KNOXVILLE, Tenn. --
Football is a game of inches. After practice on Wednesday every member
of the Vols was given an inch, literally. Head coach Butch Jones had
rulers cut into inches and they were distributed to the players to
emphasize the importance of each inch.
"We talk about the
phrase, `inches make a champion,' and as we've emphasized," said
offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. "The process of becoming champions
is an inch-by-inch process.
"You're not going to go from
the one-inch line to the three-yard line without covering some ground
in a gradual process. Our guys know that improving on a daily basis and
improving inch by inch is the way to become a champion."
little things matter and that importance is being pushed by all of the
coaches on Jones' staff. The Vols' running game is improved from the
last few season, but Robert Gillespie continues to preach the inches
mantra as well.
"We talk about in the running back room,
we talk about turning eight into 80," Gillspie said. "There's still
just finishing our runs a little bit better, and some holes we're
missing and becoming better pass protectors, so there's a lot of areas
we can continue to get better in, but the thing is, that those guys
come in every day, eyes wide open trying to find the extra inch that
Coach is talking about."
South Carolina comes to Neyland Stadium on Saturday, the Volunteer
defensive line will be tested against the Gamecocks versatile offense
and mobile quarterback in Connor Shaw.
This isn't the
first time the Vols have faced a running quarterback this season, but
each week, each quarterback brings a new attribute that the defense
must prepare for during practice.
"I think the fine line
is holding your points but yet getting pressure on the quarterback and
it is a fine line- telling them to sit there and hold your points on
the quarterback, because you want to put pressure on the quarterback,"
said defensive line coach Steve Stripling. "The balance of finding that
line of pressuring the quarterback and yet keeping him in the pocket."
Tennessee will have to do just that against the Gamecock's senior quarterback.
has the ability to throw it anywhere when he is on the run- across the
field, down the field, I think that is what makes him a little more
dangerous, especially when you don't have a lot of eyes on him to see
where he is going," said Stripling. "I think their quarterback is
outstanding and extends plays, meaning that that he doesn't scramble to
scramble, he scrambles to find a better position to throw the ball and
that is what makes him dangerous."
Applying pressure to Shaw will be key but must be done with great discipline.
is a fine line," Stripling said. "You want to apply pressure to the
quarterback but you also want to maintain those points. Connor Shaw
extends plays. He never pulls down to run for a few yards, he pulls
down to get a better launch point. He has his eyes downfield. That is
obviously the point of emphasis."
NEAL'S PROGRESSION PROCESS
week ago Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian named senior
tailback Rajion Neal as his mid-season MVP. Leading the Vols in rushing
attempts (108), rushing yards (616) and touchdowns scored (7) makes
Neal the obvious favorite for the award.
But according the Bajakian, the Fayetteville, Ga., native has come a long way since the start of training camp.
been a process and he's made progress every week," said Bajakian.
"Since week one and our first day here, he's improved in a lot of ways.
[He's improved] in our pass protection and in his ability to make runs
in a physical manner."
Those aren't the only areas where Neal has made improvement. He's established himself as the go-to playmaker for the Vols.
"As guys make plays, they get the ball more," said Bajakian. "Rajion has proved that he can make plays."
One key to Neal's improvement has been his developing relationship with the offensive line.
got a great relationship on and off the field," Neal said on Tuesday.
"We find ourselves sometimes off the field talking about games, stuff
that we might have done during practice that just spring up on us.
We're always kind of around each other talking about ball and just
really spending time with each other."
At the encouragement of the coaching staff, that relationship has also blossomed in the film room.
encourage our guys to watch as much video as possible and to watch as a
group," said Bajakian. "I think the receivers understanding what the
quarterback is seeing and vise-versa is important. The running backs
understanding what the offensive line is trying to accomplish and
vise-versa is important.
"The offensive line knowing the
running backs' reads and painting a clear picture for him is an
important part of executing. We talk about 11 hats being on the same
page. In offensive football, if one guy doesn't execute and 10 guys
execute very well, the play can get blown up. In order to execute on
the same page I think they all need to have an understanding of the
entire scheme and the entire concept."
Neal also said that
he's joined the guys on the o-line in the film room more this season
than past campaigns, and credits the coaches for that.
definitely more of the coaches," said Neal. "The coaches are bringing a
lot out of us and have a lot of high expectations. We definitely find
time to kind of get in and sit in with those guys and pick their brains
a little bit."
A FAMILIAR FOE
There are two coaches on the Vols staff that are very familiar with South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.
coordinator John Jancek and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez went
head-to-head with Spurrier from 2005-09 when they were at Georgia,
winning four of their five match ups.
What they also know is that they better be ready heading into Saturday's meeting with the Gamecocks.
teams are always well prepared," said Martinez. "They are well coached.
