Here’s a recap of Tennessee football spring practice #4 (Thursday, March 13, 2014). Rather than notes from a brief media viewing period on Thursday, here are some quotes from all of the assistant coaches that spoke with the media after practice. Quotes are courtesy of UT Athletics.
I’ll be posting post-practice blogs and interviews on this page throughout spring practice, so please share and tell your friends and co-workers.
The Vols assistant coaches met with the media for the first time this spring. Here are their impressions after four practices.
(Coach John Jancek on Justin Coleman)
"He has improved size, I like the way he can run, cover number 2 receivers. When he gets his hands on guys he is able to move them out of the stem and the route and all that. Those things are really positive. He is going through a learning curve right now moving from a corner, an outside guy, to now a nickel, an inside guy. He has good knowledge. He is picking up on it pretty quick."
(Coach Willie Martinez on Justin Coleman)
"He brings experience; he brings toughness that we are looking for at the position. Playmaking ability. Again, the nickel is involved with everybody, whether it is a corner, whether it is a safety, whether it is a linebacker, so his knowledge of our scheme, even from the corner position, we feel very comfortable going there."
(Coach Willie Martinez on Malik Foreman)
"I would really like to put them all in the same group, whether it is Malik [Foreman], whether it is Riyadh [Jones], whether it is Lemond [Johnson]. The thing about it is 50 percent of our team is going through spring for the first time. He goes in that category, along with Cam [Sutton]. There are things that Cam, he has so much to learn and improve on. It is kind of all of them. It is a learning curve for these guys and to go through it for the first time. The pace is faster, not any different than it was when they camp in fall camp but they are going at a faster pace now.
"Our offseason has been pretty good; we are still nowhere near where we want to be with depth, developing depth. What a great opportunity because we don't have that much depth, so you are getting an opportunity every single day, every time you take a rep you get an opportunity to prove what you can do."
(Coach John Jancek on D'Andre Payne)
"D'Andre Payne, a true freshman, he is really smart. Obviously he is a ways off, we have only had four practices but I like the way he picks up on things. He makes mistakes here and there but for the most part you can see for a true freshman, who just got here in January, he has progressed very well. I like some of the things that he is doing."
(Coach John Jancek on Emmanuel Moseley)
"Emmanuel is in there, he is mixing it up. Again, another true freshman starting at corner in the back end of your defense. But I like Emmanuel a lot. He has picked up things very well for a true freshman, a guy who has only been here for a few months. He just has to continue to get in the weight room and get bigger and stronger. Those two guys [Payne and Mosley] I have been pleased with."
(Coach Willie Martinez on Brian Randolph)
"Well the great thing is that he is back there with them, he is at practice every day and he does talk to them on the sideline. He definitely commands a presence; there is a presence about him that everybody likes. He is very confident. But all the safeties have to communicate so it is an opportunity for the guys to get more reps than they probably would have gotten if Brian was there. That is a good thing because you want to develop depth in the spring."
(Coach Steve Stripling on Owen Williams)
"He's been impressive in that showing that he has strength and showing that he has quickness. He's a tremendous young man, great attitude. Also shown that he doesn't know what it takes at this level. So again, that's part of developing the identity of the defense, but I'm really pleased and excited about Owen Williams."
(Coach Steve Stripling on Danny O'Brien)
"Well, I think Danny has made most progress. He's always been tough and hard-nosed but he's learned to keep his pad level down a little bit and he's learned to string a little bit better."
(Coach Steve Stripling on Dimarya Mixon)
"I really like him. You can tell he was out of football for a year but he is like a wild horse. He is very willing. He is very mentally tough. So he's got a lot of great qualities. He just doesn't know very much as far as technique goes. I really like Mixon."
(Coach John Jancek on Curt Maggitt)
"Curt is a great leader for us, he and AJ [Johnson} kind of tag team, they kind of feed off each other. I know they are exciting to be back out here playing together. Curt has done a great job in that area. He still is making his way around. He is not where he needs to be from a fundamentals stand point, from a movement stand point, but he is a smart young man and I am glad to see him out there, that is for sure."
(Coach John Jancek on Jalen Reeves-Maybin)
"He is doing some good things, he has really improved since last year, now he is full time at linebacker, and it is going to be an opportunity for him to grow. He has to get better at tackling and doing some things that linebackers are actually doing on an every down basis. But he has shown that he can move around and he is smart, so that is good."
(Coach Tommy Thigpen on Kenny Bynum)
"Kenny lost about 20 pounds and just running a whole lot better now. He's in great shape. Last year I just thought he really struggled with the weight. He fatigued really early and then just broke down mentally. This spring he's taken a whole lot of pride in his body- got a lot stronger, a lot more flexible, in a lot better shape than he was last season. He's almost a complete total different player now for us, so we'll give him a shot. He's playing second behind AJ [Johnson] right now and rotating in with the young guys in Jakob Johnson. It's going to be a valuable spring for him and Jakob to see who backs up AJ."
(Coach Tommy Thigpen on A.J. Johnson)
"For me, I told him, he was the most valuable recruit that we got. He had to do what was best for himself and his family, not trying to get too involved in it. Really, it came down between him and his family. It was a family decision. I was just glad to get him back. Tried not to be an influence, just told him I'd be proud, it would be great to get you back for another season. Two years in the system, now that you know it, it's going to be really simple for you. In the game of football, you'll play really fast. I think he understood that. I think he really wanted to be a part of Curt [Maggitt] - him and Curt wanted to have a season together where they played together for at least one season. And then, AJ got so much pride.
"It wasn't so much about him leaving Tennessee and going to the league as him leaving and not leaving here as a winner and not leaving the program on a winning note. That was his biggest thing. He said, `Coach, I want to leave Tennessee, I want to have us in a bowl game and say that I was the one who got things changed around.' The kid has a tremendous love and respect for the coaches and a love for Tennessee. That was the main reason he came back. If you ask him, he'll tell you. He came back for the University of Tennessee and to play with his good friend here.
"Yes. AJ is an ultimate warrior. You can't, you don't faze him. You don't faze the kid. He's going to go hard. If you run 100 sprints, he's going to be out in first. If you run 200, he's going to be out in first. He'll lead the DBs, he'll lead the d-linemen, it's just the way the kid is built- a truly remarkable young man and have a real love for him."
(Coach Tommy Thigpen on Colton Jumper)
"It was a pleasant surprise. He had gotten into the Naval Academy, I believe from what I've heard, so he's a really cerebral kid. That's something we always say with linebackers- you're smart and you're tough, you can play. He seemed to be a tough kid- takes a lot of pride on what he's doing in the film room, asks a lot of really good questions, and comes in when nobody is watching and study the game. I told him when he came up that he would have a chance. We were deficit at the number at linebacker, especially in the spring. He took a chance on us and he's doing a good job for us so far."
(Coach Tommy Thigpen on Jalen Reeves-Maybin)
"He's really cerebral- really smart kid and really understands situational football. Very pleased right now. In practice four, where we're at, I thought he got better since the last practice we had on Tuesday. Showed a lot of physical attributes today on the field. Knows the game. I'm very pleased on where he is. A lot of things have to get better on special technique and staying low and for a small linebacker; we really emphasize him playing with hands this spring."
(Coach Don Mahoney on Coleman Thomas)
"He's such an athletic young man that playing center for as big as he is and was in high school, and having watched him play football, basketball and baseball, he's big and athletic. He's loose and has good feet. He's developed a lot more right now than most incoming freshman would be. There's an opportunity for him to hold up physically, at least lower body wise. Upper body he's still working at that as far as developing strength. Recruiting wise, you try to see and project guys to play multiple positions. Given he was at center, he's pretty athletic. He's able to snap the ball, move in the directions in did and the balance he did was pretty encouraging."
(Coach Don Mahoney on Dontavius Blair)
"Blair is a big guy that is learning-wise a little bit behind in terms that we wanted him to play a lot faster right now than what he is. I think he is wanting to be perfect, which is a good thing, but it's slowing him down a little bit from just playing. There's time when he cuts it loose and you can see his feet and his balance and it's encouraging. When it gets to where he's thinking a lot, like when Coach Jones says don't let your mind tie up your feet, I think that's been a problem with him a little bit early on. I think he's putting some pressure on him. I told him he has to enjoy coming out here, enjoy the process, it's not going to happen right away overnight. That's why we practice. It's a very encouraging thing as well."
(Coach Mike Bajakian on Jalen Hurd)
"Yes, I like his physicality. Does not shy away from contact at all, puts his face in the fan almost too aggressively at times in terms of he needs to make sure he pays attention to his technique as opposed to just throwing his body around. I'm happy with the progress he's made. He's grasping the offense mentally and physically as well."
