UT gridders get physical in drills
Posted: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 3:11 pm
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer has increased the amount of full-speed contact among his players in practice drills this week to better simulate games.
Fulmer has said his Vols have often practiced well this season but have struggled to execute as well during games.
“We’ve got to work at it and have a great week of preparation and take that preparation and be as good as we can possibly be in the game. We’re going to do some other full-speed thud things that will carry over for us,” Fulmer said Tuesday.
Tennessee (2-4, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) is off to its worst start under Fulmer.
Because of the team’s struggles, Fulmer said he and his coaches are analyzing everything — including players, practices and playcalling — for opportunities for improvement ahead of Saturday night’s game against Mississippi State (2-4, 1-2).
The game represents UT’s best chance to get its first SEC victory this season against a Bulldog unit that has been in consistent through its first six outings, despite an impressive 17-14 upset of Vanderbilt last weekend.
The Bulldogs held the Commodores to 107 total yards, a number that makes Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson wince.
“Trying to make me feel good?” Clawson asked when reporters pointed out that statistic.
There hasn’t been a lot to feel good about lately for the Vols offensive line. Perhaps the best unit in the nation last season, Tennessee returned all five starters this year.
Yet with efficient quarterback Erik Ainge gone to the NFL, the Vols have given up nine sacks this season, more than twice as many as last year when they led the nation with just four. Tennessee rushed for 1 measly yard against Georgia last week in a 26-14 loss and the challenge remains daunting with Mississippi State’s suddenly fearsome front coming to Knoxville.
Its not the kind of week to expect a lot of improvement along the line.
“We need to (improve), though,” Clawson said. “That’s the challenge of a coach. You’ve got to take your team and every week you keep the pedal on the gas and you work like crazy to make it better. The results are not, so far, what we wanted or have worked for. We’re going to be better this week.”
Fulmer said increasing the amount of contact should especially help the offense with inside rushing attempts and passing rhythm.
In their 26-14 loss to Georgia, the Vols had only a single yard rushing, completed 13-of-30 passes and converted four of 12 third-down attempts.
Jonathan Crompton lost his starting job as quarterback after he was ineffective during the football team’s first four games — three of which were losses.
Nick Stephens has been inserted under center and he has done somewhat better overall.
But because Tennessee’s midseason schedule includes so many physical teams — such as Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama — adding a lot of additional contact would risk injury or fatigue to players.
The team is practicing hitting and wrapping up opposing players at full speed but not necessarily tackling in hopes of preventing that.
“You tell yourself, if they’re gonna get hurt, they’re gonna get hurt in a game — and we don’t want anyone hurt,” Fulmer said. “But you want them physically sharp for a game. I can take them out and beat them up every day in practice, but that’s not what anybody should do.”
Tennessee coaches and players have said repeatedly that their troubles can be blamed on inconsistent execution.
Coaches said they’re confident that players are in proper position on the field to make big plays but just aren’t following through.
Fulmer said he’s encouraged by the fact that players are practicing with one another and reviewing film on their own time outside of team meeting times and aren’t having problems in the classroom or in public.
“The good thing is we don’t have an effort problem. Our guys are busting their rears. If you go back and watch the tape, there’s a lot of really good effort on both sides of the ball,” he said. “I don’t see our team making excuses or having a lack of effort.”