Tempo rabbits

Every Tennessee football player is expected to run like a deer and work like a dog. In order to keep spring practice truly hopping, however, several Vols have been asked to perform like rabbits.

In the parlance of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, a "rabbit" is a position leader who hops (figuratively speaking) from one drill to another, setting a quick tempo for his peers to follow. The strategy must have worked because Tennessee's practice tempo all spring was off the charts.

Last December, upon taking the reins of a Vol squad coming off a 5-7 disappointment in 2008, new head coach Lane Kiffin sensed the need to raise the energy level. First, he had new strength coach Mark Smith institute a rigorous offseason conditioning program. Then Kiffin and his staff set about invigorating spring practice.

Noting the need for "cultural changes," Chaney conceded that "In the past the tempo wasn't going as fast in practice as we'd like, so we're trying to get that done – continually pressing on them to pressure themselves to work real hard and to finish every play in practice."

Because the strongest motivation is internal motivation, the Vol staff appointed several key players to keep the practice tempo brisk by virtually sprinting from one drill to another.

"Throughout the practice we've identified individuals as rabbits, to try and lead those groups from one place to another," Chaney said. "They've been buying into that and having a lot of fun with that."

The fact there are no lulls between drills has created a greater sense of urgency during practice. As a result, the players are cramming a lot of snaps into a three-hour practice while still maintaining a high energy level.

"Some of the things we're trying to do culturally – like putting in Coach Kiffin's way of practicing – have been beneficial," Chaney said. "We're pleased with their development in that sense."

Because Chaney was installing a new offensive scheme this spring, getting the Vols to practice and learn at a brisk pace was essential. He believes that mission has been accomplished.

"It's been an eventful spring," the coordinator said. "We started out trying to implement an entire new system to this group of young men. I think for the most part, from the beginning to right now, they've grasped everything we're trying to get done."

They've certainly grasped the new practice pace.

"We've really been pressing on them hard," Chaney conceded. "You can tell from our tempo at practice – flying from drill to drill – that Coach Kiffin is big into that. That's where we're going to get our conditioning, so we continue to harp on them to get from drill to drill as fast as we possibly can."

Like Chaney, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has been installing a new scheme this spring. And, like Chaney, he has been pleased with the way his troops have responded.

"The best thing is the energy we've had out there," Monte Kiffin said. "It's a new system and guys are making some mistakes out there. We could do better at this and that but the biggest thing is, we're playing hard.

"I always say, 'Play hard, play fast, play together.'"

And, by all means, keep up with the rabbits.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories