Good day, My Friends,

I decided to do a few Pre-Holiday Notes for Vol Fans.  While exams and no games have had things quiet on the Football game side, things have been popping on the Hill.  Recruiting has been on a frantic pace since the last game and into today.  The Vols have addressed several needs with quality kids.  Trey Smith OT, Shanon Reid MLB, Will McBride QB are all early entries.  There are other players that are also early entries that the Vols remain in contention for now. 

January looks to be the most interesting recruiting month for the Vols since Butch became the Head Coach.  First there will be several Top 100 National Players visiting and second there is a real numbers crunch for the number of scholarships available.  Look at WR, OL, DL, DB, and RB as needs.  We’ll look at all areas for needs and upgrades. 

One note: Based upon the National Recruiting sites, the kids that have de-committed or been cut from the Vols all appear to have already found new schools to call home.

Exams are over and Bowl Practice has started.  As normal. The initial focus is upon developing individual skills and experience in fundamentals.   The Initial sessions on defense were really focused on tackling and positioning.  In the last three games the defense was gashed for huge yardage both passing and running.  Problem # One, poor positioning had the players out of position to make a tackle and made it literally impossible for them to make a good tackle.  Problem # Two, when the players were in position to make a tackle especially in the Secondary, they either missed on the tackle or the tackle was broken.

My expectations will be that the Vols will try to additionally address three major defensive problems before the Bowl Practices are over. I have no idea how they will do this.  The hardest issue is the DL and the loss of five DT’s that were all over 300 Pounds.  Kendall Vickers is the only DT left playing on the Season’s starting DT Two-Deep.  Lost are O’Brian (dismissed), Tuttle (knee injury), McKenzie (shoulder injury), Sawyers (dismissed), and Butcher (injury).  These guys were basically replaced by DE’s and did not have the size or SEC game experience to play successfully on the defensive interior line. 

My point is that I could play center in the SEC in basketball at … years old and 5’11” BUT the reason I don’t and shouldn’t is that I cannot do it successfully.  Sometimes experience and passion will allow an undersized less athletically talented player to succeed playing out of position, but when you put several players in that situation your opportunities for success are really diminished.  The initial DT rotation with Vickers and Phillips can potentially have some success, but the next two or three players up in the DT rotation are a problem with size and experience.   

With good coaching, you learn from game experience by looking at your mistakes.  The good news is also bad news, the DL backups played a lot the last three games and they have lots of mistakes on film to learn from.  I listed this DL issue first because it is a key to both stopping the run and getting QB pressure to set up the Vol pass defense.

The second issue is the poor performance by the DB’s and especially the Safeties on pass defense.  They have not been successful enough in breaking up passes especially on third and long nor have they been able to successfully intercept passes that would have ended drives.  How many times did a DB drop an INT on first or second down and then give up a completion for a first down on third down?

My take on the secondary’s problems are that it is not an issue of size and speed.  I think the athletic talent is there.  It is a matter of execution and fundamentals.  Players are thinking too long and reacting a step (or more) too slow.  Results, missed tackles and/or no pass breakups or INT’s.  Practice reps can help here. In the Vandy game several times one defensive play would have won the game for the Vols. When your third down defense is significantly better than your fourth down defense you have a puzzling problem.

The third defensive problem area is the LB play.  Injuries removed our starting LB’s early in the season.  Darron Kirkland Jr. has had limited play the last two games but it was clear that he was not 100% over his injury.  The month off will help him.  Jumper has made some plays but is limited.   The backups are talented and have size, but they do not have adequate game experience.  They really get caught out of position on running plays and play action passes.  They do not seal the end on runs.  A sad note, I do not know how well they tackle because they frequently they are in such poor position they have few opportunities to make them.  One point on this group, the Vol’s schedule was mid-loaded.  Bama, Florida, Georgia, and A&M are not the games to put a group of newbies on the field when your team is making a title run. By the time the schedule would say that you can get these guys playing game experience the DL was so banged up that the opposing OL could really “Tee-Off” and get to the second level to block the LB’s.  That made for a poor “Learning Experience”.\

On offense, ball security will be a major point.  I think almost all our turnovers on fumbles have come when players were trying to get additional yards after contact. Many of them after they had first downs.  It is hard to fault their effort, but the results were not good.  On that when Josh has turnovers it really hurts the offense. 

A real plus is that the OL will be in the best health it has had since the start of the year.  They should have experienced and talented starters and backups available.

A Note on Vol Basketball.  Are you surprised?  These guys are playing tough.  They can really play some offense and some defense, but their lack of experience and mental discipline shows up in their lack of consistency.  They have played well and better than we expected against some good competition on both offense and defense. However, they have not played a consistent complete game yet.  With “Big Leads” both their defensive and offensive discipline have become lax, and they have allowed the other team back into the game.   It seems that both areas of play for the team are driven by the play of the Point Guards.   Bone is due back by the start of the SCE at the end of December.  Next Sunday in Nashville the Gonzaga Bulldogs game could be a breakout for them before the SEC season starts.

Time to go… I hope that these notes find all of you and those dear to you well and happy as we near Christmas and the New Year.  God Bless you all.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and root for the Vols!

Go Vols!  Beat the Huskers!!

TnBill

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