Vols pay for mistakes

New Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin does not like physical mistakes. He does not tolerate mental mistakes.

If you make one that incurs a penalty, you might as well jog toward the sidelines because there's some punitive running in your immediate future.

For instance, an official working last Saturday's scrimmage flagged tight end Luke Stocker for holding. Once he confirmed which player was guilty of the infraction, Vol offensive coordinator Jim Chaney matter of factly said, "Give me another tight end," then sent Stocker on a penalty lap around Haslam Field. Guard Vladimir Richard, flagged for the same violation at another point in the workout, was given the same penance.

"If we jump offsides, our defensive line takes a lap," Kiffin explained. "If anyone false-starts or gets a penalty, our offensive line takes a lap. It's just a reminder that it's not OK."

A verbal reprimand, the Vol coach believes, simply does not have the desired effect.

"If you just go on to the next play," Kiffin said, "they forget about it and it doesn't mean anything, so it (punitive running) helps to remind them."

Kiffin first utilized the penalty lap last August and September, when he was in Year 2 as head coach of the NFL's Raiders.

"I actually started doing that at Oakland after the first year," he recalled. "We had improved a lot from where the team had been on penalties but not to where I wanted to be, so I researched around the league to see what things different guys were doing."

Kiffin's research ended when he noticed the dramatic drop in penalty yards the New York Jets accomplished under head coach Eric Mangini. He achieved this feat by making his players do punitive running whenever one of them incurred a penalty on the practice field.

"I got the idea from Mangini of the Jets," Kiffin conceded. "They went from something like 30th the year before he got there to second in (avoiding) penalties Mangini's first year. So we incorporated that."

Kiffin does not inflict punitive running on players who throw interceptions, drop passes, cough up fumbles or miss tackles. Physical mistakes, though aggravating, are inevitable. Mental mistakes, however, get the head man's blood boiling.

"Yeah. That's all about concentration and smart decisions – whether you hold or whether you don't," Kiffin said. "We want to emphasize guys making the right decisions."

So far, the plan seems to be working. Officials are throwing very few flags during Vol scrimmage work this spring.

"Our line of scrimmage seems to be really clean," Kiffin said. "We seem to not be having many penalties but we don't want to have any."

Two Vols have taken the punitive running system a step further. Gerald Jones dropped a pass during a recent practice, jogged a penalty lap around the practice field, then did a few pushups before rejoining the offensive huddle. Fellow receiver Denarius Moore mishandled a catchable ball moments later and performed the same ritual.

"It's really something that me and Denarius Moore have come to an agreement on," Jones said. "Nobody else does it but us. If we drop a pass, we run a lap and do 10 push-ups. It's something we're not going to accept this year.

"We don't want to drop any passes."


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