Tennessee's fundamentals were shaky last fall, contributing greatly to a 5-7 record that cost Phillip Fulmer his job. And the Vols were anything but physical, routinely failing to convert on short-yardage situations. So, being fundamentally sound and physical would be a great starting point for improvement in 2009.
"The rest of the stuff will come," Kiffin said. "If we can be very physical we're going to put ourselves in position to win games. If we can be fundamentally sound, that takes care of everything else."
Every head coach faces the same dilemma: Do you make practice physical and risk injuries or do you ease off a bit and risk fielding a team that's soft? Kiffin's position on spring practice is clear.
"I think it'll be extremely physical," he said. "I can't imagine it not being, with the intensity of this staff. I think you're going to see the staff lead these players – by example, by their energy, their enthusiasm, their intensity.
"Our goal is for anyone coming to our practice to walk away saying this is the most physical practice and the most organized practice that they've ever seen. That's our goal from Day 1."
Tennessee was a physical team on defense last fall but not so much on offense. As a result, the Vols relied heavily on finesse and averaged a paltry 17.3 points per game. Kiffin is determined that UT will field more of a smash-mouth attack this fall.
"On offense, we've got to establish our running game and our personality," he said. "We've got to be a physical offense and it starts up front, how you go about the running game."
Toward that end, Kiffin expects to rely heavily on burly fullbacks Kevin Cooper (6-0, 247), Austin Johnson (6-2, 234) and Ben Bartholomew (6-2, 250). The fullback plays a key role in UT's new scheme, although the Vols will use some three- and four-wide sets and some two-tight end sets.
"He's used a lot," Kiffin said. "We are excited so far with what we've seen of our fullbacks. All three will rotate in. Just watching guys move around, fullback could be one of our strongest positions, so we're excited about those three guys."