3 scheme, could make all the difference.
“This year I feel like we have a much better handle on the defense,” sophomore free safety Brian Randolph said during Wednesday’s preseason press conference at Neyland Stadium.
That handle, Randolph and senior defensive end Corey Miller explained, is a product of coaching familiarity.
“They’re definitely all on the same page,” Miller said. “One might call a play and the other one knows exactly what’s going on the back end and from the back to the front to the middle.”
To contrast, last year offered a mishmash coaching corps installing an ill-conceived 3-4 system.
UT’s 2012 staff accounted for 80 combined years of experience. Of those 80 years, though, the group combined for two seasons — just two — in which any members worked on the same staff.
Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley spent 2010 and 2011 at Alabama.
As for this year’s defensive staff? The unit accounts for 95 years on the job and some of that has actually been spent alongside one another.
Defensive coordinator John Jancek and defensive line coach Steve Stripling were together at Cincinnati from 2010 to 2012. Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen were at Auburn last year. Jancek and Martinez joined forces at Georgia from 2005 to 2009. Back in the day, Jancek and Martinez were at Central Florida in 1996.
Perhaps more importantly, the staff has combined for 12 years working alongside new head coach Butch Jones.
The departed Derek Dooley worked only one year — in 2000 alongside Sunseri at LSU — with any member of his defensive coaching staff.
Considering that, it’s a wonder the 2012 UT defense wasn’t somehow worse.
Miller said all that has changed. Seeing the new defensive coaches interact and execute has given the players a sense that they “know exactly what’s going on,” according to the senior.
“I feel a huge difference between this staff and our previous staff,” he added. “Both staffs are great guys, but this staff actually shows you a more family oriented type of relationship and they express it with the players as well as they do with the fellow coaches.”
Five percent left:Randolph, who suffered a season-ending injury against Florida last year, said he’s “about 95 percent” heading into preseason practice.
What’s the final five percent?
“I’d say it is my jumping ability,” Randolph said. “We did the vertical jump a couple of days ago and I was a couple inches off where I was before my injury. It is not much different, but I feel like it’s about five percent.”
Patience with Maggitt
It appears junior linebacker Curt Maggitt still has pavement left on his road to recovery from last season’s torn ACL. Jones said, “We have to be patient with him,” when asked for a status update.
Maggitt missed all of spring practice and is not listed as a starter on the preseason depth chart.
Lane on Road Back:Running back Marlin Lane, who was suspended in the spring for disciplinary reasons, was noticeably missing from the spring depth chart.
Jones, however, remained steadfast that the junior is in good standing with the program.
“Marlin will be back and he has done everything to warrant reinstatement to this football team,” Jones said, later adding, “He understands that and he has to start rebuilding that trust with the coaching staff, his teammates, and that started this summer.”
Asked about Brendan Downs being listed as the Vols’ No. 1 tight end, Jones said the junior was “one of the most improved players we had in the spring” and “he earned that right to start off as No. 1 at the tight ends.”
Downs has caught six career passes in two years, including one touchdown last season.
As for the never-ending conversation surrounding UT’s uniform changes, the News Sentinel and other media outlets have already reported minor tweaks to the 2013 apparel. Jones was asked Wednesday, though, if the Vols could “break out some special uniforms” this season.
“If that’s best for us, we will do that,” he said. “There may be something coming, but everything that we do and if we do it, will respect our traditions here at Tennessee.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee football and men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.