He has had great players. Bottom like that is what it is all about.
Nothing to take away from him, he is a great coach, his record speaks
for itself. But it is about the players."
This season, Spurrier has a slew of offensive talent.
has got a great experienced quarterback to run the offense," said
Martinez. "A great tailback in Mike Davis and really a great receiving
corps that has been productive. It all starts up front with a great
offensive line so they got players."
With all of the good players that Spurrier has had over the years, he has always adapted his offense to their abilities.
Exactly what he is doing with quarterback Connor Shaw.
he had Lattimore he adapted to his strengths and formed his offense
around him and now he has Connor and he is doing some really good
things with him," said Jancek. "I just think he is a smart ball coach.
He isn't stubborn, he sees what his talented level is, he sees what the
skillsets of his players that he has and he adapts accordingly. There
are a lot of things that he still does but I think to his credit he has
adapted to what he players can do."
Jancek knows that they better be ready for anything when it comes to a Spurrier coached team.
is aggressive, he is going to take a shot," said Jancek. "He is
aggressive. You have to know the situation. He is a guy who is going to
try and open it up and hit you right off the get go, he is going to
come out swinging. That is what makes it exciting."
Here are sound bites from Coach Stripling, Coach Bajakian, Coach Jancek and Coach Martinez:
ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH STEVE STRIPLING
»(On Trevarris Saulsberry)
think his primary role at that point was to come in on longer downs and
I think that is where he will work back into. Like any injured player,
you are going to be slow, be cautious, be patient but try and work them
back in there as soon as we can."
»(On mobile quarterbacks)
question. Again that is going back to that fine line. If you are
leaning on that 300 pound man trying to stay on your point, and the
quarterback takes off. It is hard to get off of that 300 pound man,
cause you were just leaning. Applying pressure to the quarterback and
holding your points."
»(On Greg Clark)
think he is an example of one of those young men, when an opportunity
arises, because of some injuries he is able to work in there, he has
been improving and his attitude is outstanding. Keep working."
»(On Corey Vereen)
has been trying to play catch up. We just want to keep force feeding
him as much as you can. He has. We put him in some different situations
instead of just passing situations. But yeah. We are trying to bring
him along as far as we can."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
»(On the South Carolina defense)
have a lot of experience and they're very talented. They're relatively
simple schematically, because they let their players play. They have
good eye discipline, play hard, play with a swagger and isolate No. 7
(Jadaveon Clowney) quite a bit. Obviously, you always have to account
for where he is."
»(On the importance of third down success)
always a factor. Again, if you're going to make conditioning a factor -
as we like to do in our offense - then you have to sustain drives.
Third down is a big part of sustaining drives. Being able to keep the
offense on the field, keep the chains moving and obviously keep the
defense off the field is an important part."
»(On Justin Worley's confidence)
(Worley) has always had an even keel to him and business-like approach.
He's approached this week and the bye week in no different manner. He
understands where he needs to improve and he works hard to do that."
»(On getting Devrin Young back)
comes down to identifying playmakers, putting them in a position to
have success and Devrin (Young) is one of those guys that can do
something with the ball in his hands. He can break tackles and he can
make people miss so there is another weapon that the defense has to
defend. It's good to have him back."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
»(On Mike Davis)
think his top end speed is excellent. The thing that makes him so
challenging if you get guys around him he can make you miss. He has a
great ability to jump cut and then accelerate and then potentially
break a tackle. So he is going to be a great challenge for us."
»(On South Carolina's offensive line)
They are big, they are long, they get on you, they move you, they wear
you down. They are getting better. You see them getting better as the
season goes. It is going to be a great challenge, it is going to be an
opportunity for us to go out and see where we are at."
»(On having 11 interceptions)
don't talk about interceptions, we talk about eye discipline, we talk
about execution, assignments, everybody playing together. The
interceptions are a byproduct of that. We don't really talk about
interceptions, this or that."
ASSISTANT HEAD COACH/DBs COACH WILLIE MARTINEZ
»(On the team coming off of the bye week)
think we have had the best open week of practice in a long time, that I
have ever been involved with in coaching. The three days that we
practiced, the guys were on point, focused, we got something
accomplished. Some of the things that we wanted to work on and improve
on I think we did that. Coming off the open week and in these last
couple of practices the guys have been really focused. We have been
able to rest some of the guys in the open week, take some reps off of
their legs. I think they seem a lot more fresh and ready to go on
»(On Riyahd Jones and Mike Williams coming back from injury)
are working, they are doing a good job with it. Probably Riyahd more
than Mike right now, but they are working. We don't know. We will see."
»(On Malik Foreman)
is good. He is a work in progress. There are some things that he has
improved on and there are things that continue to be difficult for him."
»(On Lemond Johnson)
"I think he is getting better and his future is bright and he continues to get better."