Tennessee's turnover-free offense lasted just one practice. The Volunteers' defensive coaches, chagrined by Tuesday's lack of turnovers, all but guaranteed as much in Thursday morning's meeting room.
"It started this morning at 8 o'clock this morning in a staff meeting," UT head coach Lane Kiffin said. "I think the defensive coaches, the last practice not getting any turnovers, they took it personal and kind of came after some of the offensive coaches in the staff meeting and told them how it was going to be today. They told them right because they came out here and backed it up. They were getting on them in stretch, and the defensive coaches came out with a lot of confidence and their players fed off of them."
Tennessee's defense feasted on four interceptions by the Vols' quarterbacks who arguably had their worst day of the spring camp.
"A really horrendous day by the quarterbacks. Four interceptions, so we've got to come back (Friday) and take care of the ball," Kiffin said. "After a day with no turnovers, I'm really proud of the defense the way they got after the ball today after being challenged after not getting any turnovers the last time we were out here. Really did well today.
"(Friday) will be a scrimmage, same format as our Saturday scrimmages have been and we'll really get after at and see what our guys have before we give them a good weekend off."
While the defense unfurled a bevy of new looks at the Vols' offense, including all-new blitzes and other schematic packages, the offense struggled to keep up.
"The defense did put a lot of new stuff in today," senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton said. "We were able to change our protections and things like that, change our keys. We were trying to see how we did with the different protections against some new looks. That was one thing that we have to work into.
"We only have four practices left so that's something that we have to get better at."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney thought the Vols' struggles Thursday were rooted in ineffective offensive line play.
"Oh, I think we struggled with protections up front and it just manifested itself into some decisions in the backfield that wasn't very good," Chaney said. "Quite honestly, we've got to clean up things up front, in my opinion. That's first and foremost. That showed up big-time today. Today was the first day we went out on third down and tried to do some different things in protection and it showed up today. We had a lot of mental mistakes, and we've got to clean that up. I expected a little bit of it, but not at the volume it took place."
And while Chaney wasn't pleased with the mistakes, he might have been a little more sympathetic had he also not felt the need to reexamine the offense's effort at some points.
"I'm not happy at all with how the thing went. But what the hell? You've got to go the next day and try to get better," he said. "It's not the end of the world. A lot of things we tried to do today was the first time. Rome wasn't built overnight. We're installing a whole new system. We expect some mistakes and those were tolerable. I think sometimes what upset me today were some effort issues. We'll take care of those."
Kiffin said he hadn't yet determined how reps would be divided among Crompton, junior Nick Stephens and sophomore B.J. Coleman in Friday's scrimmage.
Sophomore defensive tackle Donald Langley is "no longer with us," Kiffin confirmed to VolQuest.com following Thursday's practice.
A 6-2, 288-pounder from Germantown, Md., Langley had been expected to battle for a significant role in the Vols' defensive interior this spring. Instead, he was switched a couple of weeks ago to the offensive line and never seemed to find a comfort zone on either side of the ball under the new regime.
Kiffin indicated that Langley is expected to stay in school at Tennessee.
Spring practice as been one long open audition for many of the starting spots on the Vols' roster. That's been especially true at middle linebacker where former walk-on Nick Reveiz and redshirt freshman Herman Lathers are embroiled in an unlikely battle for the starting job.
Neither player is exactly the kind of prototypical physical specimen you expect. Reveiz, the local product from Farragut, has always battled preconceptions about his height (listed at 5-foot-10) and quickness.
A special teams standout in two seasons, Reveiz earned some meaningful snaps last season and is looking for more in 2009.
On the surface, Lathers is similarly miscast as a middle linebacker in the toughest college football league in America.
Singed as a safety out of high school in Louisiana, Lathers spent last fall at outside linebacker.
He was moved to the middle by the new staff prior to the start of spring practice, and now finds himself with a shot at winning the job.
To do that, he needs to finish strong in this spring, making Friday's scrimmage an important benchmark for him.
"My main goal is to just improve from the last scrimmage and do a good job on the things the coaches have been stressing to me, like taking control of the defense," Lathers said. "As the 'MIKE' linebacker you're kind of the quarterback of the defense with the playcalls and pre-snap reads and stuff."
At just 217 pounds one might think that the physical demands of the job are giving Lathers the most trouble in his adjustment to the middle, but he counters that that's actually not the case.
"Moving from the outside to the middle, there's a lot of stuff you have to be aware of that's new for me. You have to make sure everybody's lined up in the right gap and make whatever checks you need to before the snap," Lathers said of the additional duties. "I played middle in high school so just playing in there isn't all that different but overall it's a way, way harder ball game now."
Because he doesn't fit the physical description most expect when the see him listed as a middle linebacker, Lathers is already used to answering questions about his size.
He acknowledges that he may not be ideally suited size-wise to excel at the position, but he stops well short of calling it an issue he can't overcome.
"The strengths that I bring into the middle are my speed and quickness and I have to make the most of it because of my size. I'm 217 right now so if I'm going to be successful I've got to play fast," Lathers offered.
"Film study is important too. I think I'm picking up stuff slower than I'd like to right now so I'm watching a lot of tape."
When junior placekicker Daniel Lincoln missed a late field-goal attempt in practice, Kiffin didn't waste any time in affording an opportunity to someone else. Walk-on Ethan Ingham delivered with a mid-range field goal that concluded the Vols' Thursday work.
"Sure it is" an open competition at placekicker, Kiffin said. "We've got to find out who the best guy is. Lincoln missed that kick in overtime right there, and it's a kick we have to tie the game at that point and he misses it. So we gave somebody else another shot."
And though Lincoln missed that kick near the end of practice, the 2007 Freshman All-America selection likes his progress this spring.
"No, not at all. We're charting and we make just about every kick during our charting period," the Ocala, Fla., native said. "Today, we were 29 out of 30 and the one we miss is at the end of practice. So that always leaves a little bitter taste in your mouth but leaves you motivated to come back better (Friday).
"You've got to improve; you never reach the level you want to be at. Whether it's a mid-range kick or a short kick, you hit the ball the same way every time."
After seeing Ingham make the final kick, Lincoln and other kickers were the last to leave the field while getting in extra work.
Odds and ends
Nigel Mitchell-Thornton was back on defense at linebacker during Thursday's work.
Visitors on hand for practice included 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pound pro style quarterback Brandon Bortles as well as 6-6, 260-pound offensive lineman Dan Koenig.
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