Kiffins keeping it simple as Vols open spring practice

John Moorehouse • Mar 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KNOXVILLE — Considering that coaches with NFL experience now run the Tennessee program, you’d think voluminous playbooks that require months to know would be commonplace in the Volunteers’ football facility.

Nope. Far from it, in fact. According to both players and assistant coaches from outside the immediate circle of new head coach Lane Kiffin, the offense and defense being implemented on Rocky Top actually are quite easy to grasp.

The on-field work started Tuesday when the first spring practice under Kiffin began.

“It’s not like we’re building a bridge or building a building,” linebackers coach Lance Thompson said. “It’s still, at the end of the day, it’s still football.

“You don’t ever want to have a kid playing below his level of talent because he’s thinking about the scheme.”

One of the frequent criticisms of longtime Vols coach Phillip Fulmer was the slow process it took many young but talented players to work their way onto the field, especially at the offensive skill positions. For example, wide receivers had to learn all three spots on the field, along with run blocking responsibilities at each position. That’s not the case now.

“Coach (Lane) Kiffin wants us to focus on one position for right now,” receiver Gerald Jones said. “We want to have this offense down pat at one position to limit the mistakes.”

It even could alleviate some of the depth concerns on the offensive line.

“We don’t run a bunch of different run plays, (so) it’s a lot easier in this system than another system for a guy to go from tackle to guard or from guard to the other guard or from guard to tackle,” Kiffin noted.

It truly was Day 1 for the Vols. At Southern California, Kiffin’s collegiate stop before a 5-15 stint as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, a similar system had been in place before Kiffin became co-coordinator. The Trojans began that first spring practice with 35 pass concepts. Tennessee began this spring session with 18 pass concepts installed.

“It’s more simplistic than last year,” quarterback Nick Stephens said. “Most of our reads are downfield first then coming back down. I think that’s going to help us make more big plays this year. The biggest difference is just the terminology.”

The Vols must learn completely new terminology on offense and defense. For the latter, coordinator Monte Kiffin — Lane’s dad — brings his vaunted “Tampa 2” scheme from the NFL.

“It’s a defense that operates on being very disciplined,” Lane Kiffin said. “For those of you guys who don’t know, it’s not a defense that runs a million things. It’s a defense that gets really, really good at a few things instead of just average at a bunch of different things. So you won’t see a bunch of different fronts, a bunch of different blitzes out there. You’ll see us playing our base stuff.”

The new schemes might be easy to pick up, but executing them will be vital for the Vols, who have no pre-spring depth chart and open competition for every job besides that of All- America safety Eric Berry.

“You have to see them within your system,” Lane Kiffin said. “It’s nothing bad or good about what was done here before. That’s why I don’t let our coaches start saying that this guy’s better than that guy based off last year’s film because they’ll make that happen and that’s the last thing we want because you’re not really finding the best guy.”

EXTRA POINTS: Stephens, who has a broken wrist, expects to be in his cast for three more weeks. Until then, Jonathan Crompton and B.J. Coleman will have equal reps at QB. Once Stephens returns, each will get an equal third. … Rico McCoy will begin spring practice at strong- side linebacker. He’s spent the majority of his career to this point as weak-side linebacker. … Berry will have no full-contact work this spring as he continues to rehabilitate from shoulder surgery. … Kiffin said everyone on the roster was available to play special teams, and some starters eventually will see duty there.

SAY WHAT?: “He’s like the Google of football.” — Berry on Monte Kiffin

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