Good Day, My Friends,                                                                                                                

The Vols are in Pre-Season Practices and they are in pads, so it is near “Football Time in Tennessee!”.  Butch is going into his 5th year as the Vol’s coach and this year is different in many ways from his first four years at the Vol Helm.   In this first Vol Notes for 2017, I am going to talk about the team’s changes and the Position Units.  As the first game nears I will talk about players and the Fall Camp.

The most visible change is the number of new members to the Vol’s coaching staff on both sides of the ball and in the weight room.  Those new staff members were all in place for the Spring Practices and Summer workouts.  Just to remind everyone, this is the first year that coaches could meet with players during the Summer, not for practices but in a teaching developmental role.  I think that this will pay a huge dividend when the players get on the field this Fall. 

In my opinion, the greatest change in this team is the difference in this team’s makeup.  First, these are all kids that Butch recruited.  Second, this team is balanced with enough players at every position to compete in the SEC.   This creates competition for playing time.  Third, this is the first team for Butch here that has a two-deep even a three-deep chart with starters and players with SEC experience at every position.  This is especially important on the OL and DL.  Of the returning OL, 10 have had red-shirt years. On the DL, 8 have had red-shirt years.   Those red-shirts allowed those talented kids to become more physically mature and SEC ready to play.  There are players on both lines that are in their 4th and 5th year at UT.  These kids took their lumps as freshmen and sophomores.  They are ready to give some lumps out as juniors and seniors. Their coaches can really help them reach their potential.

The “Rock” has really worked these kids since his arrival in the Spring and those groups will be more physically mature and physically ready to play at the SEC level than any of our teams in the last ten years.  Add to that the factor of Butch allowing the team to do “7 on 7 Workouts” during the Summer will also speed the development of this year’s team by improving team coordination and play execution.  This was especially important in getting the new kids on board and ready for Fall practice.

Recruiting physically talented kids is important.  Coaching develops them into gifted players who can use those talents correctly on the field.  The staff must develop and improve their physical skills and at the same time improve their “Football I.Q.” so they can play the game fast and as a team.  A player in basketball the past few weeks made a statement that is relevant in all team sports… “I can play better individually because I know what the other players with me are going to do”.   Football is a team sport and the game must flow to be played at the highest level.   A player that is a step slow in getting started on a play disrupts the entire team.  A missed block, a missed tackle, a step late on a pass pattern for a missed reception, a dropped punt, a step behind the receiver on a long pass, failure to cover a punt … it is a long list of “what if’s”.   They are all BAD!

Why do I feel very good about this year’s team?  First, they are smart.  Look at their GPA’s.  Look at how many of them have played more than one position.  Secondly, look at the teams they came from, these kids not only want to win, they expect to win.  You see that when you look at how this team bounced back from the Vandy loss last Fall and how they performed in the Bowl Game.  In their minds, they were not happy about last year.  The bowl game and their prep for this year makes me happy.   Third, it looks like this team is “getting healthy” at the right time.  All the guys should be ready to play. First and Last, this is a group of players that is “Team Driven”.  They measure their success by the Team’s Success.

I am impressed by the makeup of the returning players.  The thing that impresses me most about the new kids?  Both groups are cut from the same cloth.  They are driven and share the same values as the returning players.  We have read about their conditioning and study work during the Summer.  Some incoming players are going to challenge for playing time in the Fall on the offense and defense as well as special teams.  That is special given the makeup of the Juniors and Seniors on this Vol Team.

The biggest question in the minds of the “Talking Heads” is the fact that the Vols do not have a Returning Starter at QB.  I do not give that as much weight as they do.  We have two very talented QB’s that have multiple Spring Practices and seasons of game prep under their belts.  In my mind, this is the best “Backup QB” tandem situation that the Vols have had since Fulmer was the head coach.  The offense has returning skill players with speed as well as some very talented new comers.  This year’s offensive line has the promise to be the best group since the Phil Fulmer days.  If the line reaches its potential that will take a huge load off the QB’s.  The success of the OL will drive the success of the offense.

The second biggest question to that group of “Talking Heads” is about the Vol defense.  Last year injuries destroyed the DL especially at DT, by Vandy the Vols were playing backup defensive ends at DT.  There were injuries at LB with Reeves-Maybin out and Kirkland hurt as well.  Our best DB’s were also out or playing hurt.  If all goes well by the Florida game, we will have a three-deep roster at DT and our DE spots will be two deep with talented healthy players.  As in the offense, the success of the DL will drive the success of the defense. Number 1, they are the key to stopping the run. Number 2, they are the key to pressuring the QB.  Shoop likes to blitz, but if the DL does not create enough pressure to take up all the blockers, the offense can hold guys back to pick up blitzes.  They can also send more receivers out to pressure the DB’s. The new coaches on defense will have the greatest impact on this team’s improvement.  Warren will handle the DB’s and the Special Teams.  His track record is one success after another in every school he has coached.  His kids create turnovers and defensive scores.   The last two years, I have thought that the Vols had the talent and the speed at CB and Safety but that they did not play to the level of their talent.  Out of position and a step slow reacting.  I think Coach Warren will address those issues.

Last area to cover are the Special Teams.  The Vols were good last year in all Special Teams areas except the Place Kicker issues.  He hit several kickoffs out of bounds and had problems on any kick past 40 yards.  The Vols have an oncoming Freshman with a strong leg to push him this Fall.  That will be an interesting camp area to watch.

Looking at the schedule, I feel that the Vols only have two teams to play that may be better physically and team player depth.  They are Bama and LSU.  Those games are far enough into the year that a lot can change by game time.

That’s my two cents worth.  Let’s get ready for the Vols to play some Football!

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