There are time when you can find Quart´e Sapp and the rest of Tennessee's linebacking unit perched in front of a TV screen, watching tape of their performance on the practice field long after the sun has dropped below the Tennessee River. Film study plays an integral role in making the game feel slower and easier to understand, and Sapp has taken a keen interest in it with teammates Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Elliot Berry, Darrin Kirkland and the rest of the linebackers as they prepare for the 2016 season.
"Everything's been going pretty smooth," Sapp said after Saturday's scrimmage. "(The game is) a little slower. Everything was kind of rushed onto me. The plays and everything are kind of slowing down, and I'm just going out there and being able to dissect stuff a lot smoother."
Film study improvement begets speed enhancement as well, something the rising sophomore knows all too well as he steps into a position this spring in which he'll see more reps than ever with fellow linebackers Reeves-Maybin and Dillon Bates missing all of spring practice with injuries."
"I've made a lot of big strides in the film room, just being in there with Maybin, (Elliot) Berry, Darrin (Kirkland), he's been helping me a lot dissecting some plays down," Sapp said. "That's basically what we do. The faster the better. If you can dissect a play, you can eliminate stuff down."
Kirkland's photographic memory and Reeves-Maybin's textbook grasp of the scheme defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has installed since joining the team in January are being utilized by Sapp to grasp the playbook as he prepares to make an impact outside of special teams in 2016. The Georgia native played exclusively on the kickoff and punt return teams last season, notching three tackles in four games, but his role has expanded now due to attrition and maturity.
Sapp will now be asked to make a significant contribution on defense, one that will ensure him many reps on the weakside linebacker with injuries piled up on the defensive side of the ball.
"I'm a lot more confident," Sapp said. "That's just being in the film room, being able to play faster because I know what I'm doing. Last year I was kind of hesitant. I didn't know as much of what I was doing. That kind of slowed me down. The biggest thing for me is my speed. If I can't play fast, it's going to hurt me."
The fresh start with a new pair of eyes has motivated and energized Sapp and the defense as they grind through another spring camp under coach Butch Jones and his staff. Shoop's addition brings what Sapp calls a "really aggressive" approach to playing defense and offers the Georgia native a slate that has been wiped clean.
"Basically it's just a first impression on coach Shoop, just to see the opportunity to learn the defense better and get more reps," Sapp said. "The more reps I get, the better I get. You've got to be able to go through the reps to be able to play. You've got to get that experience."
Experience and film study are key, and Sapp got an extra dose of both last fall when he was temporarily switched from linebacker to safety. The experiment helped him see the defense from a different perspective and, ultimately, improve his cognitive functions on the field despite him leaving his true home in the middle of the field.
"Last year, I was practicing at linebacker, getting the film, finally getting that edge, and then I switched to safety," Sapp said. "You've got to know a little bit of both playing linebacker, but I kind of was happy when I got back."
Tennessee returns eight defensive starters in 2016 and an across-the-board depth that would make most coaches salivate. With big-name players like Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cam Sutton attracting most of the hype and attention, it's guys like Sapp — making the film room their second home as they hope to give the Vols a plug-and-play advantage most teams dream of — that will help determine if Jones's squad can lock up its first SEC East title since 2007.
"I'm all about helping the team," Sapp said. "My last year's role was just special teams and that's the way I was helping, so I got in the film room, helping on kickoff, helping on punt return, whatever it was. This year my role is hitched up a little bit, so I'm just in the film room I'm watching the other side of the ball and doing the best I can."