For Tennessee football players planning to head to the beach for spring break, receivers Zach Azzanni has good news.
Beaches offer plenty of room to run.
As Tennessee wrapped up the spring’s sixth practice session on Thursday, departing players were left with a stern admonition by Azzanni and other coaches: If you don’t make it off the couch during spring break, it will be obvious when practice resumes 10 days from now.
“It’s going to be a test of the maturity of our football team,” said defensive coordinator John Jancek. “If they go on spring break and they continue to work out and train and make that a priority for them, then we know we’ve got something to be excited about. If not, then we’ve got to continue to educate them.”
Azzanni said he was training his young players on being “pros” for whom a 10-day break without worrying about training or diet is unthinkable.
“On (April 2), we’ll be able to tell, who was on spring break, and who was on a spring break,” Azzanni said.
The Vols break with six practices in the books, exactly 40 percent of the 15 allotted spring sessions. The good news, said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, is that the progress has been steady, if slow.
“We always show them the good and bad (from practice), and we’re finally getting to the point where we have more good than bad,” Bajakian said.
Coach Butch Jones set the tone for Thursday’s practice early, yelling into the mic, “The soft guys will get exposed!” as players did stretching.
Jones was active on the mic, calling out and challenging players — sometimes playfully, sometimes not.
“We’re fighting for blades of grass today,” he said several times.
Freshman receiver Paul
Harris was one of the players challenged. He found his jersey switched from No. 1 to No. 91.
Azzanni said he’d have to earn the right to wear No. 1.
“It’s a little bit of a jab at him,” Azzanni said, but hastened to add, “He’s a great kid. He’s going to be just fine.”
Jones also spent time trying to heap added pressure on kicker Michael Palardy. The senior hit four field goals in a row, which Jones announced to the practice field before adding, “Uh-oh, it’s on the left hash now, Palardy.”
Palardy nailed the kick.
Azzanni was less thrilled with his receivers, who he said appeared to “hit a wall” on Thursday.
For his part, Jancek bemoaned the team’s poor tackling.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do with our tackling,” he said. “That’s pretty obvious for anybody that was out here. We’re missing a lot of tackles.”
That’s why Jancek said he was more concerned about the basics right now than the installation of his system.
“It doesn’t do you any good to have a bunch of calls if they don’t know how to tackle, run to the ball, or do the things that are necessary to play great defense,” he said. “I want them to learn how to play the game with the tempo and passion that we want to have on defense. Once we establish that, we can get into plays.”
On the other side of the ball, Azzanni said the same.
“It’s never going to be about scheme with us,” he said. “It’s going to be about us playing harder, more physical and wearing an opponent out.”
Even after a 10-day break.
“I can’t baby-sit you,” Azzanni said. “If you don’t (work), we’ll be able to tell.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.