(Coach Robert Gillespie on Jalen Hurd)
"Very athletic. His ceiling- the things he's going to be able to do before he leaves here are huge. We're excited about him. What he brings to the table, the competition level has risen. I think we still have to be mindful that he's a freshman. There's a lot going in. His head's spinning a little bit, but he's a competitor, wants to learn and he comes out and competes every day.
"He hasn't had a problem dealing with it. He's a natural bender. He's a loose kid. I don't coach him any differently. I don't stand up on the chair and coach him and get down on the ground and coach anybody else. He's done well so far.
"I've coached a guy 6 feet 1 inch. Height is height. It doesn't matter. The kid can bend. You don't coach them any differently. I didn't go on the internet and search how to coach tall people or talk to them differently. He's a kid that showed he has that natural ability. That's why everybody in the country recruited him. He's been just that. He's been one of the quickest change direction guys on the team just as far as putting him on a stopwatch. He has no problem bending. Strength is really, really well. His shoulder is in great condition right now. He's done well. Like I said, he's in a very competitive group. Alden Hill is a guy that wants to play and he's working hard and obviously Devrin Young is a kid we're glad came over to the running back position, so all those guys are really competing their butts off the first few days."
(Coach Robert Gillespie on Marlin Lane)
"Marlin [Lane] has been great, man. His attitude's changed. He's put on about 15 pounds during the offseason. He's running strong. He's playing physical. He's a leader. He's coaching when I'm not around, so he's actually taken a bigger role than a lot of people have noticed. He's done a really good job.
"It's really helped him. He and I talked at the end of the season. The thing you have to understand- are you going to be a powerful back or are you going to be a speed guy? Marlin has never been just a fast guy, but the thing is, he's patient. He breaks tackles. He always wiggles out. I told him just adding another 10 to 15 pounds will help you become that bigger, stronger back and by doing that, he's become stronger. He put on weight but he also gained some strength with it. He's just as explosive on his vertical jump. His changed direction drills actually got faster, so these first few days have been really impressive with him. He just has to do a good job of keeping the weight on.
"As the season progressed, he finally got healthy. I think the fact that Rajion [Neal] really bought in and had some success- I think he was able to see that when my time comes, I want to buy in to the little things and want to be that guy, so I think as soon as the Kentucky game was over with, you could see Marlin look around and realize he was the oldest guy in the room and he sought to take on that role. He and I talked and I think he really bought in. He's been doing a really good job, knock on wood. I think he's prepared to step in and finally have a big season."
(Coach Robert Gillespie on Justus Pickett)
"Doing well. Obviously, we have a lot more guys getting reps now than when he first got here. Reps are hard to come by, but I tell the guys all the time, 'don't count your reps, make your reps count.' So far, he's doing that. He just has to keep a good attitude and keep competing when his time comes, he has to make play."
(Coach Mark Elder on Ethan Wolf)
"Ethan is really a complete tight end. He's got the ability to be physical, block at the point of attack and handle a defensive end one-on-one. We think he's a threat in the pass game. He's gone out and made some plays getting open, catching the ball. We like what he brings to the table. He can do everything that we need him to do as far as lining up as a tight end or off the ball at H-back position or flexing out as a receiver and going out and being a play-maker out there as well. I really like what I see from him in those regards. I think that he'll be successful in every aspect of our offense."
(Coach Mark Elder on Daniel Helm)
"Daniel, he's coming along too. Again, he's made some plays and then he'll have an eye opener when the defensive ends knock him around a little but you see the flashes of what you're expecting to see from him. He's gone out and made some plays in the passing game. He'll fight you as far as blocking. He needs to be a little more physical at the point of attack. He knows that and I was expecting that that would be where he'd have to grow the most in the beginning. Both those guys are along the lines of where I thought they'd be. They need to start increasing at a rate that's going to get them closer to ready by the end of Spring."
(Coach Mark Elder on Kickers, Punters, Snappers)
"They're coming along, the consistency needs to be better. You can't go out and have one bad day and miss a couple and then be good the next day because every day is a game. You can’t go out and have a bad game we're counting on you to have 12, 13 good games. You have to be on point every single day. So the consistency needs to be there with the kickers. The punters, our depth is not where we need to be with specialists by any stretch of the imagination. We need to be performing better with our specialist and more consistent. Both of those areas are areas where we really need to improve.
