It’s no secret that the Tennessee Volunteers struggled on the defensive side of the ball in 2012.
The Sal Sunseri-induced 3-4 scheme on defense seemed to leave the Volunteers scratching their heads and overthinking plays more often than utilizing their natural instincts.
After allowing 35.7 point per game, good enough to rank them at No. 107 overall, change was evidently necessary.
Insert Steve Stripling.
The veteran defensive line coach for the Vols, who served previously on staff with head coach Butch Jones Central Michigan and Cincinnati from 2007-2012, has vowed to change the culture from a team that only produced a meager 17 sacks last season. Senior defensive end Jacques Smith, a vocal leader for UT, said the days of stagnant pass rushes are over.
“Being able to pin our ears back and go is something that this defense allows you to do,” said Smith, who has 4.5 sacks over his three-year tenure at UT. “We lost confidence as a defense, being in the 3-4 on the D-line. Going back to the 4-3 we knew we were a great defensive line. We know the scheme; we are all great football players. Being able to attack the offense like that in the spring and get at them it boosted our confidence.”
If there has been a breakout star in Tennessee camp this fall it’s been Marquez North.
The 6-foot-4 215 pound freshman wide receiver from Charlotte, N.C. was rated as a 4-star by Rivals and the No. 2 WR in last year’s class.
After only three short days, North already garnered mention from Jones after practice.
“In three very short practices, and in a very small time, (Marquez) has proven he is going to be one of our play makers,” Jones said. “He is dynamic, he is strong, he is physical, he can run, and we need him offensively. ... He is extremely intelligent; he knows every single receiver position on the field already. We are very excited about him.”
Multiple players after Sunday’s practice, including Brent Brewer and Marlon Walls, singled out North as a standout performer, many from the each side of the ball.
“Marquez has done really, really well,” said junior tight end Alex Ellis. “We watched the one-on-ones with the wide receivers the last two days and he did really well. He kind of stuck out a lot.”
Tiny gets big
After practice on Sunday, Smith recalled going up against Antonio “Tiny” Richardson in practice and admitted the heralded 6-foot-6 327 pound junior from Nashville, Tenn. has gotten stronger.
“Tiny has gotten a lot stronger,” Smith said. “He is a lot leaner and more cut and can go those extra plays. That is something we need him to do in this high-tempo offense. I think defensive ends are going to have a difficult time defending him.”
When asked to give a winner, Smith chuckled and said he would call it a “draw” between their battle on Sunday.
The Vols have caught a glimpse of favor through the first three days of fall camp in regards to the injury bug as no player has been spotted with a green or yellow jersey “limited” jersey. Oft-injured reserve tight end Justin Meredith, who has yet to be spotted on the practice field, was addressed by Jones.
“It’s the same circumstances, the same issue he’s had in the past,” Jones said in regards to the redshirt freshman’s lingering hamstring injury.
The Vols will be on the practice field tonight at 7:10 p.m. and will practice in full pads for the first time.