For the first time since their 37-17 victory over Kentucky on Nov. 24, which ended the 2012 football season, the Tennessee Volunteers put on pads in the third of 15 spring practices.
For Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek, the first practice in pads revealed how much work the Vols have to do.
"I think we're a poor tackling defense right now," said Jancek. "I see poor fundamentals when it comes to tackling. There's a lot of things that we got to get cleaned up in terms of tackling. Guys going to their knees and falling down, you can't play championship defense when you're doing those things."
One of the main goals of the new coaching staff for this Tennessee team is to get them playing and practicing at a fast pace. The hurry-up pace of practice on Thursday caused the Vols to make mistakes.
"With the fast tempo, we'd like the communication to be a lot better," linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said. "They'll get better as we keep getting more reps. There's guys who are getting used to the fast tempo and trying to get out all the calls. Some guys were getting it, a lot of guys weren't, so we've got to do a better job of communication."
With former linebacker Curt Maggitt switching to the Leo position, which is a pass-rushing defensive end/linebacker hybrid, the Vols return only one linebacker who played a significant role on last year's team. Rising junior A.J. Johnson, who led the SEC with 138 total tackles last year, will be taking on that role once again. The Vols are in the process of finding players who can step in and play well with Johnson at the linebacker position.
"Brent Brewer I think is going to be able to help us, (Dontavis) Sapp will be able to help us," said Thigpen. "Again, with all these guys, (it's a) new system, a new defense, they ran the 3-4 and all the sudden they're 4-3. It's their first day and they'll get better as time goes on.
"...I love Brent at linebacker. I think it gives us another dimension, it gives us more speed on the field."
A critical part of spring practice under the Vols' new coaching staff is figuring out which players fit best into what the coaching staff is trying to accomplish. Every rep is critical for the coaching staff in finding which players can perform up to the staff's expectations.
"We're going to have to make some decisions here as we go along so that we're getting the right guys reps," Jancek said. "I don't want to be repping a guy just to rep a guy. I want to make sure that we're getting the guys that have to get the reps those reps."