"No, I would like to see better absolutely. I would like to see us kicking better, more consistent. I would like to see us punting more consistent. I'd like to see our back-up guys pushing a little bit more than what they are. I'd like to see a little bit more from the snapping position. We're searching for snappers. We're not good enough right there at all."
(Coach Mike Bajakian on Von Pearson)
"Von is very, very, very talented. We're throwing a lot at him early. He's done a good job of making plays and again, I think the receiving corps in general has really stepped up. Marquez North has done a really good job of going up and out-jumping people's backs and making catches. Von has also done a good job of getting the ball in his hands. Josh Malone has flashed at times. The group as a whole, Jason Croom, he's really come along. The group as a whole improved tremendously. Von, again, as a new player, just has to grasp the offense, the Xs and Os, and all that that we're throwing at him.
"Von brings a unique perspective and has been a good resource for the other 14 newcomers that are here this winter for the first time. His perspective is- he's seen the other side. He's seen what it's like to work at McDonald's, to do the same thing day in and day out, at an 8-5 job or a 9-5 job. He comes every day to work with some energy, some passion. Frankly, it's pretty infectious. I love being around him. He's a guy that the other newcomers have rallied around to try and get the lay of the land. Not so much that he's a junior college player, but just his life experience.
(Coach Zach Azzanni on Jason Croom)
"Yeah, well he is playing with his body. He is playing as big as he is finally, and I still think there is a lot more in the tank - scarier enough, but the game is starting to slow down a little bit for him, he is starting to understand what he can do, use his body. He really didn't understand that the last year. He is a great kid too. I love coaching him. I'm hard on him because he can take it, but he is certainly slowly but surely become looking like an SEC receiver so it is fun to watch."
(Coach Zach Azzanni on Josh Smith)
""Josh had that knee surgery right after the season so it really hampered his development this winter. While everyone else is running routes, he is rehabbing, so he is really the same player right now that he was at the end of the season, so we got to speed him up, and he didn't have the conditioning level either, so not only did he not get the technique, he didn't get the conditioning level, so he is a little bit farther behind, well he is a lot farther behind than I wanted him because of the surgery so I got to catch him up. That's why maybe he is not up with those other guys just yet, but he is tough kid. He comes out here and competes. His first full go was the week we started. That was when he was cleared. For him to come out here and pound like you wouldn't even know it, he is different now, you can tell his technique is a little rusty, all that. He'll be fine. I got to catch him up. Oh yeah, he is 100 percent, full go, and he is rolling."
(Coach Zach Azzanni on Josh Malone)
"Yeah, it sure has, but a very talented high school senior. He is very talented young man, and he's competitive, and he will be a great player around here. He's got to learn how we play our style, he's got to learn consistency and performance which he doesn't yet, he is up and down, like we would expect, and I got to coach him. That's my job. As far as running real fast and jumping high, he can do all that. I just got to coach him and all the other things. Our culture, the way we play around here, is a little bit different from other places so it takes a second to get going so I'm not expecting overnight success, but he has been a fun one to coach so far."
*ADDITIONAL SOUND BITES*
Here are sound bites from the assistant coaches after Thursday’s practice.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR & QUARTERBACKS COACH MIKE BAJAKIAN
»(On his first impressions)
"First impression- we have some guys making plays which is good to see. We turned the ball over way too much today. What we have to do is we have to develop consistency performance. We have to continue to improve on a daily basis. There have been reps where I have seen guys stepping up, but overall, we don't have the consistency that we want right now."
»(On the quarterbacks)
"We're throwing them into all kinds of situations. We're going to do a situational scrimmage tomorrow with more live play-it-out type of play calls, so again, up and down. Across the board I think we need more consistency. We have to do a better job of protecting the football. We put them in some situations today just to see how they would respond, but overall, they're all competing. They all understand the task at hand and they're all working hard.
"They work well together. They're all competitive by nature- supportive of one another, supportive of their teammates. We talk a lot about the power of the position. It starts here with representing the Power T and the history of the quarterback position at the University of Tennessee. They understand that they're playing for that and for our teammates first while they're competing against one another. We want to make sure we have success as a group and as individuals.
"They understand that they have to take advantage of their opportunities. The decision is not going to be made after one practice. It's not going to be made after one throw. It's the accumulation of reps. It's the accumulation of your body at work. As long as they understand they have to manage the offense and manage it consistently, then they'll be alright."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
»(On replacing the defensive line)
"It is a big concern. We are trying to put the pieces of the puzzle in place at that position, taking a look at a lot of different guys trying to get a lot of guys reps, rotating them in to see who can step up and compete for a starting position."
»(On the sense of urgency)
"I wish we had a greater sense of urgency than what we do, overall as a defense. Right now there are some new things in, there are a lot of new faces, so they are kind of still feeling their way around. We have to get through this initial phase of introductory football 101, this is how we are playing defense so we can move forward and really work on our style of play and get better at it."
ASSISTANT HEAD COACH – DEFENSE & DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH WILLIE MARTINEZ
»(On the nickel position)
"It is very similar to the safety position because you are tied into everything, calls and checks and you are playing a position where you are lined up on the slot so you are seeing him run as much as you are seeing paths, you have to be able to play them all and make quick decisions. Usually the slot receiver is the best receiver on the team, on the offense, so you are matched up with a really good player."
ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH & DEFENSIVE LINE COACH STEVE STRIPLING
»(On the offseason)
"Yeah, it's been real good. Last year I felt light and going through this first practice was really my chance to see how I felt as a heavier player, and I felt good today. Felt a lot better taking on lineman and things like that."
»(On the knowledge he gained from watching spring practice last year)
"That a lot of the game is mental. If you don't know your stuff, you're kind of going to be out there lost. If you just know your defense, you can play faster. Even I can tell from last year to this year. Just knowing it better, I'm able to play faster and think a lot less."
RECRUITING COORDINATOR & WIDE RECEIVERS COACH ZACH AZZANNI
»(On the chemistry issues between the quarterbacks and the wide receivers)
"I think they are all still getting to know each other. I mean, we have four different quarterbacks, and almost a brand new group of wideouts so it is going to be a little up and down right now, absolutely, so yeah I think the first day of pads it was 20 degrees hotter than it had been the whole time, and I think they were swimming a little bit, and they didn't come out with that same pep in their step, same timing, and we practiced Saturday morning and Friday evening so from our position we run so much one step slower, the timing is off, so I think there was a couple of things that added to that, but I wasn't worried. I knew we would get it back."
»(On depth at the wide receiver position this spring)
"It's a lot different. I mean we still need some depth, but it's better, certainly better than it was. It's a whole different group, different mindset, year into it, new faces, so it's been fun. We're making mistakes, we're not playing great right now, but its fun to see a bunch of talented guys, and I can coach them up so it's been fun."
TIGHT ENDS COACH & SPECIAL TEAMS COORIDNATOR MARK ELDER
»(On the freshmen tight ends)
"It's been great. It's been fun, because you've starting from ground zero with those guys as far as stance, start, the whole bit. The terminology is all brand new to them so it's their first college experience and it's been a lot of fun. They're learning quick and they're eager guys that are picking it up."
»(On slowing down the pace for the young tight ends)
"We do have a couple upperclassmen that are with them. Obviously those young guys are getting thrown into the mix. Are we slowing it down? No. We're not slowing it down for them in any way shape or form. They're learning on the fly. You're seeing some of that and there's going to be some mental mistakes. There needs to be less than what there are, but that's part of the deal.
“We're throwing those guys in the fire and they're going to learn by executing not by sitting back and watching it. They're going to make some mistakes but in time you see a couple plays that they're making that you're saying, 'shoot, that's pretty good'. We're excited about that."
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH DON MAHONEY
»(On challenge of losing five starters on the offensive line)
"It's one of those things where I'm encouraged by these guys. Since we started this off season program in January, their mental approach and the way they're attacking things, they know there's a lot of people looking at them with that question. For my approach, they keep coming to work every day with a hard hat mentality, blue collar mentality with the lunch pail in hand. That's what it's been. There's been good and bad with the three practices, we'll watch the fourth here in a little bit.
"As long as they keep giving effort, I tell them, let's be the best group that works together to get better. They've been doing that. It's going to take all of us, we just need to work well together. That's what the guys have been working hard to do. From that standpoint, I've been pleased with their effort and mindset. Obviously, there's some technical and fundamental things we can improve on, that's why it's spring practice.
"But their overall approach is good and from my standpoint, I can sleep comfortably. I know they come to work every day. I enjoy walking in the room seeing them knowing they're ready to attack the day."