Turbulence ahead

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New defensive coordinator John Jancek was flying high — literally, not figuratively — when he got his first look at Tennessee's 2012 defense.

"I watched a couple of games on an airplane in between schools," he said during a Thursday meeting with media who cover the Vols.

Surprisingly enough, Jancek didn't request a parachute or even a barf bag. Still, he recognized that there would be turbulence ahead.

"We've got some challenges," he said. "Let's be realistic."

Certainly, "some challenges" is putting it mildly. The stop unit Jancek is inheriting finished the 2012 regular season ranked 87th among 120 BCS teams in rushing defense (188.83 yards per game), 110th in pass defense (282.5 yards per game), 109th in total defense (471.33 yards per game) and 106th in scoring defense (35.7 points per game).

Calling it a bad defense would be kind. Calling it the worst defense in program history would be difficult to dispute. Still, the new coordinator is encouraged by what he has seen of the Vols off the field.

"I love our players' attitudes," Jancek said. "They're positive. They want to be coached."

No wonder. If Big Orange defenders were coached last fall, you wouldn't know it from watching their Saturday performances. The transition from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 is tough but not nearly as difficult as the 2012 Vols made it appear. They lined up incorrectly. They blew assignments. They took poor pursuit angles. They were almost comically inept.

Jancek, who prefers a 4-3 base defense, senses that the returning defenders are eager to redeem themselves following the nightmare that was 2012.

"Whether you're a 3-4 or 4-3, they don't really care," he said. "They say, 'Coach, just tell me what I've got to do to be successful.' That's how we're going to approach it. We know we've got some things we've got to address. We know there's going to be adversity down the road but this is a great opportunity, and that's how we're going to approach it."

Given how historically awful Tennessee's 2012 defense was, Jancek wants to fix it and wants his players to forget it. Dwelling on failure, he believes, is not conducive to success.

"We're not going to look back and reference this past season, keep bringing it up," he said. "That's in the past. We've got to focus on the future, getting these guys' mentality where it needs to be, developing a mindset every day of winning and being successful."

Several players will be changing positions in the transition from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme. Maurice Couch, Darrington Sentimore, Marlon Walls and Trevarris Saulsberry were ends in the 3-4 who probably will be tackles in the 4-3. After playing Jack linebacker in the 3-4, Jacques Smith and Jordan Williams likely will be returning to end now that Tennessee is returning to the 4-3.

"When you're a 4-3 you're looking for what I consider more speed," Jancek said. "When you're a 3-4 you're looking for bigger guys. Your defensive line changes in terms of your recruiting. You're looking for guys that can take on double-teams, looking for big-bodied guys that at times can two-gap people in a 3-4 concept. In a 4-3 you're looking for guys that can get on edges, disrupt, penetrate. They're probably a little bit smaller but you're making up for that with quickness and speed."

Jancek said no Vols have asked him about position switches to date, adding: "Those guys know they just need to continue to work out, then come back with a renewed sense of energy and be ready to give us their best. That's all we want."

He certainly got the best out of his defenders at the University of Cincinnati this season. Minus four 2011 starters who signed with NFL teams, including second-round draft pick Derek Wolfe and third-round pick John Hughes, the Bearcats ranked 12th among 120 Bowl Championship Subdivision teams in 2012 scoring defense, allowing just 17.17 points per game ... less than half what Tennessee yielded.

"The reason we were successful is that we just didn't beat ourselves," Jancek said. "We lost a lot of production from the team before. Our best player after the third game finds out that his career is over with a neck injury. We kept the players motivated. We kept the scheme simple, so that they could execute."

If Tennessee's 2012 defensive staff had "kept the scheme simple," the Vols might have gone 9-3 rather than 5-7. Instead, the staff incorporated so many bells and whistles that Big Orange defenders wound up being more confused than opposing offenses.

Although he spent the last three years working under first-year Tennessee head coach Butch Jones at Cincinnati, Jancek is no stranger to SEC football. He coached University of Georgia linebackers from 2005-09, doubling as co-defensive coordinator in '09. He figures that experience will help him now that he's back in the SEC.

"It's invaluable," he said. "You talk about recruiting, you talk about the venues you're going to play in, the intensity level on a day-to-day basis you have to have to be successful in this conference. It's every day. It's 365 days a year. That's the thing you learn when you're in this conference: Every day you've got to be ready to go."

The Vols' new coordinator seems just as determined to produce champions off the field as on it.

"My biggest enjoyment in terms of being a coach is seeing a young man grow, seeing him mature, seeing him doing something that he maybe didn't think he could do and accomplishing that goal, gaining true confidence," Jancek said. "He goes on to the next stage of his life knowing you did everything in your power to make him a better person, a better man."

John Jancek interview


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