How to attack the opposition

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With the addition of four All-American wide receivers, including one from the junior college ranks, Tennessee took a quantum leap forward in building one of the most talent-rich corps in the country by combining the skills of that group with what was on campus already.

With a pipeline of talent heading to the edge of the Orange & White offensive attack, defenses are sure to bring as much pressure as possible on Tennessee quarterbacks so those wideouts don't have time to get open.

That means blitzes — lots of blitzes.

The pressure will be on the the Volunteer signal-callers on identifying the overfront and how to attack it. That means screens to tailbacks, bubble screens, draws, extra protection, hot reads, etc.

When they aren't running routes, ball carriers and tight ends will have to stay in pass protection to help the five up front. Both units have spent extensive time during training camp preparing to do exactly that.

"They've all done pretty well," running backs coach Jay Graham said. "Marlin (Lane)'s probably been the most consistent, but they've all done pretty well in pass protection."

The assistant stopped shy of declaring Lane as the team's No. 1 third-down back.

"It doesn't necessarily mean that," Graham said. "Being a third-down guy is more about ID'ing and knowing because you get so many types of blitzes. All the guys have done well at that."

Skill players, most especially those outside the hash marks, must be on the same page as the field general with "check with me's" and knowing what a simple head nod, quick hand signal or audible means.

"It's all about preparation and presentation," Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden told InsideTennessee.

Having the talent to inflict fear on Southeastern Conference defenses is only half the battle. The work upstairs with knowing pre-snap how to beat those overloaded boxes is done long before seasons kick off in August or September.

Sophomore tailback Marlin Lane's role with the Volunteers goes beyond running the football.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Coordinator Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defensive scheme that he brought over from his time with the Carolina Panthers and at Alabama has shown the Vol offense on a daily basis just how exotic blitz packages can get.

"Big time, big time," Graham agreed. "We've seen a lot of things, and I think that's really helped us in our communication with the offensive line and everything. It's made a big difference for us."

The challenge at practice for fourth-year Vol offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has been welcomed.

"It's difficult to always know who's where because of the complexities," Chaney said. "I'd say that's the biggest difference in previous years to now is your complexities in the front. They're doing a good job of playing tough. They're giving us hard looks. It's entertaining because you never know where they're going to line up at.

"It's forcing us to do some things protection-wise as we've gone against one another.

"Anytime it makes a player think when he's on the football field, it benefits yourself in development. And, (Sunseri) makes us think."

Graham is the first full-time assistant over the running backs that's been in Knoxville since now-Florida State assistant Eddie Gran. Pass protection continues to be a major part of his teachings and has been since he joined the staff in December.

"It's big. It's big," the former Vol tailback said. "It's very difficult. It's probably one of the more difficult things to teach, and it's not a natural thing. You've got to stay patient, and you've got to punch at the right time. A lot of guys rely on not punching and throwing a shoulder in there, and you're really just taking away part of that technique that you have to have."

The cerebral aspect of team sports is more often than not the common denominator in the separation of elite athleticism. On-your-own work in film study and at the dry-erase board with position coaches comes down to a will to be better. For the student-athlete that's easier said and done with the academic concerns and the peer pressure of what little social time there is.

Chaney is expected to run an up-tempo attack in 2012. Putting pressure on opposing defenses to keep the same 11 on the field and to have to read and react fatigued and in a matter of moments is a sign of the times.

"The ball is being snapped before defenses are ready," Gruden said. "Defenses are, to me, at a total disadvantage. They can't communicate. They can't substitute. Offenses are running over 100 snaps a game in some places.

"How are you going to conceivably or realistically expect them to play good, solid defense when they can't even line up?"

For both the former Tennessee graduate assistant and Big Orange Country, kickoff cannot get here soon enough.

Will the Vols be snapping the football with over 20 seconds remaining on the play clock? Can Tennessee get hands on the extra defenders trying to split gaps in attempt to get hands on the quarterback? Stay tuned.

Tennessee running backs coach Jay Graham